Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: God's purpose

Trust the Process

Although in recent years the phrase Trust the Process has become a rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers, I certainly remember hearing it said much earlier in my lifetime.  Typically it’s said by a coach attempting to win over a player’s confidence that the work put in today will reap benefits down the road.

It takes a lot of work to progress from a high school freshman to a college-ready athlete.  And it will take even more work if that college freshman wants to make it to the Pros.  And again, if you want to be among the best and have a long pro career – you better be ready to put in the work.  Few can ascend the ranks on natural talent, and those that do are forever remembered as someone who “never reached their full potential”.

Even if you have the motivation to work hard, you will need guidance.  You need that coach, that mentor, and their system – developed and refined over time to produce results in you that you may not even believe are possible.  You need someone who isn’t swayed by your emotional inner monologue.  You need a plan that takes all areas of your development into account.

However, the full list of what we need to develop is typically a blind spot.  Sure, we know our big weaknesses and a few of the little ones, for good measure.  But then the coach gives you a tough workout today after doing yesterday’s tough workout.  And then you are drilling – yet again – on the fundamentals.  You want to move on to other types of training, but coach won’t let up.  Sometimes, the drills just seem odd or unconnected to what we imagine as what’s best for us.  And it’s frustrating.

It’s in those moments you hear the phrase – Trust the Process.

Did you know that God has a development plan for believers? 

Becoming a Christian is simple enough, even a child can do it – we believe that Jesus will give us eternal life.  His death on the cross paid the penalty for all sin and His resurrection from the dead proved that He can fulfill His offer of eternal life.  Believing means we are persuaded that Jesus can do what He claims He can do; we are taking Him at His word, and we have faith in who He is.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Rome, he started his letter discussing how we are separated from God by sin and the only way to reconcile is by faith – not promises to do better, not dedicating our lives, not by effort, but by faith alone in Jesus.  At the end of this section, he says:

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

But then Paul transitions his letter from how our relationship starts with God to what God has in mind for this relationship.  He spends chapters 5-8 discussing what this new life in Christ looks like; however, take a look at what idea Paul leads this next discussion topic with:

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.

Do you see The Process which God has in mind?  We all want to have hope as we go through this life, looking forward to when God will set everything right…but developing that kind of solid hope has some prerequisites.     

Rather than wondering “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” we need to Trust the Process God has laid out for His children.  Afflictions are hard, but they are worth rejoicing over because we know what’s on the other side and Who is with us the whole time.

Coaches often push us out of our comfort zone, in unexpected ways, in order to develop us further.  John Wooden spent time at the beginning of each season teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel-san the wax-on-wax-off chore.  I had a baseball coach insist that I learn how to juggle two baseballs.  None of these situations make sense to the athlete at the time, but they were all intentionally designed by the coach – John Wooden didn’t want his players dealing with foot blisters, Mr. Miyagi was teaching muscle memory, and my coach needed me to improve my hand-eye coordination.

God never promised Christians that life would be easy.  Jesus was quite clear that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  However, our afflictions aren’t meaningless.  God has a purpose for us in them.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Perspective and a prayer request

Ever see a situation on the horizon, and you know, without a doubt, it’s something that you’re going to have to deal with?  You know you can’t avoid it.  It won’t be pleasant.  It’s probably not what you would have wanted.  But somehow, you just know – that the only way out is through.

Maybe you’ve been there with a relationship.  Maybe it was your friend, a boss, a competitor, or even a government office.  Right now, for me – it’s my health.  I greatly appreciate the emails of concern, consolation, and the offers to pray for me (and I really, really hope you follow up on that!).  I’m on the mend, but this is not the end of whatever is off-kilter in my systems.  There will be more tests to take at a later date, more mysteries to be unraveled.  But for now, I am to rest and recover, knowing full well that the only way out is through.

Just yesterday, God brought a passage to me that helps put it all in perspective.  Near the end of Paul’s recorded ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem.  He knows what will happen if he goes back.  In fact, everyone knows what he will face.  The devout Jews would turn on this former rabbinical star in a heartbeat.  Paul would be arrested, beaten, and quite likely killed.  So, why go back?  I’ll let him answer that:

Acts 20:17-24
Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.  When they came to him, he said to them:

“You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.  I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”


Oh wow, does that resonate!  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose…that is a man who has clear eyes and proper perspective.  He sees the value of his life, not in his own comforts and desires, but in his purposeful pursuit of the work God has given him – to testify to [the good news] of God’s grace.

That’s the perspective we need in order to handle the difficulties we see on the horizon.  Stop looking at our immediate circumstances, get aligned with God, see from His vantage point, and then look back down on what we’re facing.  Difficulties can be managed when they have been placed in their proper context.  That doesn’t mean that the difficulties will be removed – Paul knew there were chains and afflictions waiting.  There’s no amount of perspective that makes them go away.  However, looking at life from God’s viewpoint gives us the strength to go through.

So if you choose to petition our Great God on my behalf, I would rather you not pray for healing.  If I fully recover, that’s great.  If I end up worse off, that’s fine.  If I now have a “new normal”, so be it.  Instead, I would ask that you pray I stay aligned with God, keep His perspective on everything, and do the work God has given me.  My prayer is that you also learn to live this way.

Acts 20:24
But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.


Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Passing the torch

We won’t get to accomplish everything we want to do in this life.  There will be activities and achievements which will escape our grasp.  Sometimes we will be held back by our own decisions, for better or worse.  And yet other times, it will be God’s choice that the task should be handed off to someone else.

As David was nearing the end of his life, he looked at his beautiful palace and lavish amenities.  David compared his living situation to the tabernacle of the Lord, which was still in the same tent-configuration that Moses had commissioned during Israel’s travels through the desert before entering the Promised Land.  David wanted to rectify this gross discrepancy.  He desired to honor the Lord with a proper place of worship, with a design that expressed the greatness of the Lord.

Although David desired to do a good thing, God didn’t want him to do it.  Instead, that project would be given to his successor.

1 Chronicles 22:6-10
Then he summoned his son Solomon and instructed him to build a house for the Lord God of Israel.  “My son,” David said to Solomon, “It was in my heart to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, but the word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and waged great wars.  You are not to build a house for My name because you have shed so much blood on the ground before Me. 

But a son will be born to you; he will be a man of rest.  I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies, for his name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign.  He is the one who will build a house for My name.  He will be My son, and I will be his father.  I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’ ”

David desired to do a good thing for God and he was called “A man after God’s own heart”…but he was still told “No.”  That had to have stung.  David could have stopped his desire right there, thrown up his hands, and basically told his young protégé “Good luck with that.  Apparently God says that it’s your job, not mine.” 

Instead, he takes the time to encourage Solomon:

1 Chronicles 22:11-13
“Now, my son, may the Lord be with you, and may you succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as He said about you.  Above all, may the Lord give you insight and understanding when He puts you in charge of Israel so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God.  Then you will succeed if you carefully follow the statutes and ordinances the Lord commanded Moses for Israel.  Be strong and courageous.  Don’t be afraid or discouraged.”

But David didn’t give Solomon only instruction and well wishes.  He also gave Solomon a massive head start in gathering materials and resources for this significant task:

1 Chronicles 22:14-16
“Notice I have taken great pains to provide for the house of the Lord – 3,775 tons of gold, 37,750 tons of silver, and bronze and iron that can’t be weighed because there is so much of it.  I have also provided timber and stone, but you will need to add more to them.  You also have many workers: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and people skilled in every kind of work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron – beyond number.  Now begin the work, and may the Lord be with you.”

David couldn’t do what he wanted to do for God, because God had designated that accomplishment for someone else.  Instead of sulking or giving up on his desire, David trusted God’s plan and wisely rerouted his energies into mentoring and assisting his protégé.

One of the ways God keeps a mentor’s ego in check is to tell him or her “No.”  We need to exercise trust and humility when those moments come.  If we desire to do a good thing, but God prevents us from doing so, then we can trust that God has something greater in mind.

When our mentor hands us a significant task or ministry, we also need to exercise trust and humility.  We may even believe that our mentor is better suited for the work than we are.  However, when God signals that it’s time to pass the torch, we must trust His timing and go for it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For those not in the limelight

In 1937, the Academy Awards began giving out an award for “Best Supporting Actor” in movies.  This recognition was given in honor of an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role.  Having a supporting role meant that the actor wasn’t the main character of the story; however, he held an important role in the movement of the plot and/or the development of the lead character.

Paul certainly was the main character and lead preacher of the gospel in the first century.  He authored approximately half of the New Testament and was the focal character throughout most of the book of Acts.  However, Paul rarely traveled by himself.  Other believers traveled with him and on behalf of him to evanglize the known world.  Some people would help for a short time, others for longer periods.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, became his protégés…while others held varying roles within to the ministry.

Based on the number of times he’s mentioned and the type of work he’s given, Tychicus was one of Paul’s best supporting ministers.  Tychicus was Paul’s personal letter-bearer for the New Testament letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae.  Tychicus was also likely the one who delievered Paul’s letter to Philemon. 

However, Tychicus was more than just a mail carrier delievering letters.  Take a look at how Paul described him – and his role – to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Paul’s words are very high praise.  From these verses, we see that Tychicus was both trusted and up to the task at hand.  In addition to delivering Paul’s messages, Tychicus was also ready to encourage their hearts.  He was ready to be a surrogate minister when Paul couldn’t be there because he was in prision for preaching about Jesus.

In one of his last letters, Paul tells Titus that he would send either Artemas or Tychicus to give Titus a break from his ministry overseeing all the churches on the island of Crete.  That would have been a significant task, one that Paul would not entrust to just anyone.

However, the Bible doesn’t record Tychicus’ encouraging words to the Colossian believers.  We don’t know if he went to Crete, or if Artemas went instead.  Tychicus’ job in Paul’s ministry wasn’t to do big enough things that he would be recognized in Scripture.  Instead, Tychicus found a purpose for his God-given talents while being the best supporting minister for the Apostle Paul.  From Paul’s words, we see that Tychicus did well in his role.

It helps us to have this kind of reminder – that we don’t have to be a main character in the Bible to have an impact for God in other peoples’ lives.  Although everyone that comes to your local church knows who the lead pastor is, or who the worship leader is…God knows where our talents are best suited and most profitable for the advancement of His kingdom.  It’s not just the “upfront” leaders that will be rewarded by God, either. God has promised a rich reward in Heaven for those who do well in supporting roles also.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Conditional goals

What is our goal as parents?  We spend 18ish years feeding, clothing, nursing, caring, teaching, testing, training, guiding, and living with our children.  While the “goal for today” may look different from last year’s “goal for today”, there is also a long-term target that we are trying to make sure they hit.

We don’t often verbalize what that “active-parenting-is-done-end-game” goal looks like.  Truthfully, the busyness of the moment makes it easy to forget that we’re aiming toward anything other than survival.  However, if we were to list out what we desire for our kids to be like when they finally become adults, it would probably look something like this:

I want them to be healthy, active members of society.  I want them to love God and others, and to be growing in both of those areas.  I hope they have a “good” career that uses their talents.  I really want them to be happy with their life/spouse/family/etc.

These are all good dreams for us to have for our children.  But it’s not very often that these ideas are forefront in our minds, especially as they get older.  I have to wonder, though, if we don’t think about this goal as much, not because of the busyness – but because we’re worried they may not be 100% ready when the time comes. 

No matter how well we parent, no matter how pure our love is, and no matter how spot-on our advice is – our kids’ lives could still be derailed by their own choices.  Lots of things in this world are ready to be distractions or disruptions: unhealthy relationships, various addictions, rejection of God, rejection of family, wasting of talents, etc.  But those are the reason WHY we parent them.  We give them guidance, love, direction, opportunities, and education so they CAN reach their full potential.

It’s no wonder we do these things – since God does the same with each of us.  Once we have been born again, we become part of God’s family, and He has a plan to mature each one of us.  He has an incredible end-goal in mind for what our full potential looks like.  Paul pointed this out in his letter to the believers at Colossae.  Look for God’s goal for them, but also be on the lookout for what will help them reach that goal:

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

God the Father has reconciled you…to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  That goal is a HUGE change from where I’m currently at.  But looking back on my life, I can see that I’m closer now than I was when I became a Christian.  God’s been patiently working on me, and I trust that He will continue to do so, all the while aiming for His goal in my life.

But we both know that I’m susceptible to distractions and disruptions.  I can be my own worst enemy.  I could derail God’s plan to mature me if I rebel and disregard His leading and direction in my life.  That kind of behavior wouldn’t mean that I’m not part of the family – instead it would mean that God would have to address my rebellion before getting back to developing my maturity.

That’s why Paul says that God’s goal for believers – to be shown as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – is conditional.  Some of us won’t make it to full maturity.  That’s why Paul prays that the believers may walk worthy of the Lord (1:10).  That’s why Paul says his goal is that we may present everyone mature in Christ (1:28).  These things may happen…they may not.  Throughout the rest of the letter, Paul warns the Colossians about other distractions and how to keep step with God and His aim for us.

However, Paul’s best advice comes in verse 23.  We will be able to reach full maturity if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Our starting point is also our anchor.  The hope of the gospel – Jesus coming to earth to save us when we couldn’t save ourselves – is what grounds us.  Just as we trust God for salvation, we must also trust Him for our maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Finding our purpose

A few years ago, I was having a “parental discussion” with one of my sons.  As he was struggling with the situation at hand, I pointed him toward what God had to say about the subject…to which he snapped in frustration, “Does everything have to be about God?

I honestly can’t blame him for asking.  In fact, he verbalized something we all struggle with, but are typically too scared to say out-loud.  We don’t want to think about the bigger, God-sized perspective when we’re angry about our current circumstances.  We secretly don’t want to admit that we are not the main character in our life’s story.  We’re afraid that if we’re not in control of the situation, everything will fall apart…or at least not turn out the way we think would be best for us.

These kinds of questions and struggles are not new.  It is part of the sanctification process, part of us growing closer to God after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior.  Even believers in the first century dealt with the same struggles we face.  In his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul’s solution to these kinds of doubts is to have an accurate view of who Jesus truly is.

Speaking about Jesus, Paul states:

Colossians 1:15-16
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The fact that Jesus is the One who created everything is explored in these verses.  The last line says it clearly – all things have been created through Him.  However, I don’t think that any of us believers have a problem accepting that.  We look at the magnificent world around us, and understand that it was created.  The design and detail we find as we explore creation points us toward an intelligent purpose rather than suggesting the world “happened” by some “random chance”.

However, it’s the last two words of the sentence that give us pause:

all things have been created…for Him

Did anything inside you bristle or pull back, even just a little bit?
With that slight recoil, we’re internally asking, “Does everything have to be about God?

Because if those two words are true, if all things have really been created for Him, then our perspective on all things will have to change, won’t it?  When I’m honest with myself, I worry that I won’t have any say over what happens next if I’m not the most important person in my life-story.   I’m not sure of where this new understanding of life will take me.  In a word, accepting that all of creation – including my life – was created for Jesus…it scares me.

But let’s take a breath and think through this a moment…

The one who creates is the one who knows the full purpose of his or her creation.  Ask any artist, architect, or teacher, and they will tell you how both the design and purpose of their music, their building, or their lessons are intertwined.  Each one of them knows the detailed reasons for their creation.  Each of them has a specific design and purpose for their creation to fulfill. 

Likewise, since we know that we have been created by Jesus – we should also recognize that He knows our purpose.

So don’t bristle, don’t pull back.  Even though we may not fully understand, even if the future looks murky…the One who designed us is with us, and He perfectly knows what to do with us.  And we can take comfort in the very next verse:

Colossians 1:17
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

We don’t have to be the one to hold all things together, that’s not our job.  Instead, we just need to trust the One who created us, the One who created our purpose.

Are we willing to let go and trust that we were created for Him?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Sharing our prayers

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Family perspective

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little corner of Christianity.  We sometimes forget that “the church” consists of the entire body of believers, and not just the building we go to on Sundays.  We can even get so wrapped up in what we see God doing in our immediate Christian community that the idea of God working anywhere else seems like a weird, foreign concept. 

However, the gospel grows the church body wherever it goes.  Whoever hears and believes the gospel message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and trusts Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life is someone who joins the church body.  Getting reminders of how the good news is received in distant places helps us keep God’s perspective and His larger mission in mind.  Knowing how God is transforming lives in other locations also helps guard us from thinking that God only works through “my church” or “my pastor”.

As Paul opened his letter to the believers in Colossae, he remind them that they are part of a much larger church community:

Colossians 1:5-8
You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.  It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  You learned this from Epaphras, our much loved fellow slave.  He is a faithful minister of the Messiah on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.

The Colossian believers were part of the larger church body because they heard the gospel and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  They were brought the message by Epaphras, who was faithfully using his gifts and talents to proclaim the gospel.

Since Epaphras was now working side by side with Paul, he had the opportunity to share the gospel with other people in new locations.  Since their work for Christ had them working in multiple communities, both Paul and Epaphras could see the larger family picture.  They wanted the Colossians to see themselves as part of a whole, and not just an isolated patch of believers.

Do we remember that we’re part of a much larger community?  If you haven’t looked outside your church’s bulletin in a while, take a look at the work that organizations like Voice of the Martyrs or Compassion International are doing.  Go for a larger picture our believing family, and ask God to help you see His family like He does.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Saved from what?

As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible.  We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections.  Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in. 

Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.

Same word – three totally different meanings.  However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.

When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?

It’s the word salvation or save.

In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered.  What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it.  And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic.  Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others. 

So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.

When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:

Psalm 57:1-3
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.

God sends His faithful love and truth.

So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?

By looking at the context.

While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author.  The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.

In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write. 

For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.”  A Davidic Miktam.  When he fled before Saul into the cave.

David was hunted by Saul for four years.  Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel.  There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped. 

Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times.  David was in trouble.  Like the text says, Saul was trampling David.  The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul.  Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.

We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.

God keeps His promises.  He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped.  That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken