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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

prayer

The people of God have just demanded new gods.  Aaron, their surrogate leader, has just fashioned an idol – a golden calf – out of the gold the true God had given to them from the oppressive enemies – the Egyptians – he had just delivered them from.  Moses is still up on the mountain getting instructions on how to serve and worship the living God as the leader of his chosen people.  Now, God informs Moses of their disobedience in his absence.  In Exodus 32:7-14, God and Moses have a conversation about what will become of these insubordinates.

God is angry.  He has just been sold out for the inanimate gifts he gave to his people.  He tells Moses about the conspiracy and idolatry.  He says he’s going to destroy the people, exalt Moses, and make a great nation out of Moses.

This is quite an offer.  Forget those infidels, Moses.  I’m going to give them what they deserve for their foolish, purposeful disobedience.  But you are my star.  I’m going to make you great.

Moses is not interested in his own glory.  Instead of accepting this self-serving (and, likely well-deserved) offer, Moses asks God why his is mad.  (Exodus 32:11)  Well, God had just told Moses exactly why he was angry – so angry, in fact, that he was willing to annihilate all of His own people save Moses.  Moses’ question was rhetorical.  He wasn’t literally asking the reason why God was mad.  The text tells us that he was “imploring” God.  He was desperately interceding on behalf of his people – people whom, at this point, God would not even own.  In Exodus 32:7, God refers to them as “your people” meaning Moses’ people, not his own.  In turn, in 32:11, Moses returns calling them “your people” meaning God’s.  Can’t you hear Moses’ desperate plea?  These ARE your people, God!  Save them!

Moses goes on.  He pleads with God to stop being angry; to save them.

Here is a lesson for us.  We cannot save people, but we can work to win souls.  However, we cannot work to win souls with whom we are actively angry.  It is a God-like attribute to be righteously angry when people sin.  But the only way to help sinners be saved from sure destruction – the rightful penalty for their/our sin – is to turn from our anger and to intercede on their behalf; to seek to save them from being lost.  This is what Moses does; it’s what he begs God to do.  He does it by denying the opportunity God gives him for his own glory and exaltation.  I believe this shows us that we cannot have it both ways.  We cannot desire self-promotion if our heart is truly set on bringing salvation to others.  We have to pick one or the other.  God exalts the humble in due time, but our agenda cannot have both self-promotion and others’ salvation written on it together.  They are mutually exclusive goals.  Pick one.

Moses uses God’s reputation as the catalyst for answering his prayers.  What will the Egyptians think, God? What will the world think, God?  When your people die because you have destroyed them?  That’s not who YOU are, God.

We ought to follow Moses’ example.  Because it’s not about those who are in need of mercy being deserving – none of us ever are.  It’s about the character, reputation, and integrity of the one giving mercy to the underserved.  We must turn from our own righteous anger over other men’s sins for the sake of our own good name.  We must intercede for them and implore God’s mercy on the unrighteous for the sake of his glory, not theirs.  And we, like Moses, must consider their salvation as of greater worth than our own advancement.  This is how a humble person leads.

Moses wasn’t looking out for number one.  Moses was always most concerned with God’s people and their welfare.  Matthew Henry says of him, “Had Moses been of a narrow, selfish spirit, he would have closed with this offer; but he prefers the salvation of Israel before the advancement of his own family.  Here was a man fit to be a governor.”

Because of Moses’ righteous actions in the face of others’ unrighteous actions, God had mercy on the unrighteous.  Let the same be said of us.

“And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” ~Exodus 32:14

 

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altar

In Exodus 30, God instructs Moses on building the Altar of Incense.

The Altar of Incense was to be made of wood and gold and it was where the priests were to burn incense every morning and every evening when the lamps were tended to.  It sat in front of the veil which divided the Holy of holies where the Arc of the Covenant and God’s presence was from the sanctuary.

This altar, along with its daily requirements, was a symbol to point us to prayer and intercession.  The lamps symbolized the Word.  These together, tended every morning and every night, show us a great example of diligence and duty in our relationship with God.  Luke 1:10 sites an example of the people of God praying at the time of burning incense on this golden altar. Matthew Henry says it this way:

“When the priest was burning incense, the people were praying, to signify that prayer is the true incense.  This incense was offered daily, it was a perpetual incense; for we must pray always, that is, we must keep up stated times for prayer every day, morning and evening, at least, and never omit it, but thus pray without ceasing.  The lamps were dressed or lighted at the same time that the incense was burnt, to teach us that the reading of the scriptures (which are our light and lamp) is a part of our daily work, and should ordinarily accompany our prayers and praises.” 

The priest was to make atonement on this altar once a year only and nothing unauthorized was to be offered on it.  The Brazen Altar was where the daily animal sacrifices were to be made.  It symbolized Christ, the lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world by dying in our place.  The Golden Altar of Incense was where the pleasing aroma was to be offered to God.  It symbolized Christ’s sufficient work on the cross and the pleasure of His Father.

“As by the offerings on the brazen altar satisfaction was made for what had been done displeasing to God, so, by the offering on this, what they did well was, as it were, recommended to the divine acceptance; for our two great concerns with God are to be acquitted from guilt and accepted as righteous in his sight.” Matthew Henry

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meeting

Exodus 29:38-46 indicates important parallels to our daily needs and duties.  Let’s consider these verses carefully.

Once the priests were ordained and consecrated, they were to begin making daily animal sacrifices on the altar for God’s people.

 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” ~Exodus 29:38-39

A one year-old lamb in the morning and a one year-old lam in the evening…every…single…day.  The offerings were given with bread and wine and made at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  I don’t know about you, but when I read this I thought, “Wow.  That’s a lot of work every day.”  Not to mention how messy it must have been.  And these were only the bare minimum requirements as far as sacrifices went for each day.  Many other offerings and sacrifices often had to be made in addition to these.  Nevertheless, if Israel were faithful to do this, God promised to meet them there and dwell among them.

This is a great passage to consider.  Clearly, the duty to continually offer these daily sacrifices point to our duty to offer daily prayer and devotions to God.  This is our meat; our daily bread.  To meet with God faithfully and offer our prayers, praise, and worship assures and confirms to us God’s faithfulness to meet us there and dwell with us.  If we will not obey him in offering daily devotion, we will not know rightly his great faithfulness and concern for us.  Great assurance comes with consistent obedience to God’s instruction.

On the contrary, if we’ll not commit ourselves daily to his commands and our Christian duties and devotions, we’ll not know his faithfulness, his guidance, his direction, or his heart for us.  God is always faithful, but we only know and understand the reality of his commitment and love toward us when we commit to and show love toward him; when we continually meet with and obey him in time spent with him personally.

Remember, these daily offerings were required.  They were not mere suggestions for God’s people.  They were costly, bloody, and a great amount of real work.  Such is daily prayer and devotion to God.  Yet, we ought never treat these things as if they are optional.  These things are required for a healthy spiritual life.  Communion with our Lord is paramount every single day of our lives.

“God will not fail to give those the meeting who diligently and conscientiously attend upon him in the ordinances of his own appointment.” Matthew Henry

In other words, if we are faithful to consistently and seriously do that which God has instructed us, he will not fail to meet with and encourage us. God personally meets with those who honor and obey him.

 

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Life is so long and so short at the very same time.  We close our eyes exhausted from chasing toddlers wondering if the day will ever end and when we open them we are looking back wondering how they could possibly look so much like adults.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is short.  We have but a few minutes before we are gone.  It seems it is only the good things that pass by so fast.

The seasons of discouragement and doubt seem to last and last.  If we are not careful, bad days can turn into bad years, and bad years can turn into joyless lives.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is long.  We have years upon years to make a difference and influence those around us for the good.  We cannot allow personal setbacks or problems distract us from our purpose and the greater good.  If we do, we will end up looking back on a life poorly spent and largely unaccomplished.

I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my personal thoughts over the past couple months.  I have not felt particularly inspired.  Truth be told, I have felt unloved, discouraged, and even unnecessary.  I have experienced heartache, hardship, and hurt over the past year.  If I am being honest, it has been a hard year. Still, a good year. I have gotten to know my Father so much better. What could be better than that?

And, I have been healing.  I have been sitting at the feet of my Lord and allowing him to be all that I need.  Healing is not a process one can easily explain and share while undergoing it.  But by God’s grace, I can see light.  His provision is evidenced in so many blessings that I can’t help be be thankful.  I have finally come to the place where I can honestly say to the Lord, “Whatever your plan is, that is exactly what I want today.  Suffering?  Give me that.  Miscarriage?  You’re sovereign; I surrender.  Shunning?  OK.  It’s your world, Lord, and I am just your kid. It’s your plan.  It’s your will.  It’s your authority to which I bow and none else.  USE ME.  Whatever that means in my life, do that.  Just use me.  Somehow, someway, get glory from my meager little life.  That is all I want and it is all that truly matters to me anyway.

I open my hands.  I unfold them and I wait.

When I was a young Christian, I used to pray every single day that God would allow me to die a martyr for him.  What I have found over the past twenty years is that it is likely easier to die for Christ than it is to truly live for him.  We die once.  As each day begins, we must live over and over and over again.  So I changed my prayer:

Lord, whether I may or may not die a martyr, please allow me to live a martyr.  Allow me to live dying daily for you that you might use me.  Give me peace with your perfect, sovereign plan.  Let me not miss the opportunities you give.  I do not need to understand, I just want to be used.  Please use me in this long, short life.  Amen. 

Every single day is so important.  Don’t waste it.

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screwtape

In 2 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul begins to defend himself within the Corinthian Church.  He had been encouraging and instructing in the preceding chapters.  Now, his tone completely changes.  He began to deal with the fact that there were false apostles, false teachers, and false teachings in this church that were presenting in the form of competition and defaming of his own personal character as well as a concerted effort to discredit him personally and deny him the authority he had been given by God to lead and teach in this church.

Paul begins with humility agreeing with his accusers that he was indeed low and mild when present among them.  Paul makes clear that he has no desire to be rough or overbearing even despite the severe and abusive slander being spread about him personally.  Paul is not about to stoop to that level, although he does make it very clear that he is both equipped and prepared with the authority given to him by God to punish offense done against him.  It was hindering the gospel which, in turn, made it an offense done to the gospel itself.

Paul points not to his own power, but to the wonder-working power of God over the spiritual realm.  Consider his words:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” ~2 Corinthians 10:3-6

He’s like, “Hey, guys!  This confusion and conflict and disunity we find in this particular church has nothing to do with the superficial problems or isolated issues that everyone wants to argue over.  This conflict is spiritual.  Everything going on here is a result of unseen forces working to destroy and devour God’s people and God’s plan.  There is bondage here – spiritual bondage that we must wage war against.  Spiritual strongholds are just that – spirits strongly holding people captive by deceit, by confusion, by ignorance, by prejudice, by lust, by lofty, high and prideful thoughts and opinions which contradict God and His will. These things are not trite or trivial.  They are a force waging an all out war against us all.  Thank God, that in his grace he has given us weapons with divine power.  Divine power!  The very power of God!  These are weapons which are able to defeat these forceful, spiritual strongholds.

That’s why I’m not gonna play your game of fleshly and worldly comparison.  We have a war to fight and that war is not against each other.  We have only one enemy and his name is Satan.  The war is against demonic forces evidenced in these conflicts and character assassinations being brought against me personally.”

“Ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan’s strongholds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others, exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, that is, by these ways the devil endeavours to keep men from faith and obedience to the gospel, and secures his possession of the hearts of men, as his own house or property.  But then observe, the conquest which the word of God gains.  These strongholds are pulled down by the gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause…The apostle speaks not of personal revenge, but of punishing disobedience to the gospel, and disorderly walking among church-members, by inflicting church censures.  Not, thought eh apostle showed meekness and gentleness, yet he would not betray his authority; and therefore intimates that when he would commend those whose obedience was fulfilled or manifested others would fall under severe censures.” Matthew Henry

Paul had every right and reason to punish this blatant disobedience to the gospel but he was waiting for the fulfillment and completion of their obedience first.  Later, in verse 10-11, he references again their complaint of him and responds:

For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

In other words, Paul doesn’t say things right.  Who does he think he is?  Writing corrective letters but showing up and speaking softly?!  His speech is all wrong.  Why would we listen to him?!

If you hate what someone is saying and you want to avoid the truth of it, a great strategy is to just personally attack them and incessantly complain about how they say it.

Paul answers by pointing to his actions.  Actions speak louder than words.  If you find someone who doesn’t talk like you or walk like you but they walk like Christ, think about who they are called to follow and imitate.  It isn’t you or your preferences.  It is Jesus Christ and His practices.

Paul goes on to oppose their worldly comparison games and refuses to participate.  He restates his purpose – which was edification for the church, not destruction as he was so often and brutally accused.

Herein we find both the cause and the remedy for conflict, confusion, and disunity within a divided church.  The cause is spiritual strongholds and evil influence warring against God and His people.  The remedy is using the weapons which are listed for us in Ephesians 6 as truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.  These are the things which, when used appropriately, have divine power to destroy the enemy’s schemes and free our brothers and sisters from spiritual bondage.  Thank God!

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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“1 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” -Numbers 16:41-48

Here, God deals with false accusation against his chosen vessels. He does so by telling those who are accused to get away from the accusers so he might destroy them. 

Any right thinking individual would probably have done that by now anyway. Not these guys. Instead, the accused bow down before him and plead for mercy for those who are seeking to malign and discredit them.  When God says, “Get away from the midst of this congregation that I may consume them in a moment,” these guys know God means business. God is more angry than they are about the damage these haters have done. But when God says go, they stay. They fall on their faces and pray. They run into the very assembly that God has just dismissed them from and they make atonement for their accusers. 

What grace! God hears their prayer and stops the just judgement he had already begun to pour out. 

WOW! 

Even when God himself justly excuses us from a desperate situation, love can overcome and mercy can save if we are but willing to humble ourselves, forgive our accusers, and pray for the guilty. 

Don’t run away. Pray. 

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Today I Prayed

care

Hello.  My name is Sonny and I am a momaholic.  I have always been around mommy and thought she was really fun, but when I turned nine months old I became more attached to her.  She used to be able to set me down or put me in the playpen and I would play nice.  Now I realize that it is a prison!  The newfound bars to stop me from crawling freely between rooms confirm my suspicion.  Therefore, I cannot, under any circumstances, let mommy out of my sight.  What if I lose her?!  Do you have any idea how much I need her?!  Who can blame me for screaming in withdrawal every time she puts me down?  I have to follow her as fast as my knees will take me everywhere she goes.  All.  Day.  Long.  Even when I am happily playing with my toys, as soon as I realize mommy is not in the room, I wail.  I really need mommy!  I just don’t know how to tell her because I can’t talk yet.  Every time I try it just comes out like a bowl of alphabet soup that got mixed up.  Can you please help me?

If my baby could talk, I imagine she’d say something like that.  If I could talk, I imagine I’d say the same to God.

I am a poor communicator.  I say far too little.  I say far too much.  I say the right things at the wrong time.  I say the wrong things most of the time.  I say nothing when I need to say everything.  I say everything when I ought to say nothing.  I have functioned most of my life as a selective mute.  I struggle daily with trust, relational intimacy, and personal prayer.  No matter how much I try to engage, I feel fearful, insecure, trapped, mute, and imprisoned by my infantile frustrations.  At least when I write, I can babble a little as I seek to learn my weaknesses in efforts to overcome.

I am a bona fide nerd.  Sometimes I can’t even believe how backward and awkward I am in certain settings.  In my quest for understanding I have, in true nerd form, made a diagram pertaining to my tendencies toward weakness and sin as it relates to communication.

chart1.jpg

Like Sonny, I feel trapped.  I feel alone.  I am afraid.  When I can’t see God, I protest.  I am insecure, needy, small, and now, keenly aware of it.  Still, when He picks me up, I just babble.  I go silent.  I wrestle out of his arms.  I am afraid to lose him.  I am afraid to find him.  Do you have any idea how much I need him?  It is terrifying and comforting and unsettling and sanctifying all at the same time.  Is it sinful fear and pride that keeps me from speaking my heart to God?  To others?  Is it unbelief?  Distrust?  The assumption that it will simply hurt too much to be honest?

I hide.  I stay silent.  I switch off all emotion.  It simmers underneath the surface.  Like a foreboding moat full of monsters, I know the fall is coming.

If I could just communicate properly with people, maybe, I think, I could communicate with God.  If I could just communicate with God properly, maybe, I think, I could communicate with people.  Maybe none of it is the truth.

The truth is trickier than a mere introspective evaluation.  The truth is that I distinctly heard God call me into prayer this morning.  The truth is that He was clear and I was able.  But I did not pray much.  Instead, I began to consider the reasons why prayer is so difficult on so many levels.  I began to consider the reasons why communication is so difficult, why I am so unskilled at it, and what I am so afraid of.

Reason.  Logic.  Human understanding.  Searching for those familiar friends, I called out.  For an hour I called out to my favorite idol: intellect.  I heard God call me into His presence to pray and I spent the hour that followed navel-gazing instead.

Daddy doesn’t settle for the silent treatment though.  During the course of my reasoning, I confessed my sin to a friend.  I surrendered my fear and I prayed that the Lord would pick me up.  I envisioned Him holding me the way I hold Sonny despite her wildness; her unrest; her indecision; her impossible will that wrestles out of my arms only to cry to be picked up again.

I am she and she is me.  I am close, though.  I am closer than I have ever been before.  I feel the loving presence of a Father who dotes on me daily.  I hear his voice speaking softly and calling me to speak.  My words are minced; meager; murmurs; but they are mine and He is musing.  Be they babble or brazen, I am his baby and He hears my less than best attempts.  Therefore, I rest.  Though it took more tries than I might hope for tomorrow, today I prayed.

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