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: trust

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

Flashback Favorite: Tired hearts

Tired hearts
originally posted on April 10, 2015

As Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in psalms that David had written.  A psalm has the distinction of being both poetry and a song.  When David wrote a psalm, he was not afraid to bear his raw feelings, thoughts, and fears to God.  David’s topics ranged from great celebration of what God accomplished all the way down to personal, deep feelings of despair. 

It’s during one of those low times that David wrote the following psalm.  Although his circumstances were dragging him down and he felt like his own heart was without strength, David clearly believed that God was able to handle his difficult situation.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me, 
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

David’s request is as simple as it is profound – Lead me.  David sought God’s guidance and direction to see him through the trial in front of him.  When we find ourselves in trouble, our first inclination usually isn’t a desire to be told what to do next.  We want to find our own way out, and if we can’t find a path…then we figure it’s time to blaze one.  So how is it that David is able to muster the response of actually wanting God to lead him? 

The answer is found in the verses immediately following his request.

David can confidently ask God to lead him through his present problems because he remembers how God has provided for him in the past:

for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

David recalls the previous times when God was both his rescuer and his strength.  Essentially, he’s telling God “When I relied on you in the past, you came through; so I trust you to lead me now.” 

What’s also interesting is that as he remembers his past experience with God, David’s trust isn’t limited to his immediate problems.  He’s already committing his future to being under God’s protection.

I will live in Your tent forever,
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Based upon God’s history, David trusts Him with the present issues as well as any future ones that he can’t see yet.  This is an excellent example for us.  When we struggle with letting God lead us through today’s trial, all we have to do is remember the times when God has previously protected and defended us.  Keeping that in mind makes sure that we aren’t overwhelmed when the low times come and our hearts are without strength.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Encourage bravery

A plot had been devised to kill every Jew in Persia.  A man named Haman had convinced King Ahasuerus that the Jews were enemies of the state.  As a result, the king declared a day when the entire Jewish population was to be exterminated and their property confiscated.  Understandably, the Jews were distraught and terrified.

Esther 4:1-4
When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly.  He only went as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate.  There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came.  They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.

Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear.  She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so he could take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them.

Esther was scared out of her mind, and since she couldn’t go out to Mordecai, she wanted Mordecai to come to her.  Since he refused to change out of his mourning clothes, Esther had to settle for talking to him through her servant, Hathach.  After Mordecai described the situation to Hathach…

Esther 4:8
Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and instruct her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people.

Esther’s response to Mordecai’s instructions shows that she had another fear to contend with – approaching the king was a “by-appointment-only” arrangement.  If the king was caught off-guard or felt threatened by the unannounced audience, it would cost the person their life.  Look carefully at how she conveys this situation, but also pay attention to Mordecai’s response to her fears:

Esther 4:10-14
Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned – the death penalty.  Only if the king extends the golden scepter will that person live.  I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.”  Esther’s response was report to Mordecai.

Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace.  If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed.  Who knows, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Mordecai has incredible confidence in God’s ability to rescue the nation, but he also has confidence in Esther – both who she is and her position at this time in history.  The mentor knew it was time for his protégé to act.  His message to Esther was clear:

It’s time to step up and be brave.

Sometimes they need a little push.  The protégé may lack confidence, or they grab ahold of something to use as an excuse.  But the mentor knows they are ready…it’s in the tension of this moment that the protégé needs to trust their mentor and be brave.

Mordecai wasn’t there to do it for Esther.  She had to choose to trust Mordecai’s words.  She had to choose to be brave.  Esther had to accept that she was the one who was in the best position to make a difference.

Esther 4:15
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me.  Don’t eat or drink for three days, night and day.  I and my female servants will also fast in the same way.  After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law.  If I perish, I perish.”

Esther was brave because of Mordecai’s encouragement…and her bravery was the first step toward saving her people.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Investment necessary

 

The mentoring process has some specific costs to the mentor.  Time and sacrifice are necessary for the relationship to grow, and the mentor must be willing to sacrificially give their time long before the protégé realizes they need that level of investment.

The setting for our next example occurs about 400-500 years before Jesus was born.  God had punished both the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah for disobedience and idol worship by allowing them to be defeated by their enemies and carried off into exile.

The Jews had been settled in their exile for some time now, and their original Babylonian captors had been overtaken by the Persians.  The current Persian ruler was King Ahasuerus.  The book of Esther begins by explaining how and why the king was looking for a new queen.  However, we’re going to look at the mentoring relationship between Mordecai and Esther.

Esther 2:5-7
A Jewish man was in the fortress of Susa named Mordecai son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite.  He had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the other captives when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took King Jeconiah of Judah into exile

Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because…when her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter.

This was a great act of sacrifice by Mordecai.  Scripture doesn’t record if he had other children; however, he treated Esther as if she was his own daughter.  Let’s not skip over this phrase.  Think about the first two decades of your life and remember everything your parents invested in you during that time.  What decisions or adjustments were made with you in mind?

If you have children of your own, take a quick inventory of everything you purposely do to raise them.  The late nights, the teaching, the training, the laughing, the development of skills, the failures, the coaching, the discipline, the love, and on and on and on. 

This is the kind of sacrifice Mordecai made for Esther when he adopted her as his own daughter

Esther was one of the young women selected to join the king’s harem, and it was from among those women that the king would select his next queen.  Before Esther left, however, Mordecai gave her some particular instructions:

Esther 2:10-11
Esther did not reveal her ethnic background or her birthplace, because Mordecai had ordered her not to.  Every day Mordecai took a walk in front of the harem’s courtyard to learn how Esther was doing and to see what was happening to her.

During the next year, the women from the harem would live in the palace and receive extensive beauty treatments with oil of myrrh, perfumes, and cosmetics.  From among the women, Esther was chosen to be the next queen.  After recording the festivities of her coronation, the author adds this detail:

Esther 2:19-20
When the young women were assembled together for a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate.  Esther still had not revealed her birthplace or her ethnic background, as Mordecai had directed.  She obeyed Mordecai’s orders, as she always had while he raised her.

Even if Esther didn’t fully understand Mordecai’s reasoning, she trusted him enough to follow his directions.  Her willingness to keep her family history a secret for over year is strong evidence of Esther’s respect for the man who raised her.  It was this same trust in Mordecai that would later lead to Esther having a significant, national impact.

From this part of Mordecai’s and Esther’s story, we see how mentors must go through life with their protégé in order to develop a strong relationship.  Trust in the mentor’s ability to lead and guide their protégé doesn’t come overnight.  However, the time and sacrifice will be worth it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Undercutting relationships

After warning the Colossian believers to pay attention to the negative, selfish words that can come out of their mouths, he gives one last warning about a type of speech that has the potential to destroy a relationship.

Colossians 3:9-10
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

When my boys were young, there were only two misbehaviors that would warrant getting spanked.  The first was willful disobedience – we give a direction, they would blatantly defy.  The second type of behavior that would result in spanking was considered much worse than the first – lying.

We typically lie to someone else in an attempt to make ourselves look better or to maintain someone else’s impression of us…that we’re really rather nice, or have disposable income, or not rude, or not selfish.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that we lie only to protect others or ourselves; but in reality, lies only protect the façade we’re trying to project.  When the truth comes out – and it eventually does – we find that the lie we used for “protection” has now severely undercut the relationship.

This is why we made such a big deal about lying with our children.  When a parent lies to a child, or a child to his parent, their relationship is taken out at the knees.  While trust in a specific instance was violated by the lying, we justifiably begin to wonder “When else has that person lied to me?”. 

The same thing happens in God’s family when we lie to each other.  Seeds of mistrust will eventually lead to a harvest of dysfunction.

Paul says that our habit of lying can be set aside, like all of our sinful tendencies, as we continue to identify with who we are now in Jesus instead of being like who we were before we met Jesus.  We put on the new man when we first trusted Jesus as our Savior.  Our identity is forever wrapped up in His, however, that is just the start of our relationship.

Paul says that our identity is being renewed, or growing up, in knowledge according to the image of [our] Creator.  The better we know our Savior and Creator, the faster we grow up in our new identity. 

When we recognize who we are and how well we’re loved in Christ…we won’t need to promote a façade, we’ll see that there’s no reason to lie about ourselves. 

So our lying habit won’t be fixed by washing our mouths out with soap, putting a dollar in a jar whenever we get caught, or by promising to do better next time.  The fix for our brokenness is found in spending time with Jesus.  Are we taking the time to develop in the knowledge of our Creator?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Thwarted maturity

There is one word that strikes fear into the heart of every athlete.  As soon as the referee says this word, all their work, effort, and productivity comes to a screeching halt.  Having this word applied to you feels like a death sentence, and the stigma attached to it – especially when others find out – is equally crushing.

The last thing any athlete wants to hear is that they have been disqualified.  You can critique their form, give them low marks for execution, or even penalize them for their errors; but when an athlete is DQ’d, the competition, for them, is over.  To be disqualified is to be declared ineligible for the prize.

Earlier, Paul explained to the believers in Colossae that Jesus intends to take them from salvation to full maturity.  Our salvation is certain because it depends on Jesus.  However, Paul said that reaching maturity had some limiting factors based upon our choices and actions; there were conditions involved. 

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.

The word if shows that they can be disqualified from reaching full maturity.  A few paragraphs later, Paul explains how it can happen.

Colossians 2:18-19
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.  He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

In Paul’s day, Jewish Occultism encouraged prayer to angels for protection, deliverance, or assistance.  They also believed that praying to the “right” angel was needed to thwart the advances of demons who were in charge of particular aliments of the body or problems in the home.  Additionally, the local Greek folk tradition placed significance on visionary experiences in connection with their spiritual practices.  Before we scoff at such primitive ideas, we need to remember that we come across similar teachings within Christianity when people are told to pray to their “guardian angel” or to a particular “saint” for protection.

Paul’s point is that these kinds of beliefs about angels and surface-level practices undermine Jesus’ authority in our lives.  Running to “angels” or “saints” or “visions” shows that we don’t think Jesus can handle what we’re dealing with at the moment.  How can we say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but then look somewhere else for our well-being?

It’s these kinds of self-contradictions that shift us away from the full maturity Christ desires to develop in us.  We must remember it is not certain that, at the end of all things, we will be presented as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  If we are pronounced disqualified, then we are sure to miss out on some eternal rewards and opportunities to serve with Christ in eternity future.  

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get hung up on ascetic, good-looking practices that, in the end, pull us away from His plan for us.  However, we are not without help.  Jesus told His disciples to “Remain in Me” (John 15:4), not “remain in My angels” or “remain in visions”.  The One who was the start of our faith is the One who will mature it as well.  So let’s continue to trust Him and hold tight to Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

False "spiritual" paths

The path to maturity is riddled with detours.  Since our lives don’t travel a perfectly straight course, the detours sometimes look like the correct path.  Paul encouraged the Colossian believers to rely on Christ for both their salvation and maturity:

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.

After showing them the path to maturity, Paul gives the Colossians a specific warning about the kinds of ideas that will try to sway them away from the truth.  These ideas, and their sources, need to be carefully considered.

Colossians 2:8
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

Philosophy is a love of wisdom.  Notice that Paul isn’t saying that all philosophy is bad.  Instead, he is warning the Colossians that they need to be fully aware of a philosophy’s foundation.  If the wisdom we love is not based upon Christ, then we are loving an empty idol. 

However, this false-philosophy idol isn’t necessarily powerless.  In fact, Paul says that those whose teachings are not based on Christ will try to take you captive.  The Greek word for captive is a strong term that means to carry away, just like thief steals loot.  The thief takes what is valuable away from its proper place and carries it off to where it doesn’t belong.  Similarly, a philosophy based on human tradition will also do to us…it will carry us off to beliefs that are not Christ-like.

There are many false teachings around today that claim to show us how to become more “spiritual”; however, the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to know what is pleasing to God.  Throughout the pages of Scripture, God has revealed that a “spiritual” person is someone who is like Christ.  Do we trust God enough to let Him make us Christ-like?  Or do we feel like we need to add other influences?

When we feel the need to add other influences besides God, what we’re really saying comes down to one of three options:

We think God might miss something that will make us into the person we were made to be. 
We believe that some other philosophy will be an acceptable short-cut to where God would eventually take us.
We just really like this other idea, and we’ll convince ourselves that God agrees with it.

As we navigate the path we’re on, we need to be certain that our philosophy, traditions, and driving forces in our lives are based on Christ.  To have any other foundation shows that either we’re not carefully considering the path we’re on, or that we’d don’t fully trust God with our lives in the here and now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Blindsided

Blindsided.
Knocked down.
Run over.
Left for dead.

Life does that sometimes.  Just completely out of the blue, you get that phone call.  A relative in good health suddenly dies.  A friend’s child is in an accident.  Layoffs.  Divorce.  Cancer.  Any number of things can take us out at the knees without any warning.

And we’re quickly reminded of how fragile and small we really are.

In Psalm 119:25-32, the author use two descriptive phrases to relate how he feels after life has knocked him down.  First he says, my life is down in the dust.  Other translations render his words as my soul clings to the dust or I collapse in the dirt.  He feels so low that he can only relate to the trampled dirt on the ground.  Secondly he says, I am weary from grief.  Other translations relay the author’s meaning by stating my soul melts from heaviness and my soul weeps because of grief.  We can relate to the psalmist because we’ve all had times when our hearts are so heavy that even our souls are shedding tears.

Our typical reactions to getting knocked down by life is to ask God “Why me?” or, if we’re feeling mature, we’ll ask “God, what are You trying to teach me in this?”  However, the psalmist has neither of those responses.

As you read this section of Psalm 119, look for where the psalmist turns to when life has brought him down low:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

When life has him down in the dust to the point where he is weary from grief, the psalmist looks for life and strength though Your word.  He’s not looking for an explanation or a life-lesson, rather he is looking for God himself, as revealed in Scripture.

It is noteworthy that when he asks God to help me understand, he’s not looking for the meaning of what knocked him down to the ground…instead he’s asking God to explain the meaning of Your precepts.  Again, he’s not focused on how he got there or why he got there…he’s focusing on meeting God in the midst of it all.

When life has knocked him down, the psalmist implicitly trusts God with all aspects of the situation.  And he seeks God through the Scriptures to reinforce his faith.

So should we.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Choosing our focus

There are many things to be afraid of in this life.

Every day, the morning newspaper is full of stories about dangerous situations, unsafe people, riots, and natural disasters.  Stories about people from all walks of life with hidden agendas, corruption, and greed shaping the decisions they make.  Some days, it just feels like the whole world is closing in with evil people and bad situations. 

By his choice of words, we can see that David felt that way often…especially when he was on the run from King Saul.  Saul wanted David dead, so that he could continue being king.  Since David’s advisory was the most powerful man in the country, it seemed that everywhere David turned, he was in danger.

Here’s how David describes his situation:

Psalm 57:4
I am in the midst of lions;
I lie down with those who devour me.
Their teeth are spears and arrows;
their tongues are sharp swords.

Don’t just glaze over this description.  Let’s try and picture what David’s describing here.

You’re out in the open.  Not just in proximity to wild animals, rather there are lions who freely roam around the area where you’re standing.  You look for shelter, for cover…anything that will help you avoid an attack.  Even where you sleep at night is not entirely safe.  And you don’t have to guess as to how the lions will treat you if they find you.  There will be blood, and certainly no mercy.

How do you feel?  Where’s your focus?

In moments like these, our real priorities come into a much sharper focus.  We clearly recognize what’s important and what is not.  Survival normally becomes the driving influence in all our decisions.  We may even select a few people we trust, and then we would make our next move. 

However, David’s next move is to look up

Psalm 57:5
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be above the whole earth.

Previously in this psalm, David has approached God for refuge and protection.  However, when the danger arrives…when Saul comes close to where David is hiding…David’s request turns away from himself and focuses solely on God’s reputation.

That is the true challenge for us.  When we find ourselves in the crucible of life, when the corruption of the world is pressing in…are we looking to merely survive the evil around us, or are we looking to advance God’s reputation in this world?  Which do we desire more? 

If we choose the focus that David did, then the scary things in life won’t be so overwhelming. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Tired hearts

As Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in psalms that David had written.  A psalm has the distinction of being both poetry and a song.  When David wrote a psalm, he was not afraid to bear his raw feelings, thoughts, and fears to God.  David’s topics ranged from great celebration of what God accomplished all the way down to personal, deep feelings of despair. 

It’s during one of those low times that David wrote the following psalm.  Although his circumstances were dragging him down and he felt like his own heart was without strength, David clearly believed that God was able to handle his difficult situation.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

David’s request is as simple as it is profound – Lead me.  David sought God’s guidance and direction to see him through the trial in front of him.  When we find ourselves in trouble, our first inclination usually isn’t a desire to be told what to do next.  We want to find our own way out, and if we can’t find a path…then we figure it’s time to blaze one.  So how is it that David is able to muster the response of actually wanting God to lead him? 

The answer is found in the verses immediately following his request.

David can confidently ask God to lead him through his present problems because he remembers how God has provided for him in the past:

for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

David recalls the previous times when God was both his rescuer and his strength.  Essentially, he’s telling God “When I relied on you in the past, you came through; so I trust you to lead me now.” 

What’s also interesting is that as he remembers his past experience with God, David’s trust isn’t limited to his immediate problems.  He’s already committing his future to being under God’s protection.

I will live in Your tent forever,
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Based upon God’s history, David trusts Him with the present issues as well as any future ones that he can’t see yet.  This is an excellent example for us.  When we struggle with letting God lead us through today’s trial, all we have to do is remember the times when God has previously protected and defended us.  Keeping that in mind makes sure that we aren’t overwhelmed when the low times come and our hearts are without strength.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

God-focused prayers

When I read the model prayer that Jesus gave, one observation that sticks out to me is how much of the prayer is focused on God.  Take a look, and notice how many times God is mentioned:

Matthew 6:9-13 Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

Jesus instructs us to pray that God’s name and reputation be honored, that his kingdom would come to earth, and that God would rule the earth just like he does in heaven.  The prayer ends with us telling God that he has the highest position, above all people and things, for all eternity.

That’s a lot of information about God in a prayer that is to God.

Why should I pray God’s attributes and qualities back to him?  It’s not like God doesn’t know these things about himself, nor do I expect that Jesus would be instructing us to say these things just to stroke God’s ego.  However, we cannot escape Jesus’ direction to spend roughly half of our prayer time focusing on who God is and what he is like.

Jesus is instructing us to remember exactly who it is we’re speaking with when we pray…the God who imagined and created the universe.  God designed subatomic particles and then stitched them together to form everything from plants, to people, to planets.  He imagined weather patterns and constellations.  God is the author of everything we can see, taste, hear, touch, or smell.  His authority and power are unlimited.  God is responsible for all these things and more…and he is the person we are instructed to bring our prayers to.

This kind of praying – a deliberate focus on who God is and what he is like – is an antidote for the modern insistence that “prayer works”…as if the fact that “I’m praying” or that “many of us are praying” will provide someone healing or financial rescue.  It’s not the number of people praying or performing the act of prayer that creates a change to our circumstances…it’s the one we are praying to that enacts the change! 

Our prayers are only as effective as the one we are praying to!  We tend to focus on the act of prayer as being effective, rather that remembering Who it is that we are praying to.  Remembering that we are talking with the God of the Universe makes us feel small…but that’s because…we are small.

But if I’m small, then how do I know that God will actually listen to anything I have to say?

We can be assured that God hears us, for two reasons.  First, Jesus is telling us to pray to God, and Jesus only gives true instructions.  Secondly, look at the first two words of the model prayer – Our Father.  Even though we are significantly small, we are invited to speak to the great God of Everything, and address him as father.

With our perspective set for who we are, and more importantly who God is, we can then approach God with our requests and needs.  It’s a whole lot easier to trust God with the outcome of our requests and situations when we have a clear picture of the person we’re praying to.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trust and prayer

The first place we’re going to look at when it comes to what Jesus taught about prayer is during his longest and most famous teaching session, known as the Sermon on the Mount.  However, before we get to his teachings about a person’s prayer-life, it’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and listen to what Jesus has to say about his teaching in general.

At the end of his sermon, Jesus concluded with this illustration:

Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house.  Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed.  And its collapse was great!”

The two groups of people the Jesus is addressing here are those that “hear and do” in contrast with those who “hear and don’t”.  Both groups hear Jesus’ words.  And what did they just hear?  The Sermon on the Mount, which was instruction primarily focused on Kingdom living.  So now that they have received direction, Jesus closes by warning them about the importance of putting his words into practice.

Notice the other similarities between the builders:

  • Both needed to build a house for protection from the coming storms
  • Both built their house before the storm came, presumably while the weather was good
  • Both experienced storms, as they couldn’t prevent the weather

But the difference between the builders…in fact, the ONLY difference between the builders…was also the defining difference when the storms arrived.

Jesus is claiming that the difference between those that “hear and do” and those that “hear and don’t” is just as significant as the foundation chosen by the builders.

Do we trust Jesus enough to act on his words?  It does us no good to simply listen to Christ’s teachings about prayer (or any other topic) if we’re not willing to take him at his word…and then take action accordingly.  In fact, Jesus says to that to hear him and then disregard his words will result in the eventual collapse of what we build in this life.

If we’re going to learn to pray like Jesus, we’re going to have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about…and then take action accordingly.

Keep Pressing,
Ken