Return to Your First Love

 

Nevertheless I have this against you,

that you have left your first love.

Revelation 2:4 (NKJV)

The late Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson shared the story of a couple that had been married for “quite a few years”.  As they drove down the street, the wife complained, “You don’t love me like you use to!  We use to cuddle under each other so close that you couldn’t tell where one person began and the other ended.  And look at us now!  You’re sitting way over there and I’m sitting over here by the door. The husband gently turned to his wife and explained, “This car is designed one way with the driver located on the left side of the car.  So, who moved?”

Are you feeling distant and estranged from God?  Are your prayers routine and repetitive?  Is your praise and worship predictable and puny?  When you read the Bible, do you have difficulty hearing God’s voice?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time for you to examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5) and see what is hindering your personal relationship with the Lord.  God never changes (Malachi 3:6) nor has God moved.  Maybe it’s time to return to your first love.

The church at Ephesus had persevered and endured hardship for the Lord.  This was a critical part of the early church’s responsibility to insure a clear and true presentation of the gospel (Ep. 4:1-2).  In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.   While all these “efforts” were important in the development of the early church (as it is now), there was something that was noticeably absent.  They had left their first love.

Jesus lays a charge of carelessness in cultivating their relationship with the Him.   In the literal translation of today’s text, the order of the words in Greek emphatically denote the strong rebuke directed to the church. “Your first love you have left!”  This second-generation of believers, had retained purity of doctrine but were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.

As believers, we must ask ourselves if we too are careless in cultivating our relationship with the Lord.     Remember the first time you professed your love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came excitement and anticipation.  Are we now guilty of taking our eyes off the Lord?  Are we more concerned with our personal agendas than practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Have we left our first love?

And what can we say about the Church, Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7-9)?  The Church needs to heed the same warning given to the Ephesian church.  Orthodoxy and service is not enough.  Christ wants hearts as well as our hands and heads (Matt. 22:37).

If you feel you have left Jesus, your First Love, here are some strategies to help you return to His side (1 John 1:3).

Recommit yourself to Him.   Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)  Repent and return to Him.  Nothing you can do will ever separate you from God’s love (Rom. 8:39) and He stands faithful to forgive you (1 John 1: 9).  Recommitment involves renewing your loyalty to Christ and His lordship over your life.  This includes directing your time, talents, and treasures to the service of the Lord.

Renew your love for Him.  I will love You, O LORD, my strength (Psalm 18:1).  Tell the Lord how much you love Him.  Although He is all-knowing, He still wants to hear you tell Him how much you love Him.    Let Him know you desire Him with all your heart and soul (Ps. 42:1-2).  Show your love for Him through your praise and worship.  You are never closer to Him than when you “love on Him” (Ps. 22:3).

Reprioritize your life around Him.   Christ set the standard for priority when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt.  6: 33).  However, to make God the center of your life is counterculture.  Everything in modern society encourages and rewards people who place themselves “at the head of the line”.  But when we place Christ first in our life, we are assured that we have chosen the “Good Part” (Luke 10:42).

During your quiet time, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if you have left your first love. He will not condemn you (Romans 8:1) but gently redirect you to Jesus’ arms.

Return to Faithfulness

 

My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him. Hosea 11:7 (NKJ)

As a child, I remember our worship services especially the ones with sermons that warned our congregation of the dangers of “backsliding”.  After the minister’s fiery discourse, a few members, would approach the “welcoming” altar, many times weeping and repentant.

The word backslide, in a Christian context, implies movement away from Christ rather than toward Him. A backslider is someone who is going the wrong way, spiritually. He is regressing rather than progressing. The backslider had at one time demonstrated a commitment to Christ or maintained a certain standard of behavior, but he has since reverted to old ways.[1]  Backsliding in Hebrew mean “turning away, turning back, or apostasy”.  It infers “defection”—turning away for the wisdom of God (Prov. 1:32) and away from Jehovah—the Covenant Keeping God (Jer. 3:6, 8, 11, 12).

We don’t hear much about backsliding these days.  Perhaps our focus has shifted to the “lost” versus those who “appear to be” in the ark of safety.  But backsliders are as important to God as the unsaved in that backsliding is an indication of one’s faithfulness to Him.  Faithfulness to God was an important part of the prophets’ proclamations and is central in appreciating Hosea 11.

The Old Testament prophet’s function was to not only herald the warnings of God but to also remind God’s people, Israel, to remain faithful to Him.  Through the prophets, God announced His intentions to enforce the covenant which was always in accordance with categories of blessings and curses already contained in the Law.  Even today, we need to take heed to the prophetic Word of God.  We must remain faithful to Him and if we have “backslidden”, repent and return to faithfully follow God.

One of the early writing prophets, Hosea used his own marital experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel.  For Israel’s immorality and worship of idols, God’s punishment of Israel would be swift and severe.  Israel’s unfaithfulness would earn God’s judgment and doom.  God’s compassion toward Israel would be the only reason God’s mercy and grace would be extended (Hosea 12:6).  It would, however, call for their faithfulness to God.

Read Hosea 11:1-12

In Hosea 11 God speaks to the prophet as one would speak to a close friend and confidant.  God shares with Hosea His history of unbridled favor and goodness to Israel.  The opening verses (vv. 1-3) read like a doting parent, who has poured all their affection and attention upon their child only to receive, in return, opposition and defiance.  God’s “gentle cords and bands of love” (v. 3) only resulted in Israel’s ingratitude and unfaithfulness.

God attributes Israel’s behavior to its “bentness to backsliding.”  This “bentness” is similar to Paul’s description of “the flesh”—that unredeemed part of man that still exists within believers (Rom. 7: 17-19).  Israel was deaf and disobedient to God’s voice, spoken by Moses and His other prophets. They rebelled and became more resolute in their disobedience; adding to Israel’s injurious behavior, was their failure to exalt God (v. 7).

The positive ending to what began as a tragic narrative is that in spite of Israel’s faithlessness, God was faithful. God honored His covenant and extend mercy to Israel with the promise to ultimately restore His covenant people to Himself (vv. 10-11).

Are we guilty on 21st century backsliding?  How similar is Israel’s behavior to that which we find in our nation, in our homes, and in our individual faith walk.  That same “bentness to sin” that tempted Israel still tempts us today to unfaithful behavior. Though delivered from the bondage of sin, we may find ourselves still pursuing those things that feed our fleshly desires and wants (1 John 2:15-17).  Backsliding may manifest itself in several ways, e.g., dropping out of church, losing fervor for the Lord, walking away from a ministry or a family, or falling back into old habits.

Do we exalt God for His many blessings—undeserved and unmerited?  Do we acknowledge and honor Him giving Him the glory due His name?  Or do we contentedly choose to remain silent, not lifting up our hands and souls to the Most High God (Ps. 107:8-9)? Have we left God’s Living Waters for the broken cisterns of this world? (Jer. 2:13; 14:3)

It is a great encouragement to our hope in God’s mercies to remember that “God is God”, and not man.  He is the Holy One.  He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and receive us even when we are guilty of backsliding.  God is faithful to His covenant people.  Even in our faithlessness, God still remains faithful to us (2 Tim. 2:13).

[1]   Got Questions.org

Return to Repentance

Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.  Isaiah 59:2 (NRS)

As part of my devotions this week, I read Isaiah 59.  Although I have read individual verses of this chapter before, today’s reading struck a “spiritual nerve”.  Its reading has provided a framework for a new mini-series entitled, In and Out of Season:  A Call to Return.  This week’s WordBytes is entitled, A Return to Repentance.

STOP NOW AND READ ISAIAH 59  BEFORE CONTINUING WITH

THIS WORDBYTES.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS AT THE END.

Isaiah 59 was not written for people who had no knowledge of God—who we call “the unsaved”, but it was penned for those whom God had entered into a special covenant relationship with.  Israel had been hand-chosen by God from all the nations in the world (Deut. 7:7-9) to carry out His purpose and plan of salvation.  They were to be a “holy nation, a peculiar people that would show forth His praises” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Unfortunately, instead of heralding God’s praises, Israel went a “whoring” after other gods (Jer. 3:2; Ezek. 43:7), relying on itself and other nations.  The result was punishment—70 years captivity in Assyria and Babylon—away from the land God had promised and given to them.

In reading Isaiah 59, I see an unsettling similarity between the events leading up to Israel’s exile and where we find ourselves today—as a nation and yes, as the Church.

As a nation, we have walked away from the spiritual guidance and direction of God.  If you survey our social institutions and political systems, you will see remnants of what we once knew as “one nation under God”.  We have exchanged our “moral compass” for “individual rights”.

The lines of “right and wrong” are no longer determined by God’s holy standards but have been replaced by political affiliations and social relationships.   Man has placed himself on the throne of his heart—doing “what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).  Servility and kindness, community and brotherly love have all been sacrificed on the altar of man’s selfishness.

As the Church, we have retreated into the safety of our church walls.  Internally focused, we are more concerned with our personal needs and how we can achieve “our purpose to be all we can be”.  We have forgotten about the helpless, the homeless, and the hungry.  Jesus went outside the walls to serve mankind versus being served (Matt. 20:28).  Jesus came “to preach, to bind, to proclaim, and to open” (Is. 61.1).  Can we as the Church do any less?

Hopefully, one of the key outcomes from reading Isaiah 59 is that we will begin to recognize and repent from those “iniquities that have separated us from God” (verse 2).  God wants to be reunited with this nation and His Church.  That’s why Jesus Christ came that our sins—personally and corporately, might be forgiven AND our relationship with the Father restored (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

The Redeemer (Jesus Christ) “did come to Zion” (verse 20) and to the rest of the world—that we might turn from our transgressions.  Let us pray continuously that we as a nation and the Church will repent of those behaviors and attitudes that cause us to transgress against God.

Discovering God in the Psalms: God is Still Doing Wonders

O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures for ever;  to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures for ever.  Ps. 136:2-4 (NRS)

Does God still do great wonders today? When we read the Bible, it’s hard to ignore the mighty wonders of God in Creation, The Exodus, and His plan of salvation. His wonders are clearly demonstrated from Genesis to Revelation, as He reveals Himself to His creature, man.

I choose to differentiate between God’s wonders and His miracles. I view miracles as God’s favor demonstrated in a particular incident, circumstance, or time. Wonders, on the other hand, include all the acts of God’s goodness and greatness, transcending time and circumstance.

Psalm 136 is entitled, “A Litany of God’s Wonders”. In each verse, the Psalmist captures the wonders of God in the history of Israel. The Psalmists begins and ends this psalm by declaring the need to give thanks for God’s mercy. Mercy (checed) is translated as “favor and loving kindness.” It is in the context of His mercy that God’s wonders are performed. In verse 4, the Psalmist reminds us of two key facts.

God alone does wonders. It is in the remembrance of God’s wonders that He sought Israel’s faithfulness and trust. That remembrance of God’s wonders is even more critical for us today as we tend to minimize God’s ability and glorify man’s accomplishments.

God’s mercy endures forever. God lives in eternity and therefore, is not limited to the confines of “time”. God’s forever includes both “chronological time” and “the social times” in which we find ourselves. God’s mercy, favor, and loving kindness are always available.

While God has done great wonders in the past, He is still doing wonders today. Perhaps we miss God’s wonders in our lives by crediting them to luck or as happenstance. Perhaps we attribute His wonders to our own abilities or to our social networks and connections. All the above are foolish thinking. It is God alone Who stands ready to “show Himself strong” on behalf of man (2 Chronicles 16:9).

It has been said that we are one generation away from losing our belief in God. The result is a country that minimizes the supernatural power of the Most Holy God. One minister observed, “Man has humanized God and deified himself.” Let us continue to share the many wonders of God–those in the Bible and in our lives. This includes the greatest wonder of all, our salvation.

As I view our nation and the challenges we face, it is evident that our future lies not in political leadership, technological breakthrough, nor financial health. We’ve tried them all. Our future lies with “the God of gods, the Lord of lords; to Him who alone does great wonders” (Ps. 136:4).

Discovering God in the Psalms: Victory over Darkness

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Psalm 139:12 (NKJ)

Children are typically afraid of the dark. It is in the dark where “things go bang in the night” and where unseen dangers may lie. Darkness is defined as the absence of visible light. Darkness is changed only by the introduction of light. One can never fully appreciate the value of light until they have experienced the unsettling feeling of being “in the dark.”

Although children fear the darkness, there is one time when they ignore that fear—when it’s time to play “hide and seek.” Darkness provides the “perfect condition” for its execution; it is in the darkness that a person can remain unseen as they blend into the trees’ shadows and the surrounding houses. If, however, this game were to be played with God, one would find themselves at a marked disadvantage. Why? Because darkness and light are alike to Him—the night shines as the day. It is God’s omnipresence that provides the believer the “perfect condition” for victory over darkness.

Light and darkness are a natural phenomenon associated with day and night. People also use the terms metaphorically, especially in Scripture where the two are given theological significance. In the Old Testament, God acted at Creation to separate and distinguish between darkness and light, night and day (Gen. 1:4, 5, 18). Darkness was also associated with judgment and distress (Ex.10:21; Ps. 91:6), God’s hiddenness (Dt. 4:11; 5:23) and divine intervention (Isa. 9:2; Ps. 18:28). Darkness is a powerful New Testament image. While darkness is used as a moral metaphor to describe sinful acts and sinful life style (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), it also used to describe the evil power, holding people in its dominion (Col. 1:13).

Darkness in our scripture text references the oppressive nature of darkness. “Hide” in Hebrew means to “to crush or bruise.” In the Old Testament it is used only here and in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17. Even believers feel spiritual darkness’ crushing power as it attempts to control them through their unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:17-25). It is here that God’s omnipresence can lead believers to victory through darkness.

Darkness cannot hide. It is God’s presence (through His indwelling Spirit) that exposes and dispels darkness. Believers are rescued from the realm of darkness to become children of the light (Eph. 5:8, 14). They share a place in God’s kingdom of light (Col. 1:12) and even act as light in this dark world (Mat.5:14-16). The believer’s life reflects Jesus’ light and ultimately declare his praises (1 Pet. 2:9). It is in Christ that we have victory over darkness. Jesus Christ was the “change agent” that was introduced into darkness (Mat. 4:16) giving life and light to all who would receive it (Ps. 36:9).

The prophets promised that one day God Himself would live among men to replace the sun as their “everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:19-20 reads:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the LORD will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended.”

Praise God for His Light.

Discovering God in the Psalms: Take Time to Praise

“Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men!

Psalm 107:8 (NKJ)

Our text for today’s WordBytes comes from the 107th division of the Psalms. There is nothing more gratifying to the soul than to praise the Lord during private devotions. It is the soul’s release which allows our innermost being to render tokens of gratitude and adoration to the Lord.  That power is multiplied when experienced in corporate worship with other believers.

The psalms found in this fifth division lend themselves to an overall liturgical purpose befitting public worship for the Jewish people of that time and for us today.

Sometimes, however, we become so entangled with the events of our lives that we forget to take time to praise. We overlook the fact that our praise and worship is not only pleasing to God, but it’s also the quickest way to access the power and provision of the Lord. Why is that true? Because the Lord inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3). This imperative to “praise the LORD” is repeated four times (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).  In this psalm it is to impress its importance as we journey through this life.

Oh that men would praise the LORD. Men must be reminded to praise God. They become bound to personal agendas and circumstances, leaving little room or time to praise God. Praise is squandered on mortal man with his accomplishments, often forgetting that God created the universe, thrones, principalities and powers. All things were created by Him and for Him (Col. 1:16).  To praise God for His greatness is to acknowledge His authority and sovereign rule. It’s interesting to observe that the angels are not commanded to praise God–they do it willingly (Rev. 5:11-14; 7:11-12).

For His goodness. To say, “God is good”, is to trivialize His true nature and character. Goodness (hesed) in Hebrew means “unfailing, loyal love.” It is often based on a prior relationship, in this case, our covenant relationship with God. As believers, we have entered into an everlasting covenant with God, through His Son and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This New Covenant promises us restoration of our relationship with God (Rom. 5:1), forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28), sonship (1 John 3:1-2), and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).

For His wonderful works to the children of men. In reading Psalm 107, God’s “wonderful works” are His acts of mercy to those whom He had entered into covenant relationship with. These wonderful works are amazing and cause us to be astounded as God intervened on behalf of mankind. After men “cried unto the LORD” (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28) and had come to “their wits’ end” (27), it was God who “led them out and brought them forth.” It was God who “healed and restored, delivered and saved.” Then men lifted their voices in worship and praise (vv. 22, 32).

As believers, we have much to praise God for each day. We should praise Him for the “works” He performs on our behalf–for protection and provision and for grace and mercy. God is worthy of our praise for His love, for salvation and for eternal life. We ought to enter into perpetual praise throughout the day, as the angels do in heaven. We have even more reason to praise God than the angels in that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).

Discovering God in the Psalms: The Silence of God

 

“These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes.”  Psalm 50:21 (NKJ)

As I survey current events, my heart weeps. Crime against mankind continues to escalate. Abuse of the poor and defenseless, witness to the selfishness of the society we now live in.  Even the “heavens and the earth” suffer from the blatant disregard of man for God’s creation (Titus 3:3).

As social and religious groups unite in prayer to regain their community and their country, many ask the question, “Where is God?” They want to know if He hears…does He see. Why does God remain silent when there is so much injustice and wrongdoing? God does hear and see. He will not remain silent forever. He will set His house in order.

Of the many attributes of God, the one most misunderstood is His justice. Believers are quick to acknowledge God’s moral attributes–grace, mercy, and love, but His justice seems out of character with who they believe Him to be.

Perhaps these misinformed believers hope that His moral qualities will “ignore or overlook” their obvious disregard for His laws and commandments. God administers His kingdom in accordance with His law and expects His moral agents, believers, to adhere to the standards of justice which He has established. (Micah 6:8)

At times the rule of God does not appear to be “just.” Evil flourishes and everything continues as it always has (2 Pet. 3:4). Sin appears unpunished and righteousness seems to go unrewarded (Psalm 73:3-12). C. S. Lewis, acclaimed novelist and lay theologian, helps us keep God’s justice in perspective:

The justice of God must not be evaluated on a short-term basis. Within this life it will often appear incomplete or imperfect. Earthly life is not all there is, however. There is a life beyond and in the scope of all eternity; God’s justice will be complete.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day suffered from both hypocrisy and rebellion. They refused the Living Word who lived among them. Today God has given us both His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead us into truth and righteousness. Do not turn Him away. “… the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

In His silence, God is speaking loudly. God’s longsuffering and grace should never be looked upon as indifference (2 Peter 3:3-10).  He has already dealt with sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and He will deal with the last vestiges of rebellion and disobedience. God does hear (Psalm 55:19).

Discovering God in the Psalms: Forget Not God

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
Psalm 103:2 (KJV)

Memories of a person, place, or thing affect our beliefs and habits.  Every aspect of our lives is influenced by our memory. That’s why it’s so important to remember all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us.

The 103rd Psalm is a general praise psalm written to magnify the name of God and boast of His greatness. It is arranged in three parts: (1) call to praise, (2) cause for praise, and (3) conclusion with new exhortation to praise the Lord. In this psalm, readers are told not to forget the benefits God has extended to His covenant people. These same benefits are ours today, in the twenty-first century.

  • Forgiveness of iniquities. Who other than God can forgive sin? Through Christ’s sacrifice and atoning blood, not only are our sins forgiven but our “sin nature” has been rendered “inoperative” (Rom. 6:14; Heb. 2:14-15). If we “fall short”, we need only confess and God faithfully forgives us (1 John 1:9). He then removes remembrance of them to the furthest points of existence-even to the heavens (Ps. 103:11-12). There is no other god or religion that offers such forgiveness.
  • Healing of diseases. Disease is the result of sin’s entrance into the world. It was not part of God’s original plan for His beloved creation. Yet God, within His providential will, provides physical healing-both on this side and the “other side” (2 Cor. 5:1; Rev. 21:4). Spiritual healing is now available to release us from anger, shame, guilt, and unforgiveness. After His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit and spoke these words in the synagogue in Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:14-19). Jesus is our Healer today.
  • Redemption of life from destruction. In Hebrew, destruction or sahat, is translated pit or dungeon; corruption or decay. Before God’s intervention (through Jesus Christ) we were “in a hole, destined to die.” The sin of one man, Adam, caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17) God will continually save us from the world, Satan, and our “old nature.” He is our Preserver (Ps. 145:14-20).
  • Crowning with lovingkindness and tender mercies. God’s lovingkindness and tender mercies are evidenced from Genesis to Revelation, as He provides and protects His covenant people. Through our confession of faith in Christ, lovingkindness was extended to us, as Abraham’s seed and heirs to the promise (Gal. 3:29). The literal translation of tendermercies is “tender and compassion.” It expresses love of a superior for an inferior; this love is seen in the deep feelings that move the superior to help. While we were without strength to save ourselves Christ died for us (Rom. 5:6).
  • Satisfaction with “good things”. The NIV rendering of this verse is “He satisfies your desires with good things.” When we are obedient to God, we are in the center of His will. He will give us what is best for our life-even when we don’t see it. The result is renewal of hope and trust and the ability to continue our walk of faith. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in You!” Psalm 84:11-12 (NIV)
Regardless of our schedules and priorities, we must never forget all of God’s benefits. He has given us so much. Who could ever forget?

Discovering God in the Psalms: Desperately Seeking God

 

0 God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is.  Psalm 63:1 (KJV)

Recent news featured several individuals who were lost in the wilderness.

One story told of a young boy who became separated from his family when he left them in search of mushrooms. In another story, a hiker who left her team experienced a dangerous fall. With a badly broken leg she crawled miles through the woods until she was discovered. In both stories, their separation from others resulted in fear and despair until they were rescued from their dire situation.

In Psalm 63, its author, David, conveys his feelings of despair as he finds himself separated from the presence of Almighty God. It is in this Psalm that we find David desperately seeking God.

The historical context for this psalm can be found in 2 Samuel 15. David’s despair is the result of his son Absalom’s conspiracy to steal the kingdom from his father. Fearful of the potential shift in power, David vacates his throne in Jerusalem and heads to the wilderness of Judah:

And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, all the people crossed over toward the way of the wilderness. (2 Sam. 15:23).

While David was in fact, in a physical wilderness, the wilderness he speaks of in Psalm 63 describes metaphorically his desperate longing for God’s presence.  His need to spiritually reconnect with God took on the characteristics of a person physically suffering great thirst in a dry and parched wasteland.

David’s desire for God became the first thing he sought when he rose in the morning. His soul (his mind, will and emotions) thirsted for God. His flesh responded to this insatiable thirst in a strong longing to be with God.  “To long” in Hebrew (kamahn) means “to faint with longing.” David was faint from longing for his God.

David’s emotional response in the wilderness mirrored what he probably heard while worshiping in the sanctuary in Jerusalem:

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? (Ps. 42:1-2).

David now knew what it felt like to experience thirst for the Living God.

Though David had never seen God physically, he had personally experienced God’s power and glory through His nature and attributes. He knew God’s love and mercy as he tended to his father’s sheep as a young boy (Ps. 23).

David was witness to God’s protection as he faced the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17:49-51). David knew the source of his success in battle against Israel’s enemies (1 Sam. 18:5, 7). David knew the power of God’s presence.

Remembrance of those times gave David confident assurance that God would graciously hear and answer His call (Isa. 30:19). It was in God’s presence only that David would find spiritual relief for his thirst.

In today’s society people are desperately seeking relief for their spiritual thirst. They are searching for life options they feel will satisfy their needs through hedonistic pursuits, spiritual experimentation, and material gain.

These efforts unfortunately never satisfy and often result in further despair and darkness. God our Father and Creator knows and possesses what is needed for spiritual dryness. Only He can truly satisfy man’s needs. Let us, like David, seek greater intimacy with God, driven by an unquenchable thirst for His presence. Let us desperately seek God!

Tools for Encouragement

Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.  Romans 15:2 (KJV)

As In The Word Ministries moves into its second decade of service, we will be launching a new program entitled Contending for Children (CFC).   While we declare that “children are our future”, unfortunately there are still gaps in services leaving our children victims of violence, neglect, and abuse.   It is our opinion that in order to live victoriously as individuals, both women and their children need to be included in our ministry efforts.

That being the case, my radar is continually in search of trends and new thinking concerning children.

In researching the topic of encouragement, I was introduced to an article by Dr. Timothy Evans entitled, “The Tools of Encouragement”.  While its focus is children, I found “spiritual fodder” for our series on encouragement for 21st century living.

Encouragement versus Discouragement

In his article, Dr. Evans cites attitudes and behaviors that compare encouragement to discouragement.  For space sake, I have listed below at few which, I feel, may fit with our discussion of encouragement.  I challenge you to review the total list  as an “informal assessment” of your personal “encouragement style” with others God has placed in your life.   

ENCOURAGEMENT DISCOURAGEMENT
Hopeful view of people’s nature Hopeless view of people’s nature
Individual’s behavior is purposeful Individual’s behavior is caused by outside forces and victimization in the past
Influence without strings Control, force, and fear
Equality as human beings Superiority-sitting in judgment
Chatting-talking with Advising-telling to
Being ourselves, fine as we are Pleasing and proving
Recognizes effort and improvement Recognizes only tasks well done
Courage to be imperfect Fear of mistakes

 After a review of the behaviors, I found that many of the actions I had believed to be “helpful” could have instead been discouraging to those whom I had hoped to assist.

I now better understand that encouragement needs to flow from a heart that “stands with” the person in need of support.  Its end result should reflect renewed hope and confidence.   Jesus understood this dynamic and demonstrates for us the best model for encouragement.         

The Master Encourager:  Inspiration to hope and service

By His very nature, Jesus was the greatest of all encouragers.   Whether with His disciples or with the crowds, Jesus’ words spoke life and possibilities to those in need of support and confidence.

Jesus encouraged others to an expectant hope.  Jesus comforted His disciples with living hope—hope found in the promise of His resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3).  Jesus told them not to have their hearts troubled because “if they believed and trusted in the true and living God, they could also believe and trust in Him” (John 14:1).  Hope was fostered by the fact that God had a purposeful future planned for them including a place in heaven.

Jesus encouraged others in preparation for service.  Jesus spent His closing days with His disciples ensuring them that He would not leave them as orphans but instead promised the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, would come alongside them to help fulfill their purpose and their service to mankind (John 14:16-18).  The Holy Spirit now indwells each of us in the 21st century to do the very same thing.

Encouragement—RECAST  

Although we as Christians may not experience overt persecution or hatred, we do feel the pressures and disappointment that comes from living in this fallen world.  Discouragement is not an uncommon human experience.  Therefore encouragement is needed.  

For the recipient, encouragement helps individuals manage through times of trials and spiritual discipline.  It undergirds them when they may feel like giving up (Heb. 12:5). Encouragement gives hope and helps believers to continue their walk of faith (Rom. 15:4).

For the donor, encouragement nurtures patience and kindness (1 Cor. 13:4-7). It takes attention away from self and refocuses on the needs of others (1 Thess. 5:11).  Encouragement of believers ultimately supports the Great Commission—the advancement of God’s kingdom.

I’d like to close this series with as acrostic that will help to remind us of the importance and purpose of encourage.  The word is HOPE:  Helping Others’ Purpose Evolve.   As believers we are to follow the example of Christ in encouraging other to pursue their purpose outlined before the foundations of the world (Eph. 2:10); to accomplish the days fashioned for them before they existed (Ps. 139:16).