For What do We Pray? H.C. Question 118

What did God command us to pray for? 
 
James 1:17 – Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
 
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
 
Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


Day 319: Acts 5-6; If This Is From God…

Today we continue in watching as the Holy Spirit continues to work in the lives of the Apostles and the disciples that are are joining the ranks of believers in the early church.  It seems like anytime someone opens their mouth in these chapters, hundreds and hundreds of people come to faith!  What an amazing time this must have been for the Apostles and all the people to be witnesses to these happenings!

As I was reading these chapters today, I honestly had the thought that all of what is happening here could be summed up by the short speech given by a man named Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the law.  He points out to an enraged group of religious leaders that what the believers were doing was from God, there was nothing they would be able to do to stop it and they would actually be opposing God.  Here’s what he says,

Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.  For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!

The man’s wisdom is insurmountable.  If there is something going on that is from God, it will lats and will be unstoppable.  The Spirit cannot be quenched.  I think this is a level of wisdom that we as believers often lack in our faith and in the ministries that we do.  We have this notion that all the ministries that take place in the church are contingent on our being a part of them.  We worry about funds, about volunteers, about new ministries that are coming in that might take people away.  Yet too often we don’t stop and take the time to talk to God about it or even consider if He is present in the ministry.  If we are to be about the Lord’s work in our lives and in the life of the Church and He is truly with us, nothing will be able to stop it.  Nothing is impossible with God.

While there are a couple narratives at the beginning of our reading that continue with the themes from yesterday and the general sense of wonder and awe of the things going on in these early days of the Church, I want to take a brief look at the narrative of the first deacons being chosen.  This happening marks the first rumblings of a formal church governmental structure, an hierarchy in which there are some that are in charge of particular tasks at hand.  The role of the Deacon in the RCA, the denomination that I come from, is laid out as being one who is concerned with the physical needs of those inside and outside of the church.  It lines up very nicely with what we see these men being selected for.  They bring food to the hungry, take care of the orphans and the widows, even take care of all the donations and dole them out as is necessary.

While what I am saying may seem self-evident, and perhaps it is, what we don’t often see in this part of Scripture is that it isn’t just these people in leadership that are doing the work.  In this day and age there were, of course, people that were new to the faith, people that had followed Jesus Himself, and everyone in between.  What we see here is that some of the more mature people that were filled with the Holy Spirit were chosen as leaders, to lead in the ministry of the Church.  This doesn’t mean that they were chosen to be the only doers of ministry, but that they would be the guides and the point people for doing ministry (in this case handing out food).  The church in North America has gotten into a bad and lazy habit of thinking that it is the church leaders that are responsible for doing the ministry and it is the congregation who are responsible for consuming a “religious product” if you will.  We seem to think that once we elect people to the different offices of the Church we are then exempt from doing any sort of work in it because they will do it for us.  We can just sit back and enjoy (or complain about) the worship services and the Sunday School classes.  This is simply not the way that things were set up.

The Christian life is one of active discipleship in which we participate in the life of the Church and the Body of Christ here on earth.  While there are some that are called to be leaders of this particular calling, it doesn’t exempt any congregant from opting out of the ministry.  Christianity, following Jesus as your Lord and Savior is not a sideline sport.  In fact, the only people sitting on the sidelines watching us should be those who have not yet joined the team… and those are the people that we should be serving, witnessing to, and showing the love of Christ Jesus to day in and day out as we live in faithful obedience and enormous gratitude for the Grace and blessings that we have received in Christ Jesus.



Day 285: Matthew 18-20; Jesus Continues Teaching

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, which we will continue to read about and see in the next three Gospels, Jesus is continually teaching his disciples and the myriad of crowds that are following Him.  The subject of these teachings ranges across the spectrum of the human experience.  However, Jesus was not simply a man of many words, talking a good talk, but He is also one who walks the walk as well.  As we have continued to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus we have continued to talk about this in different ways as well.  Jesus’ teaching has a lot to do with actions and interactions, the way we are with those that are around us.  We, along with Jesus, have criticized the pharisees for their “works based righteousness” mentality, and we have seen very clearly what Jesus says about them and how that is related to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Sometimes I think that it seems like, and we interpret the teachings of Jesus in a very similar fashion to that of the pharisees.  Quite often in the contemporary church we hear sermons about how we need to try hard to be good so that God will be happy with us and bless us.  We are told that if we give enough money or if we do enough good deeds we will meet a certain quota of goodness and we will get rewarded.  Perhaps we even make it sound a bit more spiritual than this too.  We use words like “servant” and “humility” because they are words that we hear Jesus using in the Bible.  We are told that we need to follow Jesus’ example even unto death to do good things which will help God to be happy with us.  However, we are careful to avoid the phrase “righteousness” because we wouldn’t want people to think that they can make themselves righteous, we just basically insinuate it and push people to live up to an impossible ideal.

Sadly, this is so completely contrary to the teachings and actions of Jesus in His life, and this infringes on and violates so many doctrines that if it were closely examined, the Christian faith would fall apart.  We, like the disciples and the people of Israel, are called by God not of our own merit, elected by Him and predestined to be believers in Jesus Christ (which is where we are different than the Jews).  We believe that we are sinners, sinful by nature and that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves to redemption.  Yet we live as though we have to do everything right to earn our salvation for ourselves.  We teach others as if this is the reality of our life and faith too.  Friends, these things are mutually exclusive.  What is the difference?  The place that our heart is in.

As believers we are indeed called to “life a life worthy of the calling we have received.”  However, the purpose of living this life is not out of necessity for righteousness or out of some quest to make ourselves perfect, but out of gratitude for the grace that is shown us.  This is the true calling of Israel and it is the true calling of the people of God.  We were chosen when we deserved not to be!  We have been redeemed through no work of our own!  We have been shown abundant grace and mercy, redemption in the face of sin and condemnation!  We have been blessed to be a blessing; given light for a dark world!  Knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, how can we not live a life of love and gratitude?  What’s the difference?  Where our heart is!  When our hearts are focused on God, all the things that Jesus teaches about here like forgiveness, having a servant’s heart, loving one another, mercy, grace, and even healing all flow out of us naturally.  Ultimately though it is about the heart, it flows out of our hearts and lives not as an attempt at righteousness, but because we have already been made righteous.



Day 238: Lamentations 3-5; Hope for Restoration

As we come to the final writings of Jeremiah, I think it is important for us to see where Jeremiah places his hope.  As we talked about yesterday, it is important for us to place our hope in God when we are faced with times of struggle and trial, when our live seems to be left in ruins.  Whatever it is that we have endured, we must continue to bring it before the Lord and allow our grief and struggle to be laid at His feet.  Jeremiah follows this path of Lament, crying out over the devastation that he has witnessed.

However, he doesn’t just stop his prayer or questioning of God at complaining and crying our over all that has happened.  Like Job, David, and many others before him, Jeremiah continues on in his prayer to speak of the righteousness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God.  He acknowledges that the people of God needed this and that the Lord was right and just in His actions.  It is for the people of God that these things have been done, even though they hurt now they will lead to great things.  Jeremiah points out that the people need to examine their hearts and their ways as they go through this time, to see what God is doing within them.

It doesn’t stop there either though.  Jeremiah says that the people need to lift up praise and thanksgiving to the Lord in this time.  Even in the midst of all these struggles, the Lord has been good to them and continues to be faithful to them as well.  We often have the tendency too see only the negative things in our lives, the struggles and trials that take place day in and day out.  When we do this, we fail to look at the rest of life.  If we are only focused on the 5% of things that are difficult and terrible, we are neglecting the other 95% of our lives where God continues to be faithful and bless us.

Jeremiah doesn’t stop there either though.  Again, like Job, David, and so many others, Jeremiah prays for restoration.  It isn’t bad for us to ask God to put things back together for us.  I think that this is a very important part of this prayer and a great way to end this section of the writings of Jeremiah.  Reread chapter 5 and see the words that Jeremiah uses.  He asks God to remember all these things, to see the plight that has come upon His people, and to bring about restoration to them.  I think it is interesting that Jeremiah also asks God to return the people to “the days of old.”  Something tells me God chuckled a little bit when He heard Jeremiah say that.  It wasn’t to how things used to be that God was going to bring His people to, it was to a new day, a glorious day, when all things would be made right and restored!  This is the day that God is working toward in us as well.  When we face times of testing and we wish that things were just put back to the way they were, remember that God is working in us and doing a new thing within us, shaping and sculpting us as a potter shapes a new clay pot.  It takes a lot of work, but eventually we will be made into the image of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us each and every day.



Day 177: Psalm 119; The "Great" Psalm

Today we come to the longest chapter of the Bible, the greatest psalm of the psalms, and what could arguably be called the best acrostic of all time: Psalm 119.  This psalm is considered a wisdom psalm, mostly because the wisdom psalms are really all encompassing.  There are elements of teaching, praise, thanksgiving, lament, petition, and history in this psalm, all wound together in an acrostic poem.  Sadly, this psalm is written anonymously so there is on one that we can credit it too… which I think might be the point really in that the focus is truly and completely on God in all of this.

Psalm 119:34

Psalm 119:34

As I read through this psalm I kind of envision the psalmist sitting out under a tree on a nice warm summer day thinking about all the ways that he/she has been blessed.  The writer was jotting down a bunch of things and started putting them in an acrostic poem and before you know it, psalm 119 was born.  Of course I cannot independently verify this but the acrostic style kind of reminds me of a child’s thanksgiving day project or something.  When I was young I could always remember the thanksgiving day children’s sermon; it was always the same.  We wrote the word ‘thanksgiving’ on a whiteboard and then we wrote down things that we were thankful for.  Other times I remember writing an acrostic poem that used all the letters of my name or something.  It is something that I remember doing occasionally as a child.

I wonder though how often I would do… or actually do in my early adult life though.  Do I take the time to thank God for all the things that He has given me?  Am I conscious of the many blessings that God has given me and do I praise Him for them?  Have I actually taken the time to do that in my life lately?  Sadly… I have to answer ‘no.’  I could blame time, busyness, work, school, or a myriad of other things as the reasons why I don’t spend time thinking and thanking about how abundantly blessed I am, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t happen on a regular basis if at all.

While my words here really wouldn’t do anything to improve this already great psalm, I think the challenge that has been uncovered is clear: We need to take time to be thankful and give God honor and praise for all the blessings that He has given us.  I challenge you, whoever and wherever you are to take time to do this and, in honor of Psalm 119, do it in an acrostic form.  Whether you use the letters of your name or the alphabet, take the time to name the blessings in your life and thank God for them.



Day 176: Psalms 116-118; The Egyptian Hallel

The three psalms that we are reading today are part of a 6 psalm unit known as “The Egyptian Hallel.”  A Hallel is considered to be a portion of a Jewish worship service that take place during their times of festivals.  It consists of psalms 113-118, which are spoken, prayed, or chanted aloud as a unit as part of the morning prayer service.  Typically, this would happen especially around the time of the Passover, when the people of God remember their time in bondage and the freedom that has been given to them by the power of God.  And this is really what these do, give honor and glory to God for His amazing work!

You really can’t just read the psalms from today without including psalms 113-115 as well.  They really are a unit, a single entity; they could be one long psalm.  In many ways, these psalms tell the story of God’s faithfulness, providence, and power when He remembered Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt and freed them from the oppression that they had suffered for so many years.  I would encourage you to read through all 6 of these psalms together and take time to reflect on and remember the story of God’s amazing work in Exodus.

We know too that this story is not just something that happened in the past, but it is indeed the story of our lives as well.  You and I and every human on this earth have been born into the bondage of sin.  Yet God didn’t leave us there either just as He didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt.  God sent His Son Jesus as a direct assault on sin, our abusive master, and freed us from it through His death on the cross.  We had been slaves… now we are free by the blood of Jesus!  This Egyptian Hallel is our song of praise as well!  Take time to read them… to reflect on them… and to find yourself in them.  Maybe they will give you the words to say to express your thanks and praise to God as well!

PSALM 116-118 are psalms of thanksgiving and praise to God for His work in the lives of His people.  These psalms were written anonymously, are clearly didactic in nature, and are actually part of a unit of psalms from 113-118.  Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible and the shortest psalm.  Psalm 118 is also a messianic psalm with prophetic overtones.



Day 175: Psalms 109-115; Great Are the Lord's Works!

I’ll admit that as I’m writing this, the news is on in the background, and I’m hearing about all sorts of things that are going on in Grand Rapids, in West Michigan, in America, and around the world.  The thing about the news that is too often true, is that it is the bad things that make the most news.  Just as I’m listening this evening, the headlines are about a person that got hit by a car, the coming trial of George Zimmerman, the continuing scandals in the U.S. government, and more on the situation in Syria.  I guess I just don’t understand why this is the news that we want to hear.  If one was to simply watch the news all day, or even once a day, I can’t imagine how cynical and depressed they would be, if that was the picture of the world that was given.

But as I contrast this primarily negative view of the world with what we read today in the Psalms, we really get different and sometimes opposing views of the world.  The news media would have us believe that things are going crazy in the world, the everything is out of control and that no one is safe ever.  Obviously, they are decidedly secular in their views; hence the endless stream of bad news.  Yet the Psalms that we read today and have been reading for the past several days communicate to us a wholly different worldview, one in which God is in control and is working towards the restoration of the world.

It can be very depressing to listen to the news, to look out into the world, to see the brokenness that is around us.  Even Jesus knew this as He was talking to His disciples on the night before He was to be crucified.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

The next time you hear something from the news about all of the bad that is going on, remember that we believe that God has been working and will continue to work to bring restoration to the world.  And we can know this because of what we have seen Him do in the past… which is recounted for us in Psalm 111!

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever!

PSALM 109 is a prayer of lament written by David.  This psalm has many imprecatory qualities, as David talks about evil men and his enemies, but there is a clear turn towards hope, praise, and thanksgiving about halfway through the psalm.

PSALM 110 is a royal psalm written by David that is both prophetic and Messianic in nature.  This Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 5-7 as the writer portrays Jesus as the “great high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

PSALM 111 is a song of praise and thanksgiving that was written anonymously.  This psalm is also didactic in nature.

PSALM 112 is a wisdom psalm that was also written anonymously.  This psalm too is didactic and is also intercessional in nature.

PSALM 113 is a song of praise that was written anonymously.  This psalm is an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.

PSALM 114 is also a song of praise that was written anonymously.  This psalm is also an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.

PSALM 115 is a song of praise that also was written anonymously.  This psalm too is an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.



Day 174: Psalms 106-108; Give Thanks to the Lord, for He is good…

As we move into book 5 of the Psalms, we really get into some of the well known praise psalms.  These psalms have inspired a great many songs throughout even more generations since they were first written!  While we often put the greatest emphasis on the reading of the Word of God, and I wouldn’t deny the importance of this, it seems also important for us to sing the Word of God.  Songs and music touch us in ways that are much different and often times much deeper than a lecture or sermon.  Music, melody, and lyrics stick with us and its so great to have the Word of God in our heads each and every day!  If this happens in the form of song, then fantastic!  These songs, from a variety of different backgrounds and generations, are all inspired by different parts of Psalm 106-108… I hope that they can speak to you today!

PSALM 106-108 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving for God’s great works, steadfast love, and abounding grace.  Each is very didactic in nature as they describe the many reasons for offering praise and thanksgiving to God  Psalm 106 and 107 are written anonymously while psalm 108 is attributed to King David and is considered by some to be a psalm of ascent.



Day 173: Psalms 103-105; How Great is Our God

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

These are fitting words for the psalms that we read through today!  All three are psalms of praise that tell of the many acts and words of the Lord and all three proclaim His glory and splendor!  I don’t honestly think that there is a lot to be added to these Psalms… I think that they are best re-read over and over.  I would encourage you to do that today!  Take time to read these Psalms at least two more times.  As you do this, take time to think back over the past 6 months… over all that we have read and encountered in the Scriptures.  Do you remember the times that the psalmist is talking about?  Take some more time to think about the things in your life… how have you seen God at work in your day to day walk?

PSALM 103-105 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are written anonymously.  Each is didactic in nature, with psalm 105 actually being more of a historical account of God’s amazing works in redemptive history.  Though all three reference times past, they can also draw our attention to God’s work in the present and in our own lives as well.



Day 171: Psalms 90-95; The Psalm of Moses

Today begins book 4 of the Psalms, of which most of the psalms are written anonymously.  The first psalm in this book, however, is the only psalm in the book of Psalms that is attributed to Moses.  It is considered to be the lament of Moses, likely made while the people of Israel were camped at Mount Sinai or while they were wondering in the wilderness.  As I read it, I certainly get the feeling that there is something that is not going right and Moses is crying out to God in a very humbling way.  This Psalm, for all intents and purposes, really puts God and creation right in their places.  Moses magnifies the greatness of God and attests to the weakness and frailty of humanity.  In it, he is teaching the reader/hearer of God’s might and power while comparing it to the meager position that creation holds before Him.  Interestingly, this is not the only song that Moses writes that is recorded in the Bible and his other major song, though a song of praise and thanksgiving, is not at all unlike Psalm 90 either.  I refer to the song that Moses sings after the people of Israel cross the Red Sea.  Let me encourage you to read this song as it is recorded in Exodus 15, and compare it to Psalm 90.  Do you see any similarities?  Differences?  What do you think this says about Moses?

Moses Parts the Red Sea Photo Credit: www.rapgenius.com

Moses Parts the Red Sea
Photo Credit: www.rapgenius.com

I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

PSALM 90 is a psalm of lament that was written by Moses. As is clear with Moses’ style of writing when it comes to songs, this psalm is didactic in nature and teaches about the greatness of God over and above all of creation.

PSALM 91 is a confession of trust that was written anonymously. This psalm is also didactic and weaves in a a clear thread of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness, strength and protection.  Interestingly, Psalm 91:11 is the Scripture that Satan quotes when he is testing Jesus in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.

PSALM 92 is a song of praise that was also written anonymously. This psalm too is clearly didactic in nature, singing of the great works of God and how good it is to praise Him for what He has done.  The title given this psalm is “A song for the Sabbath.”  I wonder how many of us truly feel this way on Sunday morning when we come to church… I know I struggle with it often…

PSALM 93 is also a song of praise, one that is also known as a song of the Lord’s Kingship, and was written anonymously. A Song of the Lord’s Kingship is also known as an enthronement psalm, written to describe God’s sovereign rule and affirm His position as a powerful Creator and sovereign Lord.  Along with this, psalm 93 is also a song of praise and has many messianic overtones. 

PSALM 94 is a prayer of lament that was also written anonymously. Like many of the lamenting psalms, this too is didactic in nature with some imprecatory qualities as well.  There is a clear turn towards hope and trust at the end as well, making this Psalm almost Davidic in nature, even though the writer is anonymous.

PSALM 95 is a song of praise that too was written anonymously.  It is short and sweet, but has inspired some contemporary worship songs!