Category Archives: Spiritual Discipline

The Fear of the Lord, Part 2

The Fear of the Lord, Part 2

God-fearing

Jerry Bridges in his book, The Joy of Fearing God, notes “there was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people.  This was a badge of honor.”  So what does “God-fearing” look like in a postmodern age?

Unfortunately the shifting values and norms of the 21st century see little value in fearing God.  This fear is unfortunately viewed as obsolete and irrelevant.

The Motivation of Fear

Fear is a source of human motivation.  It can include fear of other’s opinions or anticipation of what might happen.  For example, there were many who wanted to follow Jesus but feared rejection and persecution by the Jews (John 7:12-13).

Even today there are many believers who fear being identified as Christians.  We are called “bible thumpers” and “holy rollers” . Because we do not hold the same world view, we are accused of being “intolerant” and “haters”.  Some say we are “sleep”.  To the contrary, we are well aware of the “time of day”.  And the day is rapidly ending (2 Pet. 3:8-10).

However, as believers, we fear the Lord because of who He is AND an acknowledgement that we live continually in the reality of His power, His purpose, and His presence.

God’s power is expressed in both His goodness and His greatness.  God is omnipotent. He is righteous and holy.  He alone is worthy to reign and rule over mankind (Daniel 4:35; Rev. 5:11-14).

God’s purpose is demonstrated in His sovereignty and His directive providence.  “According to His good pleasure” God orchestrates the affairs of men and nations.  That includes time and eternity.  There is no one or nothing that can “hold back” His hand (Job 38-41).

God’s presence is realized in the fact that He sees, and He knows everything we do.  He is omniscient and omnipresent.   We are never out of His presence and His protective reach.  He alone can claim, “I am with you always even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20).

Connecting fear and wisdom

Fear of the Lord is ultimately connected to wisdom (Prov. 9:10).  Wisdom speaks to prudent and ethical behavior.  In Paul’s citing of spiritual blessings in Christ, he acknowledges God’s provision of “abundant wisdom and prudence” for those who accept His offer of salvation (Ep. 1:8).  Simply put, wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly (Gal. 2:20).

To fear God means that, as believers, we acknowledge God’s power and authority in our lives.  We live with the knowledge that the God of Creation is ultimately involved in our every move and every decision we make.   Those who fear God adopt a godly lifestyle out of respect for Him and make wise choices that reflect the character of God (Titus 2:11-12).

Our Response

Our fear of God is not much different than that of others who initially experienced Him:  the Old Testament Patriarchs, the Prophets, and those in the first Church.  Their opening response may have been emotional fear, but it quickly changed to admiration and awe.  Ultimately their fear of God gave way to love, worship, and devotion.

With the entrance of Jesus Christ, our fear of God was redefined.  Motivated by love (1 John 4:7-21), we can come boldly to God’s throne of mercy and grace (Heb. 4:14-16) as His children and heirs (Rom. 8:17).

We are now reconciled to God because of Jesus sacrifice.  We are free to pursue a personal relationship with the Father (Zep. 3:17; James 4:8).

Let us daily draw near to God out of love not fear of punishment.  In our drawing near to God, let us better understand what it means to fear Him.  In doing so, may we also gain greater wisdom, deeper faith, and perfect obedience.

Praying with Purpose: Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory Prayer

What’s the work?

To close this series on prayer seems incomplete because the topic of prayer is so wide and diverse.  Out of curiosity, I placed the word “prayer” in my browser to see what would pop up.

The first thing my search engine offered was “prayer for healing”.  It’s not surprising this would be the first response.  There are so many people sick both mentally and physically.  Regardless of social standing or political position, sickness places us all on the same level.

“Prayers for strength in difficult times” was third on my list (after “prayer”).  There’s so much happening in our world.  We’re concerned with wars, terrorism (foreign and domestic), and global warming.  We continue to struggle with the COVID pandemic with all its “side effects”—uncertainty, volatility, and insecurity.

The work at hand

At this juncture in both our personal life and in our nation’s history, prayer is critical.  What is needed is prayer that is focused on others.  More importantly, this type of prayer, intercessory prayer, is centered on God’s will (Matt. 6:10).  The result is prayer that is intentional, strategic, and purposeful.

Intercessory prayer begins with our understanding God’s will.  God’s will can only be understood through developing a personal relationship with Him.

The man who would know God must give time to Him. He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the believing members of the holy church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train.[1]

The Model Intercessory Prayer

In reviewing prayers of the Bible, the one I like the most is John 17.  To me, this is the model for intercessory prayer.  We recommend you add it to your future study list.

This prayer comes at the conclusion to the Upper Room discourse of chapters 14-16. It is the closing verse (John 16:33) that introduces this extraordinary prayer: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Jesus Prays

First, Jesus prayed for Himself (John 17: 1-5).  This however was not a prayer for self but the request that God would be glorified.  God is glorified when His name is honored, and praise is given to Him for His works and His ways.  Jesus’ work of salvation and glorious resurrection would “finish the work which God had given Jesus to do” (v.4).

Next, Jesus prayed for His Disciples (John 17:6-19).  This is called the High Priestly Prayer These petitions were for the Disciple’s empowerment.  Through His parables and teachings Jesus had shared who God was (v. 6, Your name).  As they went into a hostile world, Jesus prayed that God would “keep” (guard) them and “sanctified” them (set apart) by God’s truth.  Believers today are kept by the same power of God through our faith regardless of the trials we may face (1 Pet. 1:5-7).

Lastly, Jesus prayed for future believers who come to faith through hearing the gospel (John 17:20-26).  This petition was for love and unity among Christ’s Church.   Christ prayed that believers would experience the same unity He knew with God the Father.  This unity would be reflected in the love believers showed to God and to each other.

The Work of Prayer

Jesus’ prayer presents us with an opportunity to “pray outside the box”.  Let our prayers focus not only on our needs but the needs of the world around us.  We need more prayers for healing (physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational).  Every prayer counts as we deal with these difficult times.

Let us expand our prayers beyond the lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16-17).  As we grow in our knowledge of God, may our prayers become more intentional, strategic, and purposeful.  As we pray, may God’s will be done, and His name be glorified forever.

[1]  A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man: Tozer’s Profound Prequel to The Pursuit of God

Praying with Purpose: Praying with Confidence

Praying with Confidence Our Prayers

As we stated earlier, prayer is the connector that releases God’s grace, promises, and power into the physical world.  As Oswald Chambers declared prayer is the “greater work” God has given us to do.

Regardless of the type of prayer we engage in—supplication, intercession, or deliverance—we understand the source of our prayers’ power.  The power does not come from us but from God.  Therefore we can have confidence when we pray.

Confidence builders

Our confidence in God dictates our response to the circumstances in the world and in our lives.  More importantly, it shapes our prayers to the Father.   We pray with confidence because we…

    • Acknowledge our REALITY. Our view of life looks different than the rest of the world.  It is based on the fact that God is sovereign and all-powerful (Ps. 97:1-6).

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we live in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God.  Therefore, we operate according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Our reality generates prayers of trust and hope as we face the uncertainties and pressures of 21st century living.

    • Walk in our IDENTITY. Our identity is based on who we are “in Christ”.

In Christ we have been adopted as children of God and have access to spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) and exceeding great and precious promises that by these we might be partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).  This includes God’s power within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Our identity gives us continuous access to the throne of grace.  Therefore, our prayers have priority.  We are invited to come boldly to God for whatever we need (Heb. 4:16).

    • Honor God’s PURPOSE. Jesus often reminded others that He came to fulfill the purpose of His heavenly Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). God’s purpose for our lives has been identified from the foundations of the world (2 Tim. 1:9).

It is the believer’s great honor to live out that purpose in both our life and through the circumstances God has placed before us.  All things are for God’s glory and our good.

Praying with confidence

As we strive to expand our prayer capacity, it is important that we pray with confidence.  This confidence will lead us to greater faith and belief.  The result will be more of God’s will realized in our lives and in the world.

We close with the Apostle John’s final words to believers concerned with the challenges to their faith and belief in Jesus Christ.  It deals specifically with the certainties of our faith.  Whether certainties or confidence, the result is the same–belief that God sees us, hears our cries, and will be with us.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.      1 John 5:14-15

Meditate on these verses and listen as God speaks to your heart.  Then pray the verses replacing the nouns with your name.  Let God’s Word speak “confidence” into your spirit.

Praying with Purpose: Am I ready for purposeful prayer?

Am I ready for purposefeul prayer?

What we know now

We began this series with the challenge to become more intentional and strategic in our prayers.  We do this by praying According to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15), Believing in God’s ability (Matt. 21:21-22), and being Committed to God’s outcome (Hab. 3:17-19).  When we pray in this manner, we place our trust in God’s love, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty.  Then our prayers become more purposeful.

To pray more purposefully will also require a new attitude.  This attitude is based on the recognition that prayer’s power is underwritten by God.  It is the connector that releases God’s grace, promises, and power from the spiritual realm into our physical world.

Armed with this knowledge, we can begin to pray knowing that our prayers have the potential to affect change not only in our individual lives but also to change circumstances in the world.  This includes the growing uncertainties of 21st century living.

Purposeful prayer 101

My prayer life, like many others, began one-sided:  asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt. 7:7).  I invested my time in learning what I thought was the “right way” to pray.  I followed the PAPA prayer formula.  I prayed the Scriptures.  I employed the ACTS model (adoration-confession-thanksgiving-supplications).  I wanted to better communicate with God, but I failed to realize what God really wanted.  He wanted me to listen.

With all these methods, the common thread is that they lead to a relationship with God.  When we’re in relationship with a person, we listen to them hoping to better understand who they are.  In prayer, we dialogue with God.  God speaks, we listen.  We become familiar with His ways: how He operates in the world and in our situation.  We understand His intent for our life and how to best serve Him.

Do we actively listen to hear God when we pray?  Or do we follow the prayer that leads to our desired end?  The Apostle Paul told us  that we sometimes don’t know how to pray.  Therefore it is the role of the Holy Spirit to guide us or redirect our prayers so they reflect the true will of God (Rom. 8:26-27).

In all seriousness, it is key that believers know that prayer is not just about getting what we want. Prayer is the greater work God has given us to do.

The Greater Work

Oswald Chambers, early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist evangelist and teacher writes this about prayer:

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Prayer is the battle, and it makes no difference where you are. However God may engineer your circumstances, your duty is to pray. Never allow yourself this thought, “I am of no use where I am,” because you certainly cannot be used where you have not yet been placed. Wherever God has placed you and whatever your circumstances, you should pray, continually offering up prayers to Him. 

Where do I begin?

Believe that God desires to communicate with us (Gen. 35:13).  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children.  We cry “Abba Father” knowing He hears our every word (Gal. 4:6).

Know that God wishes to be in relationship with us (James 4:8a).  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means to restore that which was loss in the Garden of Eden—fellowship with mankind.

Declare your intentions by asking God to help hear His voice. Hearing God is not natural (remember we loss that in the Garden) therefore, we must be intentional (Matt. 11:15).  Set aside time to listen for His voice.

Invite Him into time with you and expect to hear (1 John 5:14).  If you receive a fleeting impression, a scripture, or a song, don’t ignore it!  Ask God to dialogue with you about what you heard.

Purposeful prayer is not a method, but a walk with God where ongoing dialogue occurs.  It’s not about doing but it is about being mindful of our relationship with Triune God.  It is an exciting time of fellowship and discovery.  Are we ready for purposeful prayer?

Praying with Purpose: A New Prayer Attitude

A New Prayer Attitude

Knowledge of God and prayer

Every day I understand why it is important to “grow in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).  Who can know the mind of God?  God is so awesome and beyond anything I could ever imagine.

Paul shared my awe of God in Romans 11:33, when he exclaimed:  O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

This wonderment of God has expanded my curiosity.  Who is He and what is His will?  These questions have increased my desire for greater intimacy with Him.   They have presented me with new opportunities for a richer prayer life.

A new attitude

As I mentioned last week, this era of change and challenge, requires that we be intentional and strategic in use of our spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are a critical part of both our life and our lifestyle.  They aren’t meant to be used only to learn more about the Bible or how to live a holy life.

Spiritual disciplines are designed for us to experience the totality of God—Father God, Savior God, and Spirit.   Through these experiences, we are encouraged, empowered, and enabled to fulfill God’s will and purpose (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

We also need a new attitude about prayer.  This attitude requires a change in our mindset.  We must think and act differently than the rest of the world.  This is often counterintuitive to what we may feel.  However, as new creatures in Christ, we are required to pursue “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).  Jesus made that clear on the Sermon on the Mountain (Matt. 5-7).   This new attitude also suggests that we revisit how we think about prayer and its outcomes.  Our prayer life must become intentional, strategic, and purposeful.

Past experiences with prayer

What has been your experience with prayer?  Who do you pray for and when?  If you’re like me, I tried to follow the “biblical playbook” on prayer.  I prayed for God’s will to be done and for forgiveness of sin.  I prayed for family and friends and my life in general.  I really prayed when things got shaky.

When others asked for prayer, I would promise to do so.  I later learned to stop “at that moment” and pray with them.  Fortunately, in my lifetime, I’ve only had one person ask me not to pray for them.  I honored their request without question.

I am cautious as to who I ask to pray for me.  It stems from the old saints’ warning, “be careful who prays for you—especially if you don’t know who they pray to.”   As I sometimes discover later, that advice served me well.

I have been blessed to be part of several communities of believers who help me regularly exercise my prayer discipline especially in the area of intercessory prayer.  For several years I was part of a soul healing prayer group where we prayed as a team for individuals.  For several hours we prayed, listening to the Holy Spirit as He guided individuals to spiritual healing and release.  It was so powerful.  It was so needed.  It still is.

The Power of Prayer

Today I stand to witness to the power of prayer especially when it is approached with intentionality and strategically. 

Prayer not only changes circumstances but prayer also changes us.  Prayer teaches us patience and trust in the Lord.  It increases our emotional capacity so that we are able to rebound from traumatic events in our life.  Prayer connects us to God when we feel we can’t go on (Ps. 42:11).

The thing we must recognize is the true source of prayer’s power.  Prayer is powerful because it is underwritten by God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Ps. 104:5-9). Prayer is the connector to the dunamis power of God.   Engaging in prayer instantaneously takes us into the throne room of God.

Prayer is so much more

Over my lifetime, I’ve personally experienced God’s power through prayer.  Though the circumstances and situations may have been different, God’s presence has been undeniable.

Prayer connects us with so much more than God’s deliverance or provision. Prayer releases God’s grace, promises, and power from the spiritual realm into our physical world. 

Much like the features of that new car or computer we purchased, I’m sure we are under utilizing the power and potential available to us through prayer.    So, for the next few weeks, let’s explore new ways to expand our prayer capacity.  How can we become more intentional, strategic, and purposeful in our prayer life?

Praying with Purpose: Standing in the Need of Prayer

Standing in the Need of Prayer

Standing in need

Last week you were invited to join us in a Season of Christian Reboot This invitation was based on the importance of doing those things that help us to strengthen our faith.  This is critical especially in these tumultuous and uncertain times.

As we move forward, we must accept the obvious.  Our ability to accurately predict our future is a challenge.  Health pandemics, polarization and division, and economic uncertainty plague our nation.  These are but a few of the areas that affect our personal lifestyles and habits.    The good old days are gone never to return.

Living in this new era of change and challenge, we must do more than “fan the flame” of our spiritual gifts.  We must be intentional and strategic in using our spiritual disciplines as we embark on this new way of living.  The best place to begin being both intentional and strategic is standing in prayer.

It’s me

The song writer wrote, “It’s me…it’s me oh Lord standing in the need of prayer…not my mother…father…sister…brother but it’s me standing in the need of prayer.

I love this song.  It truly communicates my need for prayer.  However, for our prayer life to be strategic and intentional, we need to think of prayer with a broader outlook than our own personal needs.  If we as believers are change agents for God, we need to look beyond ourselves in our prayers.

Since the introduction of WordBytes, the teachings receiving the most attention are those that deal with prayer.   We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  Why?  Because our needs are so great.

Are we serious about prayer?

At the beginning of this health pandemic, we launched prayer calls focusing our attention on the epicenters of the disease.  We prayed for healthcare workers and those battling the disease on the front line.  God answered our prayers, and the numbers began to decline.

People boldly asked the nation to pray that a vaccine would be discovered that would end the ravages of this disease.  We have four vaccines today and numerous opportunities to receive this preventative solution.

We have witnessed the extraordinary power of prayer in the situations we face as a nation.  Are we still praying?  The needs are greater than ever.  There are many more battles to be won on our knees.  And what are we praying for?  Wisdom, grace, patience, deliverance?  Who are we praying for?  Ourselves, our family, our enemies?

We need the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27).  With God’s Spirit as our Helper, we are able to move the agenda of God forward in this world and care for the needs of His people.

Praying strategically

God’s Word tells us to pray for EVERYBODY!  Why?  So that “we may live quiet and peaceable lives” (1 Tim. 2:1-3).  Jesus stressed the importance of being in right relationship with all people (Matt. 5:44).  Imagine the potential of prayer for our divided nation?

We need prayer for EVERYTHING!  Why?  Because prayer changes things.  (James 5:16)  Now is the time to pray not only for our immediate sphere of influence but also for our world.

Imagine the potential of prayer!  Do we have the courage to connect to the awesome power of our God? (Ps. 19:1-3)

ABC’s of intentional prayer

How do we begin to pray intentionally?  By praying…

 According to God’s will.   

 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.    And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made. (1 John 5:14-15)

Believing in God’s ability.  

  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  (Matt 21:21-22)

Committing to God’s outcome.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer and makes me tread upon the heights.  (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

When we pray intentionally and strategically, we trust in God’s love, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty.    God will answer our prayers in a way that glorifies Him AND is good for us.

A New Song

Perhaps pursuit of our spiritual disciplines—prayer, Bible reading, and worship—have “cooled” because of COVID-19.   Has our inability to “gather together” darkened our ability to see God (Heb. 10:24-25)?  Has our identity in Christ been clouded by the challenges we face today?  Have we forgotten that we are the Church?  Wherever we are, God is!

If ever there was a need for intentional and strategic prayer, it is now.  Not self-focused, self-promoting prayers (God hears those, too) but prayer that changes hearts, minds, and circumstances.

We need prayer that calls down the power of God expecting Him to respond mightily to our requests (2 Chron. 16:9).

Return to Joy – A Joy Christian

Joy Christian

Delight yourselves in the Lord, yes, find your joy in him at all times. 
Phil. 4:4 (Phillips Translation)

A brand new identity as: Joy Christian

These two, otherwise separate words, go so well together, they could be a new phrase of identity.  The words are: Joy Christian.  Not “joy” and “Christian”, but “Joy Christian”.

We began this series, “In and Out of Season:  A Call to Return” with admonitions from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Hosea to “Return to Repentance” and “Return to Faithfulness”.

Both teachings acknowledged our “bentness to sin” and our responsibility as individuals, the Church, and a nation to repent and come back to God.

We learned in “Return to Your First Love” that God’s love for us never changes in spite of our shortfalls and failures.  It is up to us to move back into loving relationship with Him.   This week, we close our series with an invitation to “Return to Joy.”

What is Joy?

Joy is defined as gladness of heart and is listed among the top five things[1] people desperately want in life yet “never seem to be able to get”.  Joy’s illusiveness, in many cases, is the result of people’s tendency to define joy as external to themselves—a person, place, or thing.  This conviction holds to the belief that joy is only possible when certain outcomes are achieved and is generally expressed in phrases like:  “I’ll have joy when…” or “The only thing that will make me happy is…”

Joy under Attack

As we survey the world we live it, gladness of heart is under attack.  Our attempts to navigate 21st century living seem more daunting and challenging with each new day.  Financial worries served as a significant source of stress ranking higher than three other major sources of stress: work, family responsibilities, and health concerns.  So how can we find joy?   The Apostle Paul shares the secret of not only how to find joy but also how to return to it in spite of the pressures we might face.  Paul invites the Philippians (and us) to “delight in the Lord…find you joy in Him at all times.”

Source of Joy

Paul exhorts the Church at Philippi to holy joy and delight in God.  Paul reminds the Philippian believers of their duty and privilege to rejoice in God—at all times and in all conditions—even when they suffered and were afflicted for God.

We too must not think the worst of God during our hardships or difficulties.  There is enough in God to furnish us with joy even in the worst of circumstances.  David prayed to God that He would not take His Spirit away and acknowledged that “in God’s presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).  Jesus prepared His Disciples for the Great Commission by teaching them how “to live in The Vine”—in Jesus’ holy presence (John 15:5-11).  Jesus shared this with His Disciples so that “His joy would remain in them and be full”— complete or perfect in every way. (v. 11)

Returning to Joy

It is God’s desire that we return to joy regardless of life’s circumstances or difficulties.  Jesus describes these as “tribulations” (John 16:33).  Tribulations and trials are “natural outcomes” believers suffer as a result of living in a fallen world.

Returning to joy strengthens our resolve and helps us to continue with the purpose God has set before us (Nehemiah 8:10).  Such strength can only come from Eternal God Who sustains us through the worst of circumstances.   When we come into the presence of the Lord, we connect with His great and eternal power that exceeds anything we can do in our own strength (Phil.  4:13).

We, as believers, are invited to claim the power and victory that come from serving God who is sovereign and who has overcome the world (Ps. 119:89-91).  Isn’t it time for you to return to joy? Will you be a Joy Christian?

Also Read, “A Closet Full of Joy, Part 1”

[1]  Top 5 include:   Happiness, Money, Freedom, Peace, Joy

Joy Christian

How to be a "Joy Christian"

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.