Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts, you can click here to catch up. But in this post, we are focusing on the problem of prayer.
For many, perhaps even most, there appears to be a problem with prayer. “It’s a one-way conversation.” “It doesn’t seem to work.” “God takes too long to answer.” “God does what He wants anyway.”
Crushed in the mortar and pestle of life, it’s easy to think there’s a serious problem with prayer: God. When God doesn’t answer according to our will, we can get frustrated. We can feel like our prayers are just floating around the ether, too insignificant to catch the Creator’s attention. And, in the midst of this disappointment, we’re often too slow to accept that the problem with prayer is not God, but us, and always us.
The Problem of Misunderstanding Prayer
It’s pretty normal to think that life would be a lot easier if God answered a few more strategic prayers—just a couple key petitions to remind us that He’s listening. We can be convinced that a profound healing here and there would add spice to the life of the church.
Then God healed Karen.
The Sunday school class gathered for desperate prayer the night before the surgery to remove a tumor from Karen’s brain. The surgery would probably render her unable to speak for a long time. We asked God to comfort her husband, daughter, and family at this time of crisis, to help the surgeons, to speed her recovery, and—if He willed—to miraculously heal her.
Of course, that last part was just for show. Although we believed God could heal Karen, we were certain He would use less glorious means.
The next morning the tumour had disappeared.
We assumed Karen’s response would be just as profound as God’s answer to prayer. After all, when a person experiences the awesome intervention of the Almighty God, we should expect an explosive revival, right?
Less than a year later, Karen left the church and divorced her husband.
We had always thought answers to prayer would strengthen faith and ignite thanksgiving. Disappointed in Karen’s response, we were reminded that even the Israelites grumbled and rebelled in the midst of powerful answers to their requests (Numbers 11:1-4).
You see, the problem with prayer is not God, but us.
The Problem of Abusing Prayer
When I was a young person, my family came under the “prosperity gospel in the ‘70’s,” the “name it-claim it” theology that overwhelmed Christian television and bookstores—and continues to overwhelm today. “Don’t make negative confessions,” I was told. “If you’re sick, confess that you’re healed!”
On one occasion, I mentioned to a self-proclaimed “prophetess” that I was going bald. Instantly, she placed her hand on my head and shouted, “No you’re not—in the name of Jesus!” That “prophetess” treated prayer like a credit card she could whip out at any time to make major purchases.
We may not be as extreme as that woman, but we can all fall into the trap of abusing prayer. While we may tack on a half hearted “Thy will be done,” deep down we think, “No! My will be done!” Yes, Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7), but His brother James reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).
Once again, the problem with prayer is not God, but us.
Correcting the Problem with Prayer
After 51 years of following Jesus, I’d hoped to have a better handle on prayer. I don’t. In fact, the more I pray, the less I understand its profound mysteries. However, I’ve come to several conclusions that might help correct our perceived problems with prayer.
If a father constantly gives in to a little child’s whiny demands, we’d take him for a lousy parent. Why, then, do some think God’s a stubborn God when He doesn’t give us everything we want?
1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” That is, God won’t jump at every loose-lipped confession. Prayer offered up in true faith submits to His will—our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God’s will is to change us, not please us.
Second, we need to accept that the power of prayer is perceived in even the smallest response, really, any response at all. I am convinced that humans don’t fully comprehend how little we deserve God’s love and grace. Consider that what we regard as “crumbs” of answered prayer may really be bountiful feasts once we realize that God owes us nothing (Genesis 32:9-10; Luke 7:6-9). When we adjust our attitude about our own unworthiness to receive God’s favor, we’ll never regard “small” answers to prayer as insignificant.
Finally, we need to acknowledge that the process of prayer is not as
important as the attitude of prayer. When God chose in His sovereignty
to heal Karen, He did so even though none of us expected it. Our feeble
prayer was a simple act of faith—turning our worries over to God’s
care (Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6-7). Christians can be hung up on
method, worried that they have not said the right words, have not prayed
hard or often enough, or have not believed deeply enough. That is hocus-pocus, not prayer (Matthew 6:5-8). If you are concerned about not praying with the right words or for the right things, memorize Romans 8:26—God’s Spirit even helped Paul pray!
Of course, these reminders are easy to read, but they are not easy to live. In our finite human minds, we will always perceive “problems” with prayer. Are you struggling with your prayer life, not seeing results, wondering if God is listening? It might be time for an attitude change. It might be finally time to accept that the problem with prayer is never God, but always us.
Leave us a comment and let us know about your experience of prayer and its problem. Is there something we can pray about with you? Send an email to email@example.com.
Want to pray with us? We host two online prayer gatherings each week. Tuesday morning at 10:00 am Eastern time and on Thursday evening at 8:30 pm Eastern time. We are happy to have you join us and we will send you the Zoom link if you ask for it. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 800-784-7077.
I remember growing up, I was very active and enjoyed playing various sports. Even if it wasn’t a sport that I particularly enjoyed or was good at, I would often still try out. And what a feeling it was, when I would be chosen to be a part of the team. The experiences built my confidence, allowed me to try something different, and kept me active. Just a few years later, while I do hope to have that same energy, I embrace the fact that I am still chosen today in a much more wonderful way.
You are chosen. What do those words mean to you? Who has chosen you? And why have you been chosen? Let’s look at this important topic today and discover what the Bible says about us being chosen.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10
What a beautiful verse that reminds us that we were once not the people of God, but by His mercy we are the people of God. It is good to be reminded of this as we go about our journey of faith.
Let’s look at couple of reasons why we are chosen today:
1- We are chosen for good works
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
God has prepared us for good works and some of these works are: to be more like Him through the Holy Spirit, to share the Good news of salvation, to share the love of God with others, and to have a personal relationship with God. These things are not done on our own strength, and we must depend on God as we live day to day.
2- We are chosen for God’s purposes
“God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and His Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:2
We all have plans but we must remember that we are chosen for God’s purposes, and not our own. When we care about what God cares about, our plans start to align with God’s purposes in our lives and we begin to see fruit that we would not be able to see if we did not surrender our plans to God.
3- We are chosen because God loves us
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1
There are so many verses in the Bible that talk about this great love that God has for us. As a parent, we do not always agree with our children, but we have a special love for them. And how much more does God love us? A lot more! The love God has for us is unconditional. There is nothing more we could do to make God love us more and nothing less we can do to make God love us less. He loves us. He loves you. You are His chosen child.
4- We are chosen to share the Good News with others
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all
creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever
does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany
those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will
speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and
when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will
place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Mark 16:15-18
After Jesus spoke these words, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19). We are chosen to share the wonderful news of Jesus with other people. Are you called to be a missionary? If you have not read this blog series, be sure to check it out.
While not everyone can be a missionary, everyone can have a part in the bigger task—by going, sending, supporting, or mobilizing others. Jesus is allowing us to take part in some way.
You are chosen and you are loved. Who can you share this with today? We are all in need of some encouragement these days, so let’s be a source of encouragement to someone else today. God bless you as you continue to love Jesus and live for Him.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2:9-10
So this is it, the last post in this series called God’s Heart for the Nations.
Thus far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and that Jesus was and isthe Saviour of the world, not just the Jews. We saw how Jesus made it clear to his disciples that His purpose is global and included all nations and we learned that the book of Acts makes it very clear that God’s message is to reach the ends of the earth.
Every disciple of Jesus Christ should be committed to the process of developing a lifestyle that reflects and participates daily in the mission of God. One of the blessings of salvation is that we have been freed from the slavery of living for self so that we might live engaged in His mission (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our natural inclination is to develop self-centred faith. It is essential that every follower of Christ develop themselves biblically, spiritually, and practically in relation to the global mission of God to the ends of the earth.
Intimacy and Mobilization
Conventional wisdom has told us that the way you mobilize people toward missions is to get them on a mission trip. I cannot count the number of missionaries to whom we have spoken that point to a short term mission trip as the turning point for them. But, if that is the foundational motivation for missions, it may suggest that the primary motive is man’s need, and that we are persuaded to be involved through experiences. But consider what we see about knowing God in the following Scriptures.
Psalm 46:10 is that verse to which we often come back as the basis for God being known and exalted in all the earth. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Knowledge of God is essential.
Hosea 6:6 tells us that God desires knowledge of Himself over burnt offerings and steadfast love over sacrifice. True knowledge of God is the supreme motivation for any sort of service.
Philippians 3:7-11 records Paul’s motivation for the work he did. He says that he counts everything as loss in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
A biblically based pursuit of knowing God will result in a life committed to His mission. As you passionately pursue the knowledge of God, He will infuse His heart, purpose, perspective, and mission into your life.
In the first post in this series, you saw that God does all things for His name, renown, and glory. This is His ultimate mission. He is the one that motivates, directs, and empowers His people to accomplish His mission. When this passion becomes the driving force in your life, them mission trip experiences and information about the needs of a nation can lead you to make wise decisions, not decisions based in guilt or momentary excitement.
To mobilize may be defined as “to assemble or marshal into readiness for active service.” In the missions’ community, the term is often confused with missions’ recruitment. If you are not going someplace, you can always be a sender, an intercessor, or a giver. But our readiness for active service is not about selecting a title or role in the mission’s subculture created by the Church. Rather, our readiness for active service is demonstrated by a biblical lifestyle transformation. We have been liberated from the slavery of living for ourselves. We are mobilized when Christ is the passion of our lives and the cause of Christ guides our life decisions.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have gone and the new has come. This is the biblical transformation referred to above. And the new things include the proper motivations for service.
Romans 12:1-2 says much the same thing. We are living sacrifices, which is our spiritual worship. This means that we die to our old passions and motivations and are alive to new ones, which come about as our mind is renewed so that we may discern rightly the will of God.
Mobilization flows from who we are in Christ. Spiritual disciplines are the spiritual exercises that we do in order to walk by faith in the reality of our new life in Christ. One of the first steps in developing a global context in this new life in Christ is to integrate a global perspective in these spiritual disciplines. We have already looked at the spiritual disciplines in another series of blogs.
Plot Your Course
The next step is to examine your current position in terms of God’s global mission. When you think about God purpose or His mission, do you think in terms of your own context? Do your thoughts extend to the next town or the next county? What about another country? Or a specific people group? I hope they do, for the sake of His name and His fame.
We would like to speak to you about this. If you have any questions, give us a call or drop them into the comments section below.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and that Jesus was and isthe Saviour of the world, not just the Jews. Last time we saw how Jesus made it clear to his disciples that His purpose is global and included all nations.
In this post, we will see the implications of Jesus' mandate in Acts 1:8 where he tells his followers that they (and we) will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The book of Acts takes us on the journey of the Church’s obedience to Jesus Christ’s global mandate. It wasn’t immediate obedience, however. In fact, Don Richardson calls it reluctant obedience. The disciples were hesitant to move beyond their cultural bias, but God would be proactive to thrust the Church out to accomplish His purpose voluntarily or involuntarily.
Acts 2:1-13 marks the beginning of the new era that Jesus initiated. He had been telling his disciples the things that were going to happen, He would be killed, buried, and resurrected. He spent many days reassuring them of His love and His plan to use them in the phase that was to come. But before that could happen they needed to wait in Jerusalem for a helper to be given, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus named in Acts 1:4-5 and who John the Baptist refers to in Mark 1:8.
In Acts 2:4 Luke tells us that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Then in Acts 2:11, Luke gives further clarification about what he meant by ‘other tongues’. This event took place during the feast of Pentecost, and Jerusalem was filled with devout Jews from every nation. When the group of 120 from the upper room began to speak in other tongues, these devout Jews from every nation heard the Galileans from the upper room telling about the wonderful things God has done.
When you consider that this Pentecost is the beginning of the church it becomes evident that there are a couple of significant implications. First, Jesus has given the message. Recall that he spent almost three years teaching these people the message of the kingdom. That the kingdom is at hand and to repent and believe the good news of God. And now he gives the means for global distribution of the message - the languages of all nations.
A problem appears, though, in that the disciples do not seem to move beyond Jerusalem. Remember the instruction from Jesus in Acts 1:8 was that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But Acts 5:28 and Acts 6:7 give clear indications that the word is spreading very well through Jerusalem but not to Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth.
Many missions-minded leaders believe that Acts 8:1 is God’s solution to their lack of obedience to Jesus’ instruction in Acts 1:8. In chapter 8, we see the persecution that breaks out against the church following the death of Stephen. Isn’t it interesting how Luke records what happened?
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” (Acts 8:1)
As a result of the persecution, they were all scattered to Judea and Samaria. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen. And so it did.
Then, the rest of the book of Acts records the progress of the gospel out from Jerusalem.
Acts 8:4-8 record the trip of Philip into the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. In this instance, we see the use by God of signs and wonders accompanying the message and resulting in great joy among the people.
We also see Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel told him to go to the south to a specific road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. On that road, Philip was told to go and join himself to the chariot. When he was there, he heard the Ethiopian reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading. He couldn’t understand because he had no one to explain it to him. Beginning with the passage in Isaiah, Philip explained the good news of Jesus Christ and the eunuch believed and was baptized.
Do you think the eunuch kept this good news to himself? Not likely. It’s reasonable to assume that he shared this good news with everyone he knew in Ethiopia. That’s in Africa, in case you didn’t know. The good news is spreading.
We could also mention the divine appointment that Peter had with Cornelius and the way that God changed the mind of many concerning the ministry to Gentiles (the nations).
But the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-21 was a turning point. You see, because of the success that Paul was having among the Gentiles, there were those in Judea who were saying that unless one was circumcised according to the custom of Moses, one could not be saved. According to Luke, Paul and Barnabas had some heated debates with them about this. It was then decided that Paul and Barnabas would be sent to Jerusalem, to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Along the way they passed through Pheonicia and Samaria where they told of the Gentile conversion stories and bringing great joy to the brothers and sisters, who were also Gentiles.
Paul argued from his calling to the Gentiles to the evidence of God working among the Gentiles to save them by grace, just as He had the Jews. He bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to the Jews. And it is clear that they have had their hearts cleansed by faith.
Then James, who was the leading elder in the Church in Jerusalem rendered his judgement. He stated that he agreed with Peter’s testimony (in the case of Cornelius) that God was again choosing for Himself a people from among the Gentiles and that the (Old Testament) Scriptures agree. Therefore, there was no reason to trouble these Gentile believers beyond those stipulations mentioned in verse 20.
This decision at the Jerusalem Council freed the gospel and the church from a single cultural expression. The question facing the leaders of the church was, “Is this new movement just another sect of Judaism or the dynamic Church of Jesus Christ finding faithful expression in all the ethne (peoples) of the earth?”
The question of the ages is not whether God’s promise to Abram will be fulfilled and disciples will be made from all nations. The Bible guarantees that God’s global purpose will be accomplished. The evidence is in Revelation 7:9-10.
The question is, will our generation of the Church be obedient to the mandate of Jesus Christ and participate in completing the task? And will I walk with Him, obey His command, and be strategically involved in His global purpose?
How do you answer these questions? If you do wish to be strategically involved in His global purpose, but just don’t know where to start, give us a call and we can help you figure this out. There are so many opportunities to be involved close to home that there really is no excuse not to be involved.
Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts you can click here to catch up. But in this post, we are focusing on the privilege of prayer.
We take a lot for granted. Advances that once seemed like life-changers are now staples. It’s hard for us to imagine, but there was the first day with electricity, running water, indoor toilet and the internet. Now, these privileges are expected.
In the Christian’s life the same could be said of prayer. Prayer is not an inalienable right of all people, like healthcare in Canada. Instead, prayer is a blood-bought privilege for those who trust and treasure Jesus.
So let’s look at the privilege of prayer from a different perspective. Rather than, “hey, we have this incredible privilege to pray to God, so let’s get praying” let’s say, “this incredible privilege of prayer is a precious gift. What can I do to safeguard this privilege?
Let’s jump right in.
What makes prayer possible?
Have you ever been to a public event where things were kicked off with the Lord’s prayer? I know it sounds strange but it does still happen in some contexts.
The story is told of a high school basketball game between two Christian schools. Everything seemed pretty typical leading up to the game. Music was blaring from the loud speakers; students were going nuts as both teams warmed up. A couple of minutes later, the starting lineups were announced. Still your typical high school basketball game, but then, right before the teams were set to tip-off, the public address announcer started saying the Lord’s Prayer. I looked around as hundreds of people were casually reciting in a mechanical way these words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. The man with the microphone ended with a hearty amen, and the referees called both teams to center court for the game to begin. I was not certain of what had just happened, but I know what did not happen. I know that we were not praying.
Surely this experience was not what Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples how to pray—hundreds of people reducing this paradigm for prayer to some sort of cultural rite of passage so a game could begin. Christ’s teaching was belittled with the type of mechanical jargon He warned against in the Sermon on the Mount. However, this story should cause us to ponder the prayer that had been recited by the crowd in the gym that evening.
The privilege of prayer is magnified in the initial phrase of Jesus as He tells His disciples to pray, “Our Father in Heaven.” There is so much for us to learn in these words. First, we see that what is normal for prayer is not simply personal. No, it is corporate. Jesus does not tell us to pray, “My Father.” He says, “Our Father.”
Second, we see the beauty of the gospel in this prayer. Jesus does not teach us to come to God on the basis of some lesser status. We come as children to a Father. But how can this be? How can wretched sinners who deserve the wrath of God have the privilege of prayer? How can rebels be called the children of God and invited to come to His throne day and night?
Answering these questions requires that we see the connection between prayer and the gospel. In turn, we see why saying the Lord’s Prayer, and prayer in general, misses its intended purpose when it is recited mindlessly, particularly by those who are not Christians.
When the disciples came to Jesus asking how to pray, they came to the One who gives us access to God. In fact, this is why Jesus came—so that we could commune with God. This is why He left His throne in glory. This is why the One who is holy, righteous, and just, the One through whom all things were made, humbled Himself and came to live among us.
In its description of what a kingdom citizen should look like, the Sermon on the Mount reveals our hypocrisy and our sin. At the same time, it declares where Christ succeeded. He lived the life we could not. He was perfectly obedient.
He then went to the cross to atone for our sins, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved. At the cross, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One died for the unrighteous (1 Pet 3:18). Three days later, Jesus was raised from the dead because God’s justice had been satisfied. Christ then ascended to God’s right hand, where he intercedes for us, giving us access to the Father in prayer.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It is this righteousness that permits us to stand before the throne of God in prayer, and to do so with boldness.
Who has the right to cry out in prayer to God? Who can come to Him in prayer? No one, in and of themselves. Only through the finished work of Christ can we pray to God, which means that the One who gives us a pattern for and an example of prayer has purchased our communion with God.
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We now can boldly approach the throne of grace, calling out to our Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit. We can revel in the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Rome:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:12–17).
It’s now been a little over a year where we have been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. We have had to adjust the way we do things, the way we communicate with others, the way we spend time with others, and even the way in which we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are now living in times where there are certain things that are defined as essential and others that are not. So, let’s start by defining essential; what does this mean?
According to dictionary.com essential means: absolutely necessary, indispensable.
Other words for essential are: crucial, fundamental, and necessary.
Whatever we refer to as essential is important and has value. While this may mean something different for each person, today let’s look from a Biblical perspective for a few reasons why missions is essential.
1. God is glorified through the work of missions
“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.” 1 Chronicles 16:24
By sharing the Good News with others, God is glorified. We only have a small part that we play but we should always remember that missions is all about God and bringing glory to Him. When we have this focus, we are not concerned about worldly things or any inadequacies we may have in the process. We are simply vessels and we have a great God who gives us the wonderful opportunity to share the love of Jesus with others.
2. Missions is important to God
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And
surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
The Great Commission includes some of the most beautiful and powerful words that Jesus spoke, and these words are still for us today. Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God, so that we could one day be with Him and God forever, and this is great news that we are commanded to share with others. Jesus lived out and accomplished the greatest mission and we have the honor of taking part in continuing to share that mission with the world. Missions is important to God.
3. People’s lives are forever touched through missions
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
When we share the Good News with others, their lives are forever touched because God’s word is living and powerful. I have heard several missionaries say that going on a missions trip is one of the most beautiful and life-changing experiences. People are changed, but we who are sharing are also changed. Something truly beautiful happens in these moments that God allows us to experience.
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:10-14
Missions is essential because God is glorified through the work of missions, missions is important to God, and people’s lives are forever touched through missions.
Have you ever been on a mission’s trip or do you hope to go on one in the future? Please let us know in the comments. We would love to hear from you.
I encourage you to continue to pray for our missionaries. They are continuing to wait to be able to go back and serve in other countries. May God continue to touch our hearts with the things that are important to Him, in all that we do.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and last time we saw that Jesus was and isthe saviour of the world, not just the Jews.
In this post, we will learn that early in his ministry Jesus clearly communicated that He was the Messiah and that he had come to be the Saviour of the world. Jesus had less than three years to free his Jewish disciples from their nationalistic cultural biases. It was essential for these disciples to realize that the gospel of the Kingdom is for all peoples and that his mandate was to the nations, not to a nation. Jesus uses events like the ones we will look at in this post to strip away the cultural biases of his followers. We will continue to see how Jesus awakened his disciples to his global purpose, and see some deep personal implications for us today.
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Jesus and the Nations
In the ministry of Jesus there were instances where he ministered to non-Jews. Here are three examples.
Matthew 4:23-25 - And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
In this portion of Matthew, we see Jesus travelling throughout Galilee, which, earlier in verse 15, is described as being of the Gentiles. In Galilee, he taught, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, and healed every disease and affliction. Matthew also points out that great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, both predominantly non-Jewish, as well as from Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew 15:21-28 - And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
It’s interesting to note the underlying cultural dynamic that shows in this encounter between Jesus and the woman in Tyre and Sidon. Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, perhaps to make the point that she is not a Jew. And at the end of the exchange, Jesus commends this Canaanite woman for her faith.
John 4:39-42 - Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
This is the aftermath of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman who lived in Sychar. After her conversation with Jesus, she went back into town and told the people to come and see the man who told me everything I ever did. Many believed and Jesus spent two days with them. And because of his words, many more believed.
The Call to the Nations
After the resurrection, as Jesus moved closer to His ascension to the right hand of the Father; He made it clear that His purpose was global and His mandate was to catapult His followers to the nations. The following passages collectively make up the Great Commission and restate the commission that God gave to Abram which is found in the purpose clause of Genesis 12:3.
Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of God blessing the families of the earth through Abram, as Paul says in Galatians 3:14. His purpose to His followers will never be understood if their only understanding of the Great Commission is gained from Matthew 28:19-20. Full understanding is gained when we study all five of the restatements of the Great Commission given after the resurrection.
Matthew 28:18-20 - This is the most commonly quoted reference of the Great Commission. It is important to understand that when Jesus says ‘nations’, he is not referring to political entities or geographic boundaries. ‘Nations’ comes from the Greek word ‘ethne’ from which we get our English word ‘ethnic’ and refers not to nationalism but ethno-linguistic groupings. There is more information on people groups inthis blog post. It is also important to notice the three verbs that help us understand what discipling the nations involves - go, baptize, and teach.
Luke 24:44-49 - In this record of the Great Commission, Jesus is making it clear to the disciples that, because they are witnesses of what Jesus has taught and done, they have a message to deliver, a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And this message is to be delivered to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. But it is a message for the nations.
John 20:21-23 - John has taken a broader view of his presentation of the Great Commission in that, through his gospel, Jesus speaks often of his ‘sent-ness’. In fact, he refers to being sent by God at least 24 times. And one of the key elements of being sent is that of submission. You submit yourself to the authority of another. So, when Jesus says that He is sending us as the Father sent Him, there is that sense of submission.
Notice that Jesus was not sending them out alone, though, and this is picked up in Luke’s account in Acts 1. He breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. There is no way to overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit and the work He does in terms of gospel work. Be filled with the Spirit.
Acts 1:8 - In the Acts account of the Great Commission, Luke records the importance of the Holy Spirit in the work that they are being commissioned to do. In fact, it is so critical that they were to wait in Jerusalem until they did receive it before they began.
And once begun they were to be witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. To all nations. As witnesses. Preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. In the power of the Spirit.
So I hope it is clear that the church’s mandate is to the nations and not simply to our neighbourhoods. If you want to know how you can improve your missions involvement, make a call to our office and have a conversation about work among the nations.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. Last time we learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets.
In this post, we will learn that one of the biggest challenges Jesus faced in His earthly ministry was to break the disciples of their cultural biases. Even though their Scriptures clearly communicated God’s heart for the nations and that the Messiah was also coming to be a light to the nations, most Jews were looking for a national hero who would establish His reign among the nations. The disciples were just the first layer in Jesus’ strategy of taking the gospel to all nations.
But His disciples were very nationalistic in their perspective of who the Messiah was and what He would come to do. Through His teaching, His ministry to Gentiles, His use of non-Jews as spiritual object lessons, and His mandates, Jesus was intentionally and systematically reshaping their worldview.
We will look at some scriptures with which you may be familiar. But I would challenge you to take your time to discover some new insights.
From the following prophetic statements about the Messiah, what will He come to do and for whom will He come?
Isaiah 42:5-7 - Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Messiah will come to be a covenant, a light for the nations, to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from the darkness in which they sit. And it is clear that He came for the nations.
Isaiah 49:6 - “It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations,
that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
In this verse, the Messiah will be as a light to the nations so that salvation may reach the end of the earth. And it is clear that He’s come not just for the sons of Jacob, the preserved of Israel.
Matthew 4:12-16 - Now when He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
In these verses, which were quoted from Isaiah, the point is made that Jesus chose to make His home base in Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, among the Gentiles. This was a strategic move in that, Jews would travel from Jerusalem to see one rumoured to be the Messiah, but Gentiles would not travel to Jerusalem for any reason. And Gentiles were a part of Jesus’ mandate.
So it’s pretty clear that Jesus did not come just for the Jews. He came for the nations.
Fulfilling the Scriptures
Luke 4:14-30 - Please read this portion of Scripture to understand what is going on. Jesus had returned to Nazareth, where He was raised. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him and He found the portion He then read (Isaiah 61:1-2). When He had read it and handed the scroll back to the attendant He told those in attendance that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing.
They were duly impressed with His gracious words and marvelled that this was Joseph’s son.
Then Jesus spoke again, telling them that they would doubtless ask Him to perform the sorts of signs and miracles that they heard He did in Capernaum and that a prophet is without honour in His home town. Jesus then made clear the plan of God by referencing two incidents from their Scriptures.
The first was from the time of Elijah. The heavens were shut up three and a half years and a great famine came over the land. And while there were many widows among the Jews in those days, God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow in Zarephath, in the land of Sidon.
The second was from the time of Elisha. Jesus told them that, although there were many lepers among the Jews at the time, none of them was cleansed, but Naaman the Syrian was.
The point is that Jesus made it very clear that, while the Jews would have interpreted the passage quoted by Jesus from Isaiah as referring to the Jews, its application was much broader and included Gentiles (the nations) as well. And this inclusion of the nations was a fulfilment of Scripture.
How did those in the Synagogue respond to this lesson?
Saviour of the World
There is numerous places in Scripture where God makes clear His global perspective, His plan to include the nations.
John 3:16-17 - “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Here, Jesus says that whoever believes in Him, Jew or Gentile, would be saved and that His purpose was not to condemn anyone but to provide salvation through Himself. A similar reference is made in John 6:33.
John 8:12 - Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Again, Jesus makes it clear here that the light of the world is for the world, not just the Jews. Whoever follows Him will have the light of life.
John 12:30-32 - Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not Mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself.”
Once again Jesus says that when He is lifted up He will draw all kinds of people to Himself without distinction, all nations.
1 John 4:14 - And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world.
John could not have made it any clearer. The Father sent Jesus to be the Saviour of the world. This was not just Jesus’ purpose, but it was the purpose of the Father.
Disciples of the Saviour
If Jesus is the Saviour of the world this means that you are a disciple of the Saviour of the world.
How do you think this truth should impact your daily walk with Christ?
How should this truth impact the way that you pray?
How should this truth change the way you view people who look different from you?
John 4:39-42 - Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts you can click here to catch up.
In this post, I wish to look into the power of prayer. Perhaps one of the most widely assumed facts about prayer is that it is powerful or we hope it is powerful. We expect or hope that prayer will change something over which we have no control ourselves.
But I’ll be honest. When I think about prayer, the first thing that comes to mind is not the power of prayer. If you were to get a glimpse into my prayer life, that much would be evident. The simple fact is; the amount I pray doesn’t reflect the power of prayer. When the Bible talks about prayer, it speaks in explosive, world-altering terms.
James 5:16-18 says this;
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
These verses paint a breathtaking picture of how powerful prayer is. It draws a direct line between the weather-altering prayer of Elijah and my own prayers. It is absolutely unbelievable. God wants me to look at Elijah’s prayer and to think, “The same kind of powerful praying is available to me.”
The plain truth is that I take prayer for granted. I was taught to pray at a young age and my family always said prayers before meals and bedtime. My Dad would sometimes pray before we left on long trips and pray for us when we got sick. And I continue the same sort of patterns of prayer in my house. Regular rhythms of regular prayers that are not terribly remarkable. There aren’t any miracles happening after these prayers.
And if you were present for any of these prayers it would probably be pretty obvious that I am not thinking about the power of prayer at that moment.
Why is this?
One reason may be that, because Christ has opened the way into God’s presence, I can pray freely at any time of day. I can pray in the car, as I’m working and while I am watching my granddaughters. Being able to pray so freely is such a wonderful blessing.
But, that very freedom with which I can pray causes me to take prayer for granted. I don’t treat prayer as particularly powerful or sacred. I don’t come to terms with the reality that prayer is a real live exchange between me and the living God who created everything.
If I want to start appreciating the divine power of prayer, I need to remember a few things when I pray. And these things constitute the power of prayer.
1. God Hears
Psalm 4:3 - But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him.
Psalm 5:3 - O Lord, in the morning You hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch.
When I pray, the Lord Himself, the King of kings, the commander of the armies of heaven, hears me. The God who crushed the Egyptian army and humiliated the prophets of Baal hears when I call to Him. The God who split the Red Sea, who singlehandedly dismantled the Babylonians, who conquered the Midianites with 300 men and a coward of a general, is tuned in to my prayers.
The power of prayer does not come from the words I say but from the God who hears.
When I call, God hears.
I’m not speaking empty words into emptiness and I’m not simply speaking to myself. This is not the power of positive thinking.
When I call, God hears.
Can you believe how astonishing this is? God truly and really hears when I pray. Why would I not take advantage of this more often? Why do I so often struggle in my own strength when the omnipotent (all-powerful) God is waiting for me to pray to Him?
2 Chronicles 16:9 - For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards Him.
2. God Acts
Matthew 21:21-22 - And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’, it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Not only does God hear my prayers, He actually responds to them. The more I think about this, the more trouble I have comprehending it.
I ask and God acts.
3. God Strengthens
Psalm 10:17-18 - O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart; You will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
So, not only does God hear me when I pray. He also strengthens me. In the midst of difficulty or trial, when I think I barely have the strength to call out to God, He hears me and strengthens me. He gives me real spiritual, emotional, and even physical strength.
Prayer connects me to the awesome strength of God. This is the glorious power of prayer. Though I am pathetically weak, prayer plugs me into the One who makes supernovas look like nightlights. Prayer is a divine invitation to experience the life-changing power of God.
4. God Blesses
Matthew 7:11 - If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
God is eager to bless me. Just as I am eager to bless my own kids by giving them good gifts, so is God eager to give good gifts to me. When I pray, God unleashes blessings into my life.
And I am not talking in the way that some of these ‘faith preachers’ or faith healers’. I am talking about a biblical understanding that God will use whatever means is necessary to conform me to the image of His Son and that means is a blessing, whatever it is.
And we must not forget that the purpose of the blessings of God is so that we may be a blessing and that it would be known that there is a God in heaven that ought to be worshipped and adored by every people, tongue, tribe, and nation.
Over and over in Scripture, we see God responding to prayer with blessing. When I neglect prayer, I am missing out on unique grace that God wants to give.
So, given what we have seen about God’s hearing, acting, strengthening, and blessing in prayer, how would you describe your prayer list, if you have a prayer list?
Don’t misunderstand me. Prayer lists can be wonderful tools. They help me remember to pray for things that I would normally forget. I would say that I tend to abandon a prayer list because my prayer lists are boring and unimaginative. They tend to be stale, like old, bland biscuits. They read like recipes.
If you look at my prayer lists, you wouldn’t say, “Hey, hold me back! You must think you’re Moses or Elijah or John the Baptist or something because you’ve got some crazy things you’re asking for here.” I tend not to have any big, fat, bodacious, faith-stretching requests on my prayer list.
Why is this? Why do my prayer lists tend toward the boring? It’s probably because I fail to take into account Scriptures like Ephesians 3:20 which talk about the glorious power of prayer:
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”
If I sat down and thought about it, I could come up with some pretty big, important things to ask God. Things that I wouldn’t normally ask for because they’re...well... they’re so big, things that definitely stretch my faith.
I pray for the salvation of my kids. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I could pray that God would dramatically and powerfully get hold of each of my kids. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can do incredible, powerful, life-shaking things for my children that I couldn’t even imagine! Do I really believe this?
I pray for God’s provision for my family. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I’ll pray that God would provide enough for us to give a chunk of money away to someone in need. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can provide for my family in breathtaking, surprising, “Oh my goodness, God is here” kinds of ways. Do I believe this?
I pray that God would deepen my love for Him. If I’m being really bold and imaginative, I’ll pray that God would increase my love for His word, increase my love for fellow Christ-followers, and let me experience the reality of His presence every day. Ephesians 3:20 tells me that God can meet me and change me and work me over in ways I never could have dreamed.
Given the power of prayer, my prayer lists should be inspired, bold, and imaginative. And I should approach my prayer times with eager expectancy. I should expect God to blow away my expectations. I should expect God to give me more than I ask.
I should expect God to surprise me.
What about you? Do you have big, fat, bodacious, faith-stretching prayers? Or is this something that you could do better? Let me know in the comments. And please share this post with your friends.
I remember growing up, Easter was mostly a day for getting together with family and having a good meal. Going to church may have also been something we did, but I vaguely remember that. And I do not ever recall saying a prayer together before we had our meal. This was my typical Easter, among other special celebrations growing up.
A few years later now (ok, maybe more than a few), Easter has a completely new meaning and significance for me and my family. It’s all about Jesus. He came to please the Father and to do His will. This is life-changing for us as Christians, if we truly grasp it.
Before we truly appreciate this wonderful Resurrection Day that we call Easter, let us remember what happened before the resurrection. This is where it starts.
It always amazes and humbles me that Jesus went through everything that He did, to ultimately bring glory and to please the Father. He suffered like no other, in every possible way. This is something that we cannot really understand as human beings. Such a selfless sacrifice.
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”
Today, we can have a relationship with God through Christ, because of
the perfect sacrifice that was made. This is something we should remember
daily. As I recall growing up, today this is one of the things I most
appreciate about having a relationship with God. It’s real, it’s a daily thing,
that challenges and encourages me.
So, let’s talk now a little bit about Easter. What a moment that must have been as they found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus not there (Luke 24:2-3). Jesus had said that He would rise again, but they were still perplexed (Luke 24:4).
As we read on in Luke, Jesus appears to many and shares these beautiful and impactful words:
“He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
We are all witnesses for Christ. Not because of us or what we have to offer. Because there is an awesome God who loves unconditionally and desires that all would come to know Him (2 Peter 3:9). Did you know that there are people out there who have never heard about Jesus? We are so blessed and honored to know this amazing life-changing news. Let us not take this for granted. God has a heart for the nations and we should also.
As we celebrate Easter, may we remember the sacrifice Jesus made and may we remember the words that He spoke.
If you are reading this at any other time of the year, be encouraged to celebrate and remember these things daily. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can celebrate Him everyday (Hebrews 13:8).
How was Easter for you growing up? Is it any different now? Please share below in the comments. We would love to hear from you!
“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make His face to shine upon us, Selah
that Your way may be known on earth,
Your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
let all the peoples praise You!
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people.
In this post, we will learn that we do not worship some tribal deity or the god of a region or a people or a country. We worship the God of all nations. And this truth is plainly seen in the psalms of Israel. The psalms and the prophets reveal God’s heart for the nations, God’s call for the nations to worship Him, and the declaration of praise among the nations by His people.
Let’s look at a few Psalms and learn what God tells the nations to do, what God tells us to do among the nations, and what God is saying to the nations.
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.
Remember that when the psalmists use the word “peoples” they are referring to the nations.
In this Psalm, God is acknowledging that the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, because He is God and He is sovereign over all. He has set His King on Zion and will give to Him the nations as a heritage. Thus He warns the nations and tells them how they ought to behave before the King.
From You comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear Him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.
For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it.
In Psalm 22 we see God saying that all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations will worship before our Lord. Because kingship belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. And this will be told about the Lord to the coming generations, coming and proclaiming His righteousness. Lots of worship from the nations.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You.
All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.” Selah
Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds towards the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in Him, who rules by His might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard.
In this psalm, God is telling the whole earth to sing the glory of His name and to give Him not just praise but glorious praise. His wonderful deeds are to be remembered and rehearsed because He rules by His might forever. The peoples are exhorted to bless God and to let the sound of His praise be heard. Again lots of worship from the peoples.
Now let’s look at messages from three prophets.
Jeremiah 1:5, 16:19-21
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to You shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say:
Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!”
“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know My power and my might, and they shall know that My name is the Lord.”
It is clear in Jeremiah’s call that God had consecrated Jeremiah as a prophet,
not just to Israel, but to the nations. And the verses from chapter 16 show us
that in the day of trouble the nations will come to God from the ends of the
earth and acknowledge the emptiness of the lies inherited from their fathers.
Man cannot make for himself gods, for such are not gods. Thus God will make
them know His power and His might and they shall know that His name is the Lord.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
In these two verses from Daniel 7, we see that the son of man was presented before the Ancient of Days so that He would be given an everlasting dominion and glory and a kingdom in which all peoples, nations and languages would serve Him. This kingdom shall not be destroyed.
For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.
In this verse from Malachi God reveals that His name will be great among the nations and that in every place Incense (praise) would be offered to His name.
It should be pretty clear by now that God has indeed blessed His people and continues to do so today. But that blessing comes with a responsibility to make His name known among the nations to the end that every people, tongue, tribe, and nation will worship His name and declare His marvellous works.
What about you?
Why do you think that most of us miss the connection between God’s blessing and His purpose and our responsibility in that purpose?
What steps could you take to be more aware of your responsibility to the nations? If you would like more ideas, leave a comment below.
And please share this post with others.
“Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen that mankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
In this post, we will look at passages from the Bible that show how the two themes of God’s blessing and His purpose connect. As God blessed the people of Israel He would show Himself to the nations and draw Gentiles to Himself.
As we work through some familiar portions of the Bible, pay attention to how both themes are wound together. Notice how God’s blessings are used to impact the nations and how individuals respond. Also, take some time to reflect on why you think the second theme of God’s purpose/man’s responsibility is usually ignored when these passages are discussed or preached.
Ten Plagues on Egypt
In the book of Exodus, God undertook to free the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To do so, He inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians. A typical reading of the account reveals that God is blessing His people by releasing them. But is that all there is to it?
Exodus 7:5 - “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
Exodus 7:17 - Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”
Exodus 9:13-16 - Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you yourself,[a] and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you My power, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Parting of the Red Sea
In the Book of Joshua, we see God parting the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to get away from the Egyptians who were pursuing them. A typical reading of this account shows God continuing to bless His people by protecting them. But is there more to it?
Joshua 4:23-24 - For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Joshua 2:8-11 - Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Every Sunday School student (do you know what Sunday School is?) can tell you the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Daniel was very successful in his role as an administrator and a satrap, so much so that the King planned to put Daniel over the whole kingdom. But jealousy drove the other administrators and satraps to find a way to discredit Daniel and knock him down. The only way they could do so was to make it illegal to pray to anyone other than the King because every day, Daniel would pray to God. So they convinced the King to enact this law. Daniel was caught and brought before the King who, although he was fond of Daniel, was bound by the law. So Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. Now, we know that God closed the mouths of the lions and in the morning, Daniel was found to be unharmed.
A typical retelling of this story shows God vindicating Daniel and saving him from an unjust death. But is there more to it?
Daniel 6:25-27 - Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed; His dominion will never end. He rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Esther and Mordecai
What about the story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai? We know that Haman hated Mordecai because he refused to bow to him and made a plan to destroy the Jews to get rid of Mordecai. The plan became known and Mordecai challenged Esther, at the risk of losing her own life, to go before the King and plead with him to change his mind. And this he did, instead sentencing Haman to death on the very gallows he had constructed for Mordecai.
Again a typical retelling of this story shows God’s blessing of His people by protecting them from an unjust end. But is there more to it?
Esther 8:15-17 - When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. For the Jews, it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honour. In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.
I hope that you’ve been able to see that in each of these stories there is both the blessing of God as well as purpose beyond the obvious.
Can you think of times in your life when you were blessed by God but suspected that there might have been more to the story?
Let’s embrace the truth that we are not the centre of God’s universe, that only God is suited to be the centre and surrender to His purpose and our responsibility to spread His glory among the nations.
“Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Have you ever really thought about what it means to be a witness for Christ? Today, we will look at a few verses to learn more about witnessing for Christ and we will also outline 4 practical points on how we can witness for Christ.
First, let’s answer the question of what it means to be a witness for Christ. Being a witness sounds like something simple, but it actually carries a lot of responsibility. When we witness for Christ, we are essentially representing Him and what is important to Him.
As children of God, we experience Him and then bear witness and represent Him to the world. Witnessing can be sharing scripture or sharing our personal testimony/story that testify to God’s love, grace, and forgiveness in our own lives. We are all called to be witnesses, regardless of gender, age, etc.
You may say, “I am not gifted in speaking or I really don’t know what to say,” so why should I be a witness? The simple answer is that we are all called to be witnesses.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I just want to note 3 points from this text before we move ahead.
1. You SHALL receive power WHEN the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
This power that we receive, does not come from us. This is the first thing that we must realize before we witness, because it is not by our own strength. This power that we receive is the empowerment through the Holy Spirit.
2. And you SHALL be witnesses.
There are those words. Once we know that it is through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we then witness for Christ as we are led.
3. In Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
We can be a witness for Christ to our own family members, our neighbours, friends, co-workers, and to all people in the world. God is for all people, and He sent Jesus to die for the world, not just those who are geographically close to us.
Let’s look at 4 practical points on how we can witness for Christ.
1. Start with Prayer
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”
If we are unsure of how we can witness for Christ or who we can witness to, we can pray about it. This is very important and something we must always do. Often times, God will put someone in our heart to speak with and we may not exactly know why, but He does. God knows the heart and the words that we all need to hear.
2. Be sensitive and loving
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
Whatever we are sharing should be done in love. Sometimes you may be witnessing to someone you don’t know very well or at all, so being sensitive and loving is especially important.
3. Read the Bible everyday
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
1 Peter 3:15
The more we read, study, and memorize the Bible, the more we will grow and the more we will be able to share with others. We can be reminded of something we read and use it when we are witnessing to others. Even if we are unsure of some questions that we are asked, we can be honest and say that we can get back to them. As we read, study, and memorize the Bible more, we grow in our knowledge and understanding. It is a continuous learning process for all of us as witnesses for Christ.
4. Trust God for the results
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
1 Corinthians 3:6
Both Paul and Apollos did their part, but it is God who caused the seed to grow. We can be witnesses of Christ, but not see any results right away or at all but this shouldn’t stop us from witnessing. We must continue to be obedient and trust God for the results. It is Him who draws men unto Himself.
Let’s be encouraged as we witness for Christ. God is with us, He has empowered us, and His purposes will be accomplished according to His perfect plan.
Feel free to take a look at our website to learn more about us, our missionaries and projects, and our blog. You can share these with others as you witness for Christ.
Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts you can click here to catch up.
In this post we are focusing on the Holy Spirit and prayer. There are many scripture references to the Holy Spirit in reference to prayer or praying. How do we make sense of these?
Writing to the Ephesians, Paul established the role of the Holy Spirit in every true believer’s prayer life. He described prayer warfare, the devil’s schemes, and the armour that equips the one who prays for victory (Ephesians 6:10-17).
Concluding this section, Paul commanded his readers to, “Pray in the Spirit,” meaning with the help of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).
There are three points to be made at this point.
The Holy Spirit Helps Us Pray
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
If we were to be honest, most of us would have to admit we don’t often know what we ought to pray. At times it’s difficult to understand fully our needs and to face our true condition.
When others request our prayers, we possess even less insight. Therefore, instruction from the Holy Spirit is necessary. He gives insight and leads us along the line our prayer is to move so that it may correspond with the will of God.
The Holy Spirit Brings Power to Prayer
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you,” (John 14:26).
The Holy Spirit gives Christian prayer power beyond anything ever before known in the history of world religions.
Every prayer skill that we lack, the Holy Spirit can provide. He is with us forever. We know Him. He lives with us and is in us. He makes our hearts into good homes for Jesus and the Father. (See John 14:23.)
But how exactly do we pray using the power of the Holy Spirit? We only need to pray, “Come Holy Spirit” and give the Spirit permission to pray through us.
Set aside quiet time when you allow the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind what you already know or have experienced in prayer with Him. Thank Him for being the guardian of your life and of your prayers. Then pray, “Come Holy Spirit” and wait for Him to speak new and wonderful prayers through you.
As we pray with the power of the Holy Spirit, He brings things to our minds we have long forgotten. He warns us of dangers we cannot foresee, opens our insights into Who Jesus is and applies supernatural healing to wounds we have forgotten we suffered. He points out our need for confession of sins that we would rather not face and helps us pray for a future we cannot yet imagine.
The phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” is used frequently in the book of Acts. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is a command. And power comes with the Holy Spirit.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8).
His Fullness if for Everyone who Prays
Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would be with us forever (John 14:16). He was not given only to first century Christians, but to all in every century who seek him. To receive the Holy Spirit’s fullness and power, we must respond to God’s plan.
When Paul says the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), what do you think he meant by weaknesses? What do you consider weaknesses?
Paul also says that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words can’t express (Romans 8:37). Can you share an experience where you felt weak and knew the Holy Spirit was speaking your longings?
Here are a few stories to let you know what OMS is involved in around the world, specifically in Taiwan.
Taiwan (provided by Rod and Beth Williamson - Twelve years ago, Central Taiwan Theological Seminary purchased 18 acres of farmland in northeast Taichung. Three years ago, we began a four-year process of rezoning the land so that it could be used for training pastors. Ten of the fourteen needed approvals have already been received. The eleventh approval from the Environmental Impact Committee is the toughest of all the approvals remaining. Just a few weeks ago, after six months of meetings, the Environmental Impact Committee finally gave its approval. The remaining three approvals should not be difficult, so we hope that in a few months, we can begin the preliminary construction of a retaining wall, contouring the property, roadways, water control, and putting in utilities. This will take about a year. A seminary’s impact is greatly increased when both head and heart are trained, when teaching focuses on knowing about Jesus, and learning how to follow and worship Him in daily life. May this campus be a place where leaders are trained who train many others, leading to the multiplication of leaders … and where Taiwanese missionaries are trained for impactful cross-cultural ministry!
Taiwan (provided by Don and Marla Bettinger) - One of the things that gives us the greatest joy is to see coworkers step up or take the initiative to be a witness to their own people. This Christmas, one of our coworkers, Chyou Ting, shared her testimony at two separate Christmas events. One was a Christmas breakfast we hosted for a number of our unbelieving friends, and the other was a meeting that she initiated on her own. This second one was a “Gospel Teatime” in which she invited several coworkers from the hospital ICU department where she works. She and her friends did the music, shared a testimony, and gave a Gospel presentation. We only needed to open our home and teach the women how to make cookies. At least one of the coworkers made a decision to accept Christ that night. Chyou Ting invited her to the Lighthouse home church this past Sunday evening, and she came. We praise God that Chyou Ting has caught the vision for sharing the Gospel and making disciples.
Taiwan (provided by Mark and Michelle Dinnage) - One of the college-age men
with whom Mark has been able to meet for discipleship is a great person of
peace, gifted in connecting people. He invited fellow classmate, Johanna, to
Bible study. A few months later, Michelle prayed with Johanna to accept
Christ, and then she was baptized in October. Johanna grew up in Honduras
with her mother, who is also a Christian. Johanna has also become closer with
her father, who is Taiwanese. Johanna is now growing daily in her faith.
Lost people matter to God, and He wants them to be found.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In the previous post in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we saw that at the end of everything God does is the purpose to reveal His glory, to show Himself glorious. And we saw that this means that mankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us.
In this post we hope to see the Bible not as 66 books that happen to be bound by one cover, but as one book. The Bible has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction is the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the body starts at Genesis 12 and goes through to Jude, and the conclusion is Revelation.
Do you read the Bible as a collection of 66 different books that are just collected and bound together? Or do you read the Bible as a single book with a beginning, the main body, and a conclusion?
Now, in a well-written book, the author will begin to reveal major themes in the introduction. One of the keys to the correct interpretation of the Bible is to detect these themes and follow how the author develops them throughout the book. It is silly to try to interpret the Bible without some idea of its emphasis and purpose. This post looks at two fundamental themes that first appear in Genesis 1:28.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The first theme is that God wants to bless His creation. In the context of the blessing, we discover the second theme, dealing with God’s purpose for the blessing which involves man’s responsibility.
The two themes are restated in Genesis 9:1 and further defined in Genesis 12:1-3. Before we go to Genesis 12, here is a summary of what happens in the introduction of the Bible.
This is the backdrop from which God calls Abram to leave his country and declares His covenant with him.
Genesis 12:1-3, which begins the main story of the Bible, outlines the covenant God makes with Abram. And as you might imagine from the introduction, there are two elements to the covenant. There is the blessing element and the responsibility element. Don Richardson, who wrote the book “Eternity in Their Hearts” calls these two elements the top line and bottom line of the covenant. The top line is God’s blessing and the bottom line is Abram’s responsibility.
So God promises to bless Abram by giving him land (v1), making him into a great nation (v2) and a great name (v2). But along with the blessing comes the bottom line, the responsibility. Abram was to be a blessing (v2) and that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (v3). And so the implication is that Abram is blessed in order to be a blessing. That’s the top line and the bottom line of the covenant God made with Abram. You will be blessed but you must be a blessing.
God later confirms His covenant with Abraham and repeats it to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, giving clarification of its themes. Check out the following passages.
As you read the Bible you will discover the parallel nature of the two themes of blessing and purpose/responsibility. The danger is in failing to keep these two themes in their parallel tension. Our tendency is to see God’s blessings apart from our responsibility and His purpose for the blessing. That failure leads to an egocentric faith with ourselves at the centre of everything.
I want to challenge you to look at the following four stories and think about what God was doing in each instance. We will look more closely at these questions in the next blog post.
Oh sing to the LORD and new song,
sing to the LORD all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous works among the peoples! (Psalm 96:1-3)
Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and
women? What is the chief aim of God? Not His only passion or motivation,
but His ultimate passion for which all other passions are subordinate. When
every other reason is eliminated but one, what is this one? This one
would be His ultimate design for creation and indeed for every action He takes.
As was pointed out in the introduction, there is a very real tendency to place ourselves (mankind) as the ultimate passion or motivation of God. We tend to think that this Christianity is all about us, as though we are the centre of God’s universe, and that our needs form the basis for His actions. We think that God’s ultimate purpose is to grant us salvation and enjoy us forever. And this perspective leads us to believe that the ultimate objective of missions is man.
As you look at the Scriptures in this blog post, ask yourself these questions: What does the Bible say is the ultimate goal of God? What is the ultimate goal of His activity in the world?
“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
God created the natural world to display His glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).
“You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3); “. . . that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11).
“He saved them at the Red Sea for His name’s sake that He might make known His mighty power” (Psalm l06:7-8); “I have raised you up for this very purpose of showing my power in you, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
“I acted in the wilderness for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).
After Israel asked for a king “Fear not . . . For the Lord will not cast away His people for His great name’s sake (l Samuel 12:20-22).
“Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act [in bringing you back from the exile], but for the sake of My holy name…And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name . . . and the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32). “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
“Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).
“Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27, 28).
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
“God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
“I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
“Whoever serves [let him serve], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
“Immediately an angel of the Lord smote [Herod] because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
“. . . when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marvelled at in all who have believed (2 Thessalonians l:9-l0).
“Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given Me, may be with me where I am, to behold My glory, which thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world” (John l7:24).
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
From these Scriptures, we can now answer the questions asked at the beginning of this post. Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and women? What is the chief aim of God in everything He does?
The answer is that the ultimate purpose and chief aim in everything God does is for the praise of His glory and His grace. God’s passion for His name and should be our central motivation in everything we do, including missions. God is not receiving the worship that is due His name; therefore, the mission of the Church is to call out worshippers from among the nations. Every church and every follower of Jesus Christ is called to participate in this global activity.
As author Joh Piper puts it in his book Let the Nations Be Glad, “God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshippers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.”
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What steps can you take to bring your affections more in line with His? What role could you have in the goal of gathering worshippers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation?
Leave a comment and let us know how you answer these questions.
Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts you can click here to catch up.
In this post we look at the question of the purpose of prayer. Often the point is made that, if we believe that God is sovereign and knows everything, including what we are thinking or what we need, what is the point of praying?
Maybe you have asked a similar question. I know I have occasionally wondered this.
What is your prayer life like? Would you share what God has spoken to you about prayer? What steps can you take to be more prayerful? Leave us a comment and let us know.
Do you remember a time when you travelled somewhere to go and visit family or friends?
I remember as a child, we would often go to Hartford in the United States to go and stay with family. It was a bit of a drive, but it was always special especially when we arrived at our family’s home. We were all so excited to see each other and they would often make special arrangements and preparations for us. The rooms where we would sleep would be ready and the fridge would be stocked with delicious food to share with us. When we are expecting company, it is special and there is a lot of effort, time, and love that goes into it.
In John 20:21-22 Jesus said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
As Jesus speaks to the disciples, He is preparing them to receive the Holy Spirit whom they would receive shortly after on the day of Pentecost.
Before Jesus came to be born of the virgin Mary, God made of all of the necessary preparations beforehand. Everything came to pass just as it was promised.
I briefly shared about travelling to a familiar place but alternatively, when a person is travelling somewhere for the first time it may not be so exciting at first. It may be a new and unfamiliar place, and you may not know anyone. That can be a bit intimidating and maybe even scary.
Are you called to be a missionary? If you have not read this blog series, be sure to check it out.
Not everyone can be a missionary. However, everyone can have a part in the bigger task—by going, sending, supporting, or mobilizing others. Jesus is allowing us to take part in some way.
As we play our part in the process, it’s important to remember that there is a connection between being sent and receiving the Holy Spirit. Wherever God sends us to share the good news of Jesus Christ, He makes preparations for us. He prepares hearts, opportunities, relationships, and even divine appointments. Through prayer, we can make it a priority to seek God and trust that He will prepare the way for us.
When we remember that God makes preparations for us, we are more at peace. When we remember that we have the Holy Spirit, we are more confident. Not because of our abilities, but because of what the Holy Spirit can do through us. Lives can be transformed, people set free, and we can also be renewed and changed. It is a wonderful blessing to experience God and to be able to share that with others.
As some of our missionaries face the reality of travel restrictions, let us continue to pray for them. Jesus has sent them to various places around the world and many of them are still waiting. Let’s pray that God would continue to give them opportunities right where they are and that He would be glorified even through the waiting process.
Where is Jesus sending you? Have you ever been on a missions trip? Please share in the comments. We would love to hear from you.
Have you ever been convinced that you knew something? Have you ever had a discussion about what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever argued with someone who disagreed with what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever realized that what you thought you knew for sure, what you had argued for, turned out to be incorrect? Or incomplete?
I’m afraid this of the case for some of us who call ourselves Christian. We think we know what God is up to and believe that we are cooperating with God in His purpose and activities on earth. Everywhere you look in the Bible you see God’s all about blessing us. He loves to bless us and we love to be blessed. So let’s all enjoy the blessings of God.
What we have done is turned the Word of God into something that is all about us. But I don’t think that is true. The Bible is God’s Word and in it He reveals Himself to us and His purposes on the earth. And you know what? It’s not about us. We are in the story but the story is not about us.
We certainly are blessed, but it is not just so that we can be blessed. There is more to it than that.
How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so.
Let’s take a test. If I were to say the first few words of a well-known verse of the Bible, could you complete the verse for me? Here’s the start of the verse…
Be still and…
I expect that as you read these three words, other words came to mind and you easily said, know that I am God. Of course you did because we all know and love that verse. Psalm 46:10 is a favourite verse because it speaks of perhaps the greatest blessing that God has given to those whose sins have been forgiven. To know God is the very best.
There’s just one problem, though. You didn’t complete the verse. Be still and know that I am God is just ⅓ of the verse. So you were not incorrect, just incomplete.
Here’s the whole verse.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).
The first part of the verse is about us (if we have been born again). But the second part, fully ⅔ of the verse is about God. Without even thinking about it, we made a verse mostly about God into a truncated version that is about us. The blessing of knowing God has global implications, dealing with nations and the earth.
The major focus of North American Christian thought and practice may seem to be, “What can God do for me?” Our lives and our prayers reflect the belief that God’s ultimate priority is to make His disciples more comfortable. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe that God does want to bless us and that God’s desire to bless His people is a major theme of the Bible. But if we focus on the theme of blessing alone, we distort the truth and lose the context in which God’s blessings are given.
Over the course of eight more blog posts, I hope to create an awareness of one of the most ignored themes of the Bible - God’s global purpose: His desire and activity of redeeming mankind, the nations, to Himself. It involves the active pursuit of worshippers from all the peoples of the earth that will give Him the glory that is due His name. God’s blessings and His global purpose are beautifully woven together in the Bible. My belief is that in order to correctly interpret and apply Scripture, it is necessary to understand the connection of these two themes. To ignore either one leads to misinterpretation and faulty application. Ultimately, lives will be misdirected.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to the truth of His Word as you read and think on the next eight posts on this topic of God’s heart for the nations and that you will respond to His guidance in applying His truth.
Take a few moments to think of two or three people you know who might want to go through this series of posts. Share this with them. Maybe you would go through this together, as a group. If you do, please let us know.
And don’t forget to share this on your favourite social media channels as well. Let’s get the word out and then do the work of missions until there is no place left where Jesus is not known (Romans 15:23).
“And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” (Luke 18:1 ESV).
Want to change your life? The world? God says, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV). The possibility of accomplishing great things rests in our commitment to prayer. Jesus said that He chose us and appointed that we should bear fruit that abides in order that, “whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV). If I want to change my life, find success in the world, and help others, I must make prayer a priority.
What is prayer? It is how we communicate with God. Prayer is simply conversation with God, and we are always welcome to approach the great God of the universe for a personal audience. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, the veil that separated us from God was torn in two, allowing us to call upon the name of the Lord. Jesus also granted us the right to use His name when we pray, so that if we ask anything in His name, the Father would do it.
Prayer is a time we can draw near to God. A time we can spend talking with and concentrating all of our thoughts upon God. Jesus told us to enter into a closet and pray, because in the solitude of the moment we become more acutely aware of God’s presence. It is also an opportunity to sharpen one’s spiritual ear. In these moments of quietness, where the only presence other than ours is God’s, we learn how to hear and respond to His will.
Prayer is absolutely necessary in this life. If God commands us to pray, that tells us it is of great benefit.
Too often we look at God’s commandments through a negative lens, but they are not meant to be a stranglehold or prevention upon the individual; they are meant as a protection that produces benefits in life.
For our lives to experience success, we need to pray. In fact, prayer ought to be our first response in every circumstance in this life. Our lives are not of quiet desperation, but of divine inspiration. God has placed each one of us in this world and commanded us to pray in order that we might bring His presence and blessing into our present reality.
Also, prayer is commanded by God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are instructed to “pray without ceasing.” He expects us to be people of prayer. Our lives are to be saturated with prayer and identified by prayer. The very words “without ceasing” imply the idea of never ending. That means we ought to be praying all the time and about everything.
Prayer is one of the main attributes mentioned in the Bible about the church; Jesus called it a house of prayer. We might even say that if the old adage is true, “Brick and mortar don’t make a church — people do,” then every Christian ought to be a “house of prayer.”
There is one last reason to consider about prayer, and that is that others benefit when you pray for them. Everyone knows somebody who needs prayer, and who better to pray for them than you?
Two suggestions in order to improve the quality of your prayer time: Start a prayer journal and mark the time when your prayers are answered— it will be a great faith builder. The other thing is to structure your time of praying. There are many ways to structure prayer time and if you want to know what some of our most effective are, send us an email or give us a call.
May I also suggest that you consider taking part in OMS Canada’s twice weekly virtual prayer meetings? We meet via Zoom on Tuesday mornings at 10:00 am Eastern and Thursday evenings at 9:00 pm Eastern. Again, send us an email or call the office to receive the meeting information and links.
Start today: Set a time and let nothing deter you from your daily prayer. In the end, you will be blessed, those around you will benefit from your time of prayer, and it will change your life.
Welcome back to the Commands of Christ blog series where we are examining together the nine foundational commands given by Jesus and which are essential for new disciples to understand and obey. If you missed the first eight posts in this series you can find them by clicking Repent and Believe, Be Baptized, Pray, Make Disciples, Love, Worship, Observe the Lord’s Supper, and Give.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In this post, we will look at the ninth of nine foundational commands that Christ gave for disciples to obey. This command is to gather and is found in Hebrews 10:24-25.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
If there is one thing about the church that is being questioned as a result of COVID and the lockdowns which have been imposed, it is the command to gather. After all, many believers have turned to various forms of technology to encourage one another during this unusual season. We can pray for one another over the phone. We can host virtual Bible studies on Zoom. Pastors can email filmed teaching sessions to their members.
And we are grateful that we can minister to one another in these ways while scattered. I’m not writing to contribute to the conversation about whether churches should livestream “services” or send out pre-recorded material or such things during this strange time. I simply want to remind us that a church is never less than a gathering. Even though many congregations cannot now meet, assembling is of the essence of a church.
Gathering isn’t merely a nice thing to do; it’s part of what a church is.
There is a popular Christian social media catch-phrase that says, "You don't go to church, you are the church." While I understand the truth of this statement, this is an unhealthy view, pitting "being the church" and "going to church" against each other. If we truly are "the Church," then we will surely get together with other believers regularly. We cannot "be" the church if we don't go to the assembly. Not fully anyway.
The "Church" never implies a single, individual, lone-ranger Christian just going about his Christian duties, and never gathering together to worship with other believers. The "Church" by its very nature means multiple believers, who believe that, "where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20).
The Biblical pattern for church is this:
●Every Christian should gather together to hear the Scriptures and worship Jesus together with other believers weekly (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 2:42; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Romans 16:5; Acts 20:20; James 2:2; Psalm 84:4; Psalm 37:17; Psalm 92:13)
●It is also good to meet for smaller groups of Christian community in each other's homes regularly (see Acts 2:46)
●It's good to have leaders overseeing the work and needs of each local church - this is the Biblical pattern - not all of us are called to church leadership, and so we should submit to, and serve whoever God has called to lead at the place we find ourselves (see Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Philippians 1:1b; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 20:17;)
●If there are believers who are unable for physical reasons to attend a church weekly, they should find a church or believers who will gather together with them regularly for worship in their own home. (see James 5:14; James 1:27)
So, here are ten powerful and biblical reasons why you should attend worship weekly, and why church attendance can change your life:
Don't let excuses stand in the way of what you know God is calling you to do. God will strengthen you, and empower you to do what He has called you to do. I am praying for you -- if you have encountered past wounds from leaders or from church members -- that God will bring healing and grace to you, as you seek to follow Him, and love His Church.
If you are looking for a church that preaches the gospel, leave a comment and we will try to help you find a good one.
It’s a familiar scene, not likely to be repeated this year. So we pull out the home videos of past Christmas concerts. A child dressed as an angel stands with arms outstretched as the narrator reads, “Fear not…” Then the entire children’s choir stands as the narrator continues, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” On cue, our precious little ones sing, “Glo-o-o-o-o-oria, in Excelsis Deo!” We delight for those few remembered moments in our children’s Christmas joy. But it isn’t long before we leave that digital video world and return to the disappointments, challenges, and threats that surround us in this political quagmire and COVID reality that is Christmas 2020. And we are left asking the question, “How can any reasonable adult be merry this Christmas?
To answer this question, we need to remember the troubling conditions that were present when the angels sang. Luke tells us that, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1). These words reveal that the angels’ joy was not rooted in childlike naivety. Satanic forces had empowered governments which then oppressed the people. Moral corruption ran wild within Israel. The faithful were ostracized, mocked, and threatened by violence and persecution at every turn. Sound familiar? The world Christ was born into was in many ways very much like our own.
And the angels were not a sweet children’s choir. They were “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). In the Bible, “Lord of hosts” most often refers to God as the One who leads the armies of heaven, angels who battle Satan and the demonic forces. So, when the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy...For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11), these angels sang, in much the same way as ancient human armies sang as they entered the battle. This was a vast heavenly army, eager to fight against every power that threatens God’s plan and His people.
To understand the “great joy” of this first Christmas, we must recognize what was so amazing about Jesus’ birth.
First, the words “good news” or “gospel” usually makes us think of how Jesus brings salvation to individuals who believe in Him. “Good news” includes that but passages like 2 Samuel 18:31 show us that this phrase is actually the announcement of victory in battle. Second, the term “Saviour” makes us think again of how Jesus saves individuals from sin. Again, ‘Saviour” includes that, but passages like Zephaniah 3:17 teach that a “saviour” is a warrior, one who delivers His people from harm and grants deliverance and victory.
In response to the certainty of victory for “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), the angelic army sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). And this praise should fill every heart, even the hearts of “reasonable” adults. Evil threatens on every side, literally, but we know the good news that victory is sure. Christ our victorious warrior has been born.
Jesus is our hope and this is the hope that we have for Christmas and everyday.
What does this hope mean in your life? Let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you.
Have you ever had one of those days that seems like it’s getting worse as each hour passes by?
Maybe you wake up in the morning and you step on the dog’s tail, you head to the bathroom only to find out that you are all out of toothpaste. Then, as you leave the house and get into your car you realize that you were supposed to fill up with gas the day before but you forgot. The extra stop now means you will be late for a very important meeting. When you get to the office and start to print out some documents, the printer stops working because the ink has run out and there are no extra cartridges at hand. What a series of events so far and the day has just started.
I would like to point out two words that we started out this blog with today: "seems like."
When anything “seems like” something, it doesn’t mean that it actually is. How we react or respond to the series of events in our lives is very important not only for our sanity, but more importantly for our spiritual growth.
Most of us have heard about the life of Job and everything that he experienced. The Bible says that Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). Things were going very well for him and he ends up losing it all. Talk about not only having an off day but season. Even his wife couldn’t understand how he wouldn’t curse God through all of these events (Job 2:9). His response was, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job responded well. I imagine it was certainly not easy, but Job chose to respond and not react.
More and more, I am realizing that especially when we are in difficult situations, responding is the more effective way. When we react to things, we are often filled and fueled with and by our emotions. When we take the time to respond, we can ask God to help us respond in the best way. I encourage you to try it. In the days that seem off, but also in more challenging situations similar to what Job went through.
Some people may ask why bad or challenging things happen and while that is a valid question, we may not get the answer. Having faith and exercising faith is about trusting God especially when we do not understand. It allows us to build that trust and surrender every area of our lives to God.
So if we may not always get the answer, what does God’s Word say about life situations? There are different verses, but today let’s look at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
While this may not answer some questions for us, it does give us some great perspective on how to respond to situations. To rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances because this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
To be able to live this out, we need to approach it appropriately and effectively which cannot be accomplished in our own strength. To be able to respond well, we need the Holy Spirit of God to help us. He is our comforter and our guide, who enables us to be more like Jesus.
I truly believe that when we read God’s Word and do our best to live it out, great things happen. God’s Word is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and does not return void or empty (Isaiah 55:11).
What are you spreading during this season? If you haven’t read our past blog about this very topic, you can read it here.
You see, even with all of the trauma that Job endured He kept the faith and the Bible says that God blessed him even more than he was before everything was lost (Job 42:12-17).
What season are you in? Does it seem like it will never end or get better? Whatever situation we are finding ourselves in, let us remember the words that Paul spoke to encourage the Thessalonian church. Those words are for us too.
Be encouraged. God is with you. He will never leave or forsake you. Just lay down everything at His altar and receive His peace and His love with certainty. If there is anything we can believe with you for together in prayer, please contact us and we would be happy to pray.
May God continue to uplift us, as we seek to be more like Jesus each day.
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of perseverance. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship as it relates to both time and finances, fasting, silence/solitude, journaling, and learning.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch yourself up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and he makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
So what about perseverance?
There are a great many things that require perseverance in our Christ-following life. And Scripture contains many references to perseverance, remaining steadfast, and not giving up or giving in. This encouragement can be applied to a great many areas of our life but we need to consider perseverance in the matter of the habits of grace or spiritual disciplines.
There are three elements that have been mentioned briefly to this point in reference to other disciplines, but we are going to look more closely at them here. They are the role of the Holy Spirit, the role of fellowship, and the role of struggle in Christ-following.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
We need to constantly remind ourselves that despite the most diligent of attention to disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness, we cannot make ourselves more like Jesus.
That is what the Holy Spirit does, working through these habits or disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him. Any emphasis on the disciplines of habits carries the risk of overlooking this important fact.
In The Discipline of Grace; God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, he says:
A major temptation in the self-discipline approach to holiness, however, is to rely on a regiment of spiritual disciplines instead of on the Holy Spirit. I believe in spiritual disciplines. I seek to practice them...But those disciplines are not the source of our spiritual strength. The Lord Jesus Christ is, and it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to apply His strength to our lives. (135)
Wherever the Holy Spirit lives, His holy presence creates a hunger for holiness. His primary task is to magnify Christ (John 16:14-15), and it is He who gives the Christ-follower a desire to be like Christ. We have no such desire in our natural state. But in the Christ-follower, the Spirit of God begins to carry out the will of God to make the child of God like the Son of God (Romans 8:29). And He who began this good work in the life of the Christ-follower will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians1:6).
So it is the Holy Spirit’s job to produce within us both the desire and the power for the habits of grace. And the reality that He does this in every believer is evident from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (NASB). Therefore, even if your natural temperament or personality does not incline you toward orderly and disciplined habits, the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit equips you with enough of a supernatural spirit of discipline for you to obey the command to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.
Self-control, according to Galatians 5:23, is a direct product, or fruit, of the Spirit’s control in the Christ-follower’s life. And when the Christ-follower expresses the Spirit-produced self-control by practicing the habits of grace, the result is progress in godliness.
Two things are clear: (1) the Holy Spirit will always be faithful to help each of God’s children to persevere in those things that will make us like Christ, and (2) we must not harden our hearts, but instead respond to His promptings if we would be godly.
The Role of Fellowship
That Christ-follower who only measures Christlikeness in terms of growth in his or her fellowship with God takes an incomplete measurement. Spiritual maturity must also include growth in fellowship with the people of God. John the apostle connected these two fellowships in 1 John 1:3: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” New Testament fellowship is with both the triune God and with His people. Just as the human maturity of Jesus included growth in favour with both God and man (Luke 2:52), so will the spiritual maturity of those who seek to be like Jesus.
One of the obvious reasons why we cannot take the habits of grace into isolation is that many of the habits - public worship, united prayer, participation in the Lord’s Supper, serving others, and more - simply cannot be practised without other Christ-followers. Also, one of God’s purposes for fellowship is to complement the personal habits of grace and to stimulate our growth in godliness through them. Consider this; as studying the Bible alone is one God-given habit of grace for growing in grace, so is studying the Bible with others. The habits of grace definitely have some nonpublic applications but they were never meant to be practised apart from fellowship in the community of faith.
Hebrews 3:13 also warns us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” When we withdraw from the spiritual protection God provides for us within the fellowship, we are more easily deceived by sin. Without the tempering influence of Christ-followers with different gifts, insights, and experiences, those who withdraw from the exhortations or other Christ-followers miss out on the grace that God intends for them to receive only through the local church life.
An old Puritan recommended that we associate with sanctified persons. They may, by their counsel, prayers and holy example, be a means to make you holy.
The Role of Struggle
Living the life of a Christ-follower is not easy. Even though trust and rest are core values of the Christian life, so are discipline and struggle. There are lots of forces that fight against the spiritual progress of those still on this side of heaven. Now, the way of Christ is not always an inner struggle or every moment a battle, but neither is it without lifelong opposition. That’s just the reality.
And the struggle is natural, given the warfare that is going on for your very soul. We see in the verse that anchors this blog series that practising the habits of grace will be accompanied by struggle. Referring to the godliness mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul wrote in verse 10, “For to this end we toil and strive.” The words toil and strive tell us that becoming like Christ involves something different than ‘let go and let God’, as some have taught. The word translated toil means to work until you grow weary. We get our English word agonize from the term translated here as strive. It literally means to struggle. Growth in godliness does not come by the work of the Holy Spirit alone, nor by our work alone, but by our responding to the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains.
This is the clear teaching of the New Testament. It warns us of the world, flesh, and the devil and how they constantly wage war against us. The Bible says that because of this triplet of opposition we will experience a struggle to overcome sin as long as we live in this body.
While we live in the world, it will put its unending pressure on us. Jesus reminded us that the world hated Him and it will hate us if we discipline ourselves to follow Him (John 15:18-19). John also exhorted us, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). Then he goes on to warn about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as part of the world. There is no experience that can provide a lasting from all these worldly temptations except the experience of leaving this world.
The flesh also pressures us against godliness. The reality of Galatians 5:17 is that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Sometimes it is no problem at all to obey God. There are moments when one of your greatest joys is to get into the Word of God and occasionally you might experience times of prayer that you wish would never end. But many times it is a struggle to engage in any of the habits of grace at all.
So the Spirit will prompt you toward Christlikeness and the practice of the habits of grace and your flesh will rise up in defiance because these are opposed to each other. But even though disciplining yourself is often difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want to do. Rather than thinking of this as self-punishment, it is more scriptural to see it as one way of “sowing to the Spirit” as Galatians 6:8 encourages.
In addition to the world and the flesh, you also have a personal enemy committed to your failure in the habits of grace - the devil. The apostle Peter reminded us. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If it were possible to permanently avoid all spiritual struggle, Peter would have told us instead of exhorting us to be alert. Paul would have told us instead of telling us to put on the armour of God. It’s because we are in a battle, a conflict, a struggle that they tell us to watch out and put on the armour. There is no vacation from the struggle. Until we see our Saviour face to face. Then we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).
The Holy Spirit, true fellowship, and the recognition of the ongoing struggle in the Christian life will help you persevere in the practice of the habits of grace. And apart from such perseverance, the habits of grace are incomplete and ineffective. 2 Peter 1:6 makes a hard connection between self-control (discipline) and godliness, and that connection is perseverance. Without perseverance between the two, the relationship between the self-controlled practice of the habits of grace and godliness is like a battery full of power but poorly connected to a lightbulb. The light flickers inconsistently and without the full benefit of the power in the battery. But with a persevering connection between the two, the light shines brightly. In the same way, the light of the life of Christ will shine more steadily through you the more you persevere in the practice of the habits of grace. Such perseverance will make us the salt and light that we should be (Matthew 5:13-16).
Have you thought about the importance of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship, and your struggle as essential to your growth in godliness? Which of these has been most helpful to you? Which has been neglected? How will you go about utilizing all three in the future?