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: guidance

Big dumb animal

Ever wonder if living for God is worth it?

Why do corrupt people get to enjoy nice things?  Why do greedy, manipulative people get away with their actions?  How can someone run a company into the ground and then walk away, scot-free?  Why are many believers struggling with health issues, money issues, and relationship issues when so many non-believers appear to live on Easy Street?

Maybe you have asked someone these questions, or perhaps you’re like a lot of Christians – we have secretly wondered, but are afraid to admit to it.  Either we’re ashamed of our doubts, or we don’t want to trip up someone else by vocalizing our own struggles.

However, we’re not alone in our wonderings.  3,000 years ago, a poet named Asaph wondered the same things.  While we enjoy the historical perspective of being able to look back to Jesus’ life and Asaph was alive well before Christ’s arrival, his writings still resonate with us:

Psalm 73:1-3
God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

It’s hard not be discouraged by the state of the world.  It only appears to get worse as the years move along.  How many of Asaph’s descriptions sound familiar?

Psalm 73:4-12
They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.
Therefore, pride is their necklace, and violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge out from fatness; the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.
Therefore His people turn to them and drink in their overflowing words.
The wicked say, “How can God know?  Does the Most High know everything?”
Look at them – the wicked!
They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.

After making these disturbing observations, Asaph begins to wonder if his efforts to stay connected to God are worth it.  Although he keeps his doubts to himself, his hopeless feelings were ones he was unable to change on his own:

Psalm 73:13-28
Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.

I can so relate to Asaph’s path of doubt and wondering – which was taken care of by a perspective-changing encounter with God.  Seeing life from God’s vantage point helps us out of our legitimate worries and our self-created pity parties.  There have been times in my life when I, too, was a “big dumb animal” and didn’t trust God with my present circumstance.  But His guidance and counsel are always there for us.

We can rest knowing that our God is big enough to handle our doubts.  He’s also patient with us when we get caught up in comparing our lives with the short-term pleasures we see other people enjoy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Show me the way

Other than physical healing, the most common prayer request we bring before God is a request for guidance.  We ask God to “reveal His path” or “guide our steps” or “show us how to handle a person/situation”.  And rightfully so – God knows everything better than we do, so He’s the best one to give advice and direction whenever we get stuck.

But has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes God chooses to not answer our requests for guidance?

David had plenty of instances in his life where he needed God’s guidance.  From the shepherding of his youth, to evading Saul’s desire to kill him, to leading Israel as King…David constantly relied on God to get him through it all.

Fortunately for us, David wrote down many of his conversations with God in prayerful songs.  Throughout the psalms he wrote, David returns to the idea that he needs the Lord’s guidance.  However, David’s request also recognizes our two-way relationship with God.  So, we need to watch for David’s part in the relationship as we read:

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 12-14
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.

The Lord is good and upright; therefore He shows sinners the way.
He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
All the Lord’s ways show faithful love and truth
to those who keep His covenant and decrees. 

Who is the person who fears the Lord?
He will show him the way he should choose.
He will live a good life, and his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
and He reveals His covenant to them.

David can’t flippantly live life and then expect that God will be his magic 8-ball or cosmic vending machine whenever he gets stuck.  If David trusts God enough to ask about the unknown, then David should at least be following the known instructions God has already given him.

David notes four responsibilities we have before we can ask God to show us His way:

patiently wait
be humble
keep His covenant and decrees
respectfully fear the Lord

Asking God for guidance means that we recognize His superior understanding of life; therefore, we should first regard what God has already revealed before we ask Him about things or situations that He hasn’t yet revealed.

Notice too, that David doesn’t say we have to be sinlessly perfect, either.  God is willing to show sinners the way, provided we humbly understand Whom it is we’re asking for guidance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding guidance

When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs.  From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires.  I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like

When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction.  The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing.  Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.

Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense?  Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide.  So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives.  By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing.  By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.

One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.

Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.

I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:

Proverbs 3:11-12
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.

God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us.  If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished.  Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.

[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;

[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Recognizing counterfeits

We’d all love to live life to the fullest, as God intends for us – complete, mature, and ready for good use under Christ’s leadership.  But often times it is a tough road to become mature and develop Christ-like character.  If only spiritual maturity were as simple as going a straight line from Point A to Point B, right? 

After describing his desire to have all believers reach maturity, Paul speaks about Jesus, and says

Colossians 2:3
In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

And then Paul gives the Colossians a direct application of this foundational truth:

Colossians 2:4-5
I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.  For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Paul is just one man, and therefore his ministry is limited to one place at a time.  At the time of this writing, he cannot be with the Colossians to personally protect them from the variety of nice-sounding, but very dangerous, false ideas about God that would come their way.  So Paul gives them encouragement for the ways they are currently guarding their faith.  However, he also gives them direction for how to continue to mature, despite the reckless ideas about God they will also encounter.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The path to maturity and the path for protection against false teachings is actually the continuation in the direction they started with, to be in Christ.  Their relationship with God started with their faith in Christ, when they received Him as their Savior from sin’s penalty.  Remember, Jesus said to His disciples:

John 14:6
I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Jesus is the way to the Father.
Jesus is the truth of the Father.
Jesus is the life we are given from the Father.

That is why Paul tells the believers in Colossae to walk in Him.  Walk in His ways.  Walk in His truths.  Walk in His life.  This is the way we protect ourselves from false teaching about God.  We know the real God so well that we aren’t swayed away when the counterfeit philosophies come our way.

We don’t have to know all the variations and deceptions out there – we only need to know the truth, and continue to walk in Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Guiding principles

As parents, we deal with a lot of uneasiness surrounding our children’s interaction with the world around them.  This uneasiness is revealed when we look ahead toward their future and say phrases like “I am concerned about…” or “These potential situations make me nervous because…”

When we take an honest look at the world, there is a constant barrage of multiple influences, with each one competing for our children’s attention and focus.  Some good, some bad, and some have the potential to be good or bad – depending up how they are used.  Many times, however, our children don’t even recognize the full consequences of the path they currently travel.

Something or someone is going to influence how they interact with the world around them.  However, we cannot give them parental advice for every single decision and conversation they will have in life…so instead we must rely on teaching them governing principles.

The author of Psalm 119 boils it all down to this one thing:

Psalm 119:9
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.

The purity – or impurity – of a child’s way of life is connected directly to their actions of keeping God’s word.  And that makes sense…since God is the author of life, He knows how it should work, right?  But just in case the psalmist’s statement feels a little nebulous, he then spends the next seven verses expanding on what keeping Your word actually looks like.

As you read it, look for the verbs that the young man uses to describe his actions:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statutes.                                                                      
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

These are all “active actions” of the young man.  These are the things he was taught to do.  As he does them, he keeps God’s word.  And as the young man keeps God’s word, his way of life is kept pure.

That is the guiding principle for the young man – to have God’s ways become his own ways.

No matter what life throws at them and no matter who tries to influence them, if we have taught our children how to be actively keeping Your word, we will be able to set aside our uneasiness and say, just like the apostle John:

3 John 1:4
I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Consulting the Father

Early on in His ministry, Jesus was teaching around the Galilee area.  He healed diseases and deformities, forgave sins, cast out demons, corrected the teachers of the law, and preached in the synagogues.  Throughout the towns in the region, Jesus’ actions led to a large number of people following him around.  Some traveled from across the nation see Him.  Their social backgrounds varied significantly, from the high-society Pharisees to the bottom-rung tax collectors.  Many were just curious to hear Him speak, others desired to be his disciples – a word which means to be a learner or a pupil.  These people wanted to absorb everything they could from Jesus.  The best news was that anyone could choose to be a learner…Jesus taught anyone who had “ears to hear”, anyone who was willing to listen.

However, for Jesus to be effective in His ministry both before and after His death, He needed to get specific with a chosen few.  Jesus would personally pour into and develop the ones who would eventually be entrusted to carry the gospel message to the rest of the world.  This was a monumental choice, a decision that would affect people throughout history. 

If we needed to make that large of a decision, how would we approach it?  Make a list of pros and cons for each person?  Disqualify some based on the length of time spent following Jesus?  Make a test for them to take?  Ask for resumes?  Hire a consultant?

Take a look at Jesus’ approach:

Luke 6:12-13 During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.  When daylight came, He summoned His disciples, and He chose 12 of them – He also named them apostles.

Jesus spent all night consulting with the Father.  While we don’t know the specific content or wording Jesus used while talking with the Father, Jesus certainly spent more than just a minute or two asking God for “guidance” and then going on with His own decision-making steps.  The Father was an intimate part of the entire process.  In one of Jesus’ last earthly prayers, He said to the Father:

John 17:6 I have revealed Your name to the men You gave Me from the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

During Jesus’ all-night prayer session, the Father revealed to Him which 12 from the mass of disciples were going to be Jesus’ apostles.  These 12 were still disciples – they were still learners – but now they would carry the distinction of being apostles, which means they were specifically identified as a delegate or messenger.  These were the ones Jesus would purposely develop so they would eventually act as His primary representatives.

I’ve pulled few all-nighters in my life – for conversation with others, writing papers, or working on projects…but I’ve never stayed up all night to consult with God.  Looking back into my own history, perhaps the direction I needed for some of the “big” decisions in life would have been clearer if I had consulted with God by more than a cursory prayer. 

Over and over in Jesus’ life, we see that His time with the Father kept him connected and on target with His given ministry.  Jesus did the Father’s Will because He spent significant time with the Father and trusted the Father’s decisions.  We would be wise to invest a similar emphasis in face-time with the Father before making decisions in our personal lives and our God-given ministries that will affect the generations to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken