Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Glad to See You! (Praying with Confience in God part 2)

View From Grand MesaMy mother died from cancer eighteen years ago at the age of 51. I remember the last time I was with her alive. It was Mother’s Day 1992. We had driven from Kansas City back home to Pueblo, Colorado to see her and my dad. She was very sick; yellow from the jaundice because her liver and kidneys were shutting down; almost too weak to get out of bed. We sat with her, read scripture together, sang hymns, and read her Mother’s Day cards to her. She was suffering and on pain medication. But on that day she was vibrant. She was positive. She smiled and radiated the love of God to all of us in the room with her.
Thinking about her and Psalm 119:74 has me asking myself: Are other believers encouraged when they see me? Do I have a positive, vibrant testimony? Do I have the type of smile and countenance that reflects patient confidence in the Lord?
Psalm 119:73-80 reflects that kind of patient confidence in God in spite of afflictions. Yesterday I told the first reason to have confidence in God and His word:  1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (Psalm 119:73).
The second reason we can pray with confidence is:
2. My God Can Still Work Through Me (74).
74  Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word.
The writer of Psalm 119 is not free from affliction, but he responds to struggles in life in such a way that the Lord is glorified, others are benefited, and he himself sees it turn out for good in his life.
A beautiful example of this truth is in Paul in Philippians 1:12-14, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
That is one of God’s purposes in comforting us through our affliction, that we could then be used by Him to comfort others. Look at the truth found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
Part of that comfort that Paul received was the encouragement of a man named Titus, “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Cor. 7:6). It is good for our eyes to see someone whose life testifies that the Lord is true. The sight of a faithful person gladdens the God-fearing. Hopeful men bring gladness with them.
Are you spreading gladness where ever you go?

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Do You Pray with Confidence?

RiverboatLong ago two boys on the bank of the Mississippi River watched a mighty paddle wheeler majestically move down the river. As it drew near, one boy laid down his fishing pole and began to wave frantically and yell. The other lad laughed at the effort of his friend to get the attention of the paddle wheeler, but suddenly the giant vessel began to slow down and then turned toward the bank.

In amazement, the second boy wondered aloud how his friend could possibly flag down a massive paddle wheeler. The excited boy simply told his bewildered friend: "My father is the pilot."

As children of God we, too, can have confidence that our Father will respond to our petitions. Psalm 119:73-80 is a prayer of confidence in a good God in whom we can trust. Verses 73-75 focus on the character and works of God. They form the basis for the psalmist’s confidence for making his petitions in verses 76-80. He prays trusting in God and in God’s word. So in this section of Psalm 119 we see three reasons for confidence in God and His Word and five requests based on that confidence in God and His Word.
Reasons for Confidence in God and His Word.
1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (73).
73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
The word “hand” is the key word of this whole stanza.  In fact, each verse of the stanza begins with the Hebrew letter yod.  It corresponds to our letters “y” and “j”, but yad is also the Hebrew word for “hand.” 
Your hands have made me and fashioned me.”  Those are very personal words that are rich, not only with the creative power of God, but also in expressing God’s involvement in creating each one of us individually. 
We don’t usually think of mass-producing things with our hands.  That’s what machines are for.  Hands mould pottery.  Hands craft wood.  Hands knit and stitch and embroider.  Hands create things that involve our personal attention.  God doesn’t have literal hands—God is spirit—but God has lovingly crafted each of us the same way the potter’s hands mould a pot, the carpenter’s hands shape a block of wood, or the seamstress’ hands stitch together a lovely garment.  God is involved, He cares, He loves his handiwork.  He doesn’t just make it—any machine can do that.  No, he fashions it.  That’s an expression of intent and thoughtfulness. 
Personalize this psalm by praying, “Lord, I know you will never forget me since I am the work of your hands. I am the vessel you made—and made with purpose.  Fill me up and use me.  Teach me, give me understanding so that I may learn to obey your commandments.”
Listen, if we can be sure of God’s continued interest in us simply because of our physical creation, how much more can we be sure of his interest in us now that He has caused us to be born again by His Spirit through faith in His Son?  He sent His only Son—the ultimate price—to die that God might create us anew. 
Doesn’t that assure you that God cares about you?  If you are in Christ, you have been washed by the blood of Jesus and renewed by His indwelling Spirit.  Pray that He will continue to work in you each day, giving you understanding and giving you strength to follow God’s way.
In my next post I will tell two more reasons for confidence in prayer.
What gives you confidence to petition God in prayer?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times, Part 2

Balance RockI don’t know what you are facing today—maybe the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of health yourself or from someone you love. Afflictions and trials hit all of us. No one is immune from trouble, it is part of life on this sinful world. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." For the child of God, afflictions can bring us closer to God. This often happens as we pray, as we talk with God during our trials. But how do we pray?
In my last post I saw from Psalm 119:65-67 two ways to pray to the good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
Here are two more:
3. Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You (v. 68-69)
68  You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
69  The proud have forged a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Verse 68 says God is good and does good. His actions flow out of His attributes. This is a glory-driven, Godward, God-centered prayer. The focus of my prayer in my difficulty should not be first on me, and it must not be first on what others did to me (v. 69), the focus must be first on God’s goodness and God’s glory, that God would teach me (v. 68b) and help me to obey His principles (v. 69b).
God’s goodness is His very glorious nature; compassionate, loving, gracious. The very goodness of God and His dealings is seen in the very beginning of the Bible: As God creates the world and all its creatures, He repeatedly pronounces it good, and finally very good. It is God’s very nature to be good and do good, and it should be the very nature of someone saved by His good grace to pray thankfully, “Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You.”
David says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
We cannot always know why God gives certain afflictions, nor do we have to know before we can know Him to be good. But one thing we can know is that ultimately one purpose in my affliction is that God would be glorified, that His goodness should be magnified for all to see.
4. Lord, help me to delight in You and Your Word no matter what (v. 70-72)
70  Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law.
Do I find delight in God and His word or the world and its fat? Fat may taste good, but it’s bad for our health. Spiritual fat is a flabby fatty layer of spiritual cellulite due to spiritual inactivity and lack of exercise of the heart towards God. Often, prosperous sinners, because they live in luxury where every desire is gratified, have lost all feeling for God. Whatever God needs to do to wean us off loving this world is good. So affliction in this case is a blessing:
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
Martin Luther confessed, “I never knew the meaning of God’s word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of the best schoolmasters.” Affliction is not good in itself and does not usually seem good to us when we are enduring it, but it has a good purpose when God sends it, as he frequently does in the case of his cherished children.
Some of God’s purposes in afflictions:
To show Himself good through His dealings (v. 65).
To give us discernment and knowledge (v. 66).
To restore us from straying (v. 67).
To teach us how good God is (68)
To bring about wholehearted obedience in us (v. 69).
To cause delight in God and His Word (v. 70).
To cause us to learn His Word and ways (v. 71).
To make us see the priceless nature of God’s Word (v. 72).
Verse 72 says, “The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.” This verse reminds me of one of my favorite hymns and the story behind it. In 1933 our nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression. Business curves were still heading downward and there was rumor of a salary cut at the New York insurance office where a twenty-two-year-old man was employed as a clerk. With his deep melodious voice, he was offered a radio contract with NBC and immediately saw opportunities for fame and possible riches in his regular appearance on the radio program.
He had been pondering the matter for several days when he sat down to the piano early one Sunday morning to rehearse a hymn he was to sing in church that morning. As he played and sang his eyes fell on a piece of paper. It was a poem by Mrs. Rhea Miller that had been placed there by his mom. As his eyes raced over the words, the lines struck his heart. His fingers unconsciously left the tune he was rehearsing and began to set this poem to music in a melody which is today known to millions. George Beverly Shea, instead of singing on the radio, devoted his life to Christian ministry travelling with Billy Graham. Maybe you’ve heard the song that was on the piano that day:
 I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Has this Psalm given you something to pray in your affliction?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times

Landscape ArchAfflictions come in all shapes and sizes. An affliction can be as small as an aggravating head cold or as large as a major illness, the loss of a job, public persecution, or rumors spread by your enemies. Or an affliction could be the sort of cosmic suffering Job experienced. Some affliction is self-induced, sometimes others bring affliction to us, sometimes affliction is just the result of living in this fallen world. One writer said that we don’t need to seek affliction because sooner or later, it will seek us. I’m sure that’s true. David writes in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Suffering, bad times, afflictions, and trials drive a true believer to his or her knees more than most other times. But when we face these tough times, how should we then pray? Psalm 119:65-72 reminds us that God is good even when times are bad.
The word “affliction” appears two times in this passage (v. 67, 71) but it’s not the theme of this section. The real focus is on the goodness of the Lord. The word “good” actually appears three times more than the word for “affliction,” a total of six times in eight verses. So both exegetically and experientially, both statistically and practically, affliction is over-powered by the Lord’s goodness.
This passage shows me at least 4 ways to pray to a good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
65  You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
It is always a great place to begin in prayer when we begin with the person and character of God. Notice this God-centered first line – the focus of this undeserving servant is clearly on the Lord: 4 references in 1 verse: 65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
Here he begins by acknowledging what we do not always see when in difficulty, how good God is and has been to us. God has treated us so well even though we are so undeserving. We can become so focused on how we think things should be different in our life that we lose the focus of God’s goodness and we lose the perspective of who God is and who we are, undeserving servants.
God has been good to us, not because we deserve it but because He acts “according to His word.” We need to quit looking down at the dirt around us and look up and see the glorious goodness of God.
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
66  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments.
67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
This part reminded me of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In that first chapter of his letter James wrote about facing various trials with joy. James says we can have joy in trials because through them God is working to bring us to maturity in Christ. So James says to pray for wisdom.
How do you pray when you are facing trials? Our typical prayer request is for God to remove the trial, but James says we should pray for wisdom to apply God’s Word in the trial. God is teaching us.
Affliction may not be our preferred method for God to teach us, but it is often the one we need. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said God whispers in our prosperity but shouts to us in out pain. Pain is often God’s megaphone to get our attention. He recognizes the fact that affliction taught him to keep God’s word. Before he was afflicted he went astray (v. 67).
How many of you have experienced that God uses affliction as an alarm clock to wake you up to your sinful condition when you stray?
In my next post I will give two more ways to pray in trials.