Tag Archives: God’s will

Although and Yet: A Prayer of Faith

 

Although and Yet: A prayer of Faith

Wickedness leads to judgment

Last week we were introduced to Habakkuk the prophet.  Habakkuk lived and prophesized in the reign of king Manasseh, when wickedness abound.  Destruction by the Chaldeans was imminent.  God would use them as an instrument of His judgment.

If God were to assess the moral condition of our nation, would we be prepared to receive His punishment?  Last week, we listed the “sins of Judah” that resulted in its fall.  Disobedience is a slippery slide that leads to a continuum of sins (James 1:13-15).

What’s in a name?

Before being taken into captivity, Judah would experience the loss of all its material wealth and property.  All the blessings of God (Deut. 28:1-14) would be eliminated because of the wickedness and rebellion of Judah (Deut. 28:15-68).

How was Habakkuk to respond to God’s pending punishment on the nation of Judah? Habakkuk is an unusual name which means “to embrace or cling”. In the final chapter of this book, his name becomes apparent as Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

Although and yet.  These two conjunctions reflect how devoted Habakkuk was to his God and the trust he would need to navigate through the dark days that lie ahead.

Habakkuk’s declaration

In the final chapter of the book, Habakkuk concludes with a prayer confessing his continuing trust in the rightness of God’s dealing with Judah (Hab. 3:17-18).

Though the fig tree may not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vines;

Though the labor of the olive may fail,

And the fields yield no food;

Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,

And there be no herd in the stalls—

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

May I digress and spend a moment on the grammar Habakkuk used in this prayer.  Though is a conjunction meaning “in spite of the fact that”.   When used at the beginning a phrase, clause, or sentence, it offers a contrast to the main sentence.   Yet is also conjunction that means, in this context, “nevertheless.”  What are you saying, Habakkuk?  Put it in 21st century language we can understand!

In spite of rising costs and inflation,

And drought burned crops and dying cattle in the fields,

In spite of fires, floods, and ravaging storms,

And our shrinking GNP and personal investment accounts,

In spite of doing more with less

And receiving little in return

Nevertheless, I will rejoice in my Lord!

I will be joyful and trust in God.

He is my salvation!

That is the kind of faith we need today. Our world continues to shift from the familiar to the unrecognizable.  These lead to uncertainty and fear.  How will we respond?  Take a moment and write your own declaration of faith.  What is your “in spite of” and your “nevertheless”?

Habakkuk’s faith

Habakkuk concludes his prayer by living up to his name.  He praises God’s wisdom even though he doesn’t fully understand God’s way.  Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to God regardless of what happens to his nation.

That faith and trust is captured in his closing statement (Hab. 3:19, NLT):

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights.

In the King James version of this verse, two different words are used for “make”.

  • “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet” or “to transform into”.
  • “He will make me to walk upon my high places” or “tread, bend, or march”.

The deer in this verse was not the domesticated goat we see on farms today but was a wild mountain goat that was equipped the move through the rugged terrain of the mountains.  Narrow openings and ledges, crooks, and jagged rocks.  This is where the deer lived, yet they moved confidently knowing they were created for that world.

Application for us.  Our sovereign God has created us for such a time as this.  He is transforming us and bending us so that we will be able to not only survive but thrive.  But our ability to walk upon “our high places” is dependent on our faith and trust in God—even if we don’t understand His ways.  We must live by faith (Hab. 2:4).  If we do, then we too will be able to walk on our high places (Hab. 3:19).

What’s Going On?

What's going on?

What’s going on?

One of my favorite songs (past and present) is by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye.

It was released on May 21, 1971, by Motown Records.  The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent (Mercy, Mercy Me).[1]

As I look around our nation and world, I ask the same question. What’s going on?  And I even ask where is God in all this confusion?  And why doesn’t God intervene?  Such was the case with the prophet Habakkuk as he looked upon the nation of Judah.

The consequence of sin

The prophetic book of Habakkuk shares the dialogue between a “gracious God” and an “anxious prophet”.  As is true with both the major and minor prophets, we are given great insight as to how a holy God deals with an unholy and rebellious nation.

Although the nation of Judah was God’s “covenant people” (Deut. 7:7), God was now prepared to meter punishment on them like they had never experienced. The prophet Habakkuk has been chosen for “such a time as this”—a time when time has runout!

Judah was guilty of extraordinary sins.  Habakkuk inquired of God how long He would allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished.  They would not go unpunished.  God would use the nation of Babylon as His “chastening rod”.

We often think that our wrong behavior is not being seen by others.  While that may be true for a moment, the fact is, God sees!  What is done in the dark, will always come to light (Luke 8:17).  Many of our ousted elected officials and fallen religious leaders can attest to that truth.  However, there are always consequences for sin and it’s usually not good.

The cost of sin

God lists for Habakkuk the sins of Judah in five (5) “woes”.  God “had” indeed taken notice of Judah’s crimes (Hab. 2:5-20).  They included:

      • greed and aggression (vv. 5-8)
      • exploitation and extortion (vv. 9-11)
      • violence (vv. 12-14)
      • immorality (vv. 15-17)
      • idolatry (vv. 18-20)

We live in a world like Judah.  Look at the woes!  We sin both individually and collectively, as a nation.  God’s standard for righteous living has not changed (Micah 6:8; Mal. 3:6). Does God see what we’re doing?  Of course, He does (Ps. 33:13-14; Ps. 139:8-12).  The question is, are we willing to deal with the consequences of our sins?  Are we willing to accept the cost?

The cost is being realized as we see the immediate impact sin has on our children, our families, and our communities.

    • The hungry. Hunger is a very real issue for 12% or 41 million people in the United States.
    • The homeless. Why are people homeless? Because of “lack”!  Lack of affordable housing, income, employment opportunities, and healthcare.
    • The abused. Domestic violence.  Sexual abuse.  Human trafficking.

But what do these impacts have to do with sin?  Re-read the “five woes” and see how they fit in our 21st century culture.  If we are not guilty by “commission”, perhaps we are culpable by “omission”—by what we don’t do to make life better for others (Prov. 3:27).

The just shall live by faith

Although God’s judgment was hard for Habakkuk to accept, he recognized the only “proper response” in the midst of this dilemma.  He was “to live by faith, not by sight” (Hab. 2:4).

As we look at the world we live in, it is easy to be disillusioned and in despair.  Just like Habakkuk, we may question how long God will tolerate sinful and evil behavior from both individuals and nations.

Regardless of who sits in the White House or State House, we as believers in Christ are to do our part to speak truth and justice.  We are to engage in our world to represent Jesus as He ensures God’s will is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:15).  We are to live by faith.

Like Habakkuk, we have an ordained purpose to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).  We are to pursue our purpose trusting that God sees and is always in control.  He is constantly, through every historic event moving us to His divine plan of salvation for mankind.

Knowing that, our purpose should not focus on our personal agendas.  But instead let us join God in His plan.  Like Habakkuk and Esther and all those who have gone before us, we were created for such a time as this.  Let us not be in despair but let us “go forth” in the strength of the Lord (Ps. 71:16).

[1] Wikipedia

Losing Our Mind

Losing Our Mind

Losing our Mind

In the 90’s there was a commercial that declared “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Its intent was to encourage the pursuit of higher education.

Unfortunately, a politician, hoping to win “kudos” and votes with potential constituents misquoted this saying resulting in the statement, “a mind is a terrible thing to lose.” That politician was not re-elected.

Mind management

In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul gives advice as to the best use of one’s mind. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).  In other words, we are to set aside our way of thinking and replace it with the same type of thinking as Jesus.  And what is the results of doing this? Victorious living.

Victorious according to Webster is defined as having won a victory or characterized by victory. I’m not suggesting that our life will be perfect nor problem free.    Our victory comes in the knowledge that Jesus has already overcome every situation we now face in our life (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 5:5).  In Christ, we have everything we need to overcome the challenges of 21st century living (2 Pet. 1:3-4, RSV).

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature.

How do we obtain the mind of Christ?

To have a mind of Christ we must…

Be willing to exchange our position and our plans, for the purpose God has designed for our life. Christ willingly joined God in His plan of salvation for mankind (Eph. 1: 4-6).

Trust in God and believe that all things work together for good to those called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Humble ourselves like Christ.  Our intents and actions should seek “no personal reputation” nor gain (Phil. 2:6-8).  Christ voluntarily set aside His privileges (“being in the form of God”) and accepted a lower status (“took on the form of a bondservant and made in the likeness of man”). Why? For us.  That we might be released from the bonds of sin and have eternal life.

Our victory

Finally, to have the mind of Christ, we must be obedient.   Obedience is the highest form of love. Because of our love for God, we must be willing to sacrifice our thoughts and actions to follow the instructions He has set before us (1 Sam. 15:22). Christ’s obedience was love of the highest caliber.  Jesus was obedient even if it meant death by the worst possible punishment, death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

Paul shares with the Philippians God’s reward for Jesus Christ’s “mind” (Phil. 2:9-10):

Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Possessing the mind of Christ will empower us to “pull down strongholds and cast down obstacles that hold themselves up above the knowledge of God.  We can do this by bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

A mind may be a terrible thing to lose” unless you replace it with the mind of Christ.  There is an old axiom that states, “You can’t lose what you never had.” Read the Gospel account of the Madman of Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-19) and see how losing your mind can change your life.

What is God revealing?

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenant obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

Obedience and the Journey to the Cross

Obedience and the Journey to the Cross

Obedience and the Journey

We continue our Lenten season journey to the Cross.  In this study, we discussed the meaning of obedience to God.  Obedience is discerning what God wants and choosing to seek that outcome.  Our response of obedience flows from a heart that hears God’s voice and feels God’s love.  It is a matter of choosing and turning to Him versus the lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ especially as He journeyed to the Cross.  Jesus demonstrated for us “perfected” obedience by His humility, His faithfulness, and His submission to God’s will.

We decided that obedience was both the outcome of our faith walk and the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished.  We “perfect” (bring to fruition) our obedience through the Holy Spirit and practicing spiritual disciplines that conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).  We daily accept the “obedience challenge” by exercising our freedom in Christ rather than being disobedient slaves to sin.

Let go of the ego!

As we perfect our obedience, probably the most difficult part of our journey is our willingness to “let go.”  Letting go requires releasing those things that cause us to be independent of God and operate outside the will of God.

Letting go necessitates that we pray often, wait expectantly, and trust unequivocally.   When we “let go and let God”, the results are always more than we can accomplish in our own power (1 Cor. 2:9).  Much of the difficulty in “letting go,” often times, lie in our inability to “let go of our ego.”

What’s with the ego?

Ego, in this case, is not an exaggerated sense of self-importance but the use of “fleshly” knowledge and “human” effort to accomplish God’s purpose. This is often the case when we endeavor to live righteous and holy lives in our own power.  Some of us attempt to do this by “works”:  we visit the sick, feed the hungry, and do all the things we think will please the Lord.

Some of us become “masters of spiritual disciplines”:  we read our Bible every day, fast and pray, and tithe ten percent.  Regardless of our approach, we “miss the mark” using fleshly methods to create spiritual outcomes.  In Philippians 3:4-5, the Apostle Paul, confesses his attempt to live holy by operating out of his flesh.

Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

Interestingly the pronoun “I”, in the passage above, in Greek is translated “ego.”  Paul’s failure was not due to lack of works or poor self-discipline; nor was it the result of a poor attitude or “stinking thinking.”   Paul attempted to do the work and will of God in his own strength.  What was the best solution for Paul’s dilemma?   He declared his faith and dependence on Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:7-9). Paul “let go his ego” and chose to obediently follow God.

Preparation for Holy Week

As we prepare for Holy Week, let us consider the journey through the lens of obedience.  To help us with this exercise, take time to meditate on Philippians 3:8 (NRSV).

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. 

When we meditate, we “focus our thoughts” (versus daydreaming).  We invite the Holy Spirit to join us.  There can be no meditation without His presence.   Below are three (3) simple methods of meditation you can try.[1]

Meditation method #1:   Emphasize different words in the text.

Meditation method #2:   Rewrite the text in your own words.

Meditation method #3:   Formulate a principle from the text.  What does it teach?

Don’t rush this exercise.  Spend time re-reading and focusing on each word.  Give attention to the verse, each phrase, and words included in this scripture.  Remember, all Scripture is the inspired word from God (2 Tim. 3:16).  Take time to hear not only what God is saying to Paul but also, what is God saying to you.

Journal what you learn from your meditation—about God, the Gospel, your ego, and yourself.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show how you can practice obedience as you daily journey to the Cross.

[1] Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitley.

Obedience or Slavery?

 

Who are you obedient to?

Preparing for the Passion

Our Lenten season journey will soon close with remembrance of the Passion Week.  This week, prior to Easter, recounts the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as He journeyed to the Cross.  During that week, Jesus was intentional and direct as He prepared his disciples for the gruesome ending of His physical life.  His act represented, not only His extreme love for us but also, His unyielding obedience to the Father.

Jesus’ substitutional death was decreed by God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  A sacrifice for sin was needed (Lev. 17:11) and Jesus was that willing, obedient sacrifice.  Jesus was to die for our sins and receive the penalty we deserved.  From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ focus was to release us from the bondage of sin (Matt. 1:21).

Jesus leads the way

Jesus announced His arrival as the promised Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth.  He was the Anointed One who would “release the captives and let the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus accomplished that purpose on Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead, breaking the power and the penalty of sin in our lives (Col. 2:13-15).  This includes sins we have committed in the past, commit in the present, and will commit in the future.  When we reach heaven, we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin.

Jesus’ obedience led to our victory over sin and our freedom to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18).  Why? So that we can obediently serve the Lord and further His kingdom.

So why are we still acting like slaves?

In Romans 6:16-18, the Apostle Paul challenges the young church at Rome to obediently follow Jesus and the Word (the Gospel) that had been delivered to them.  I guess you could call them “hokey-pokey” Christians.  They had “one foot in the Church and one foot in the world”.  Sound familiar?

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  

This is the same “obedience challenge” we face daily while living in our earthly flesh.  Until we are delivered from the presence of sin, we must doggedly declare “ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11).  We must exercise our freedom in Christ to leave behind sinful patterns and influences which move us away from God.  We must not take God’s glorious gift of grace for granted and continue in sin through our disobedience.

Slaves of righteousness

During this season of Lent, many of us are practicing the discipline of fasting.  We have given up some habit, practice, or vice and have replaced it with new activities that draw us closer to Jesus.  This includes more time in prayer, studying the Word, or solitude.

Lent is a period of denying our “flesh” and of self-reflection, hopefully leading us to greater spiritual maturity and obedience.  But let’s be honest, aren’t there some things we should stop doing beyond Lenten season?  Some sin(s) that are keeping us enslaved to the world and Satan? (Heb. 12:1)

Are we choosing to remain “shackled” by sin when Christ has set us free from sin’s power and penalty?

You are slaves of the one you obey.”  Question for today:  Who are you obedient to?

Mature Obedience

 

Mature Obedience

Faith outcome and spiritual maturity

Last week we opened with this question:  Is obedience the outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which spiritual maturity is accomplished?   The answer we discovered is that obedience is BOTH.

During our faith walk (which will continue until this life ends), our choice to either obey or disobey God will result in “life lessons” that will make us stronger instruments of God.  Through these lessons we “grow” or mature spiritually.

Oswald Chambers shared this thought on obedience and spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God. Some people mature into an understanding of God’s will more quickly than others because they obey more readily; they more readily sacrifice the life of nature to the will of God.

A lesson in obedience

Let me detail the correlation between obedience and spiritual maturity with the following illustration.

A toddler, immature physically and mentally, has one basic desire—to satisfy their immediate needs.   They will do just about anything to have their way, disregarding safety, or well-being along the way.  This includes climbing up on high counters or grabbing objects that are dangerous to their health, i.e., laundry pods.

Toddlers show little concern for their own safety or well-being if the result is physical satisfaction. They are best served and protected by their guardian who will provide for and protect them.  Toddlers must be taught to obey the direction of their guardian who will help them to gain a healthy fear of the world they live in.

Is obedience only for children?

Spiritually, the toddler illustration can also be true for believers.  Oftentimes, we live in the moment—desiring what will immediately satisfy our needs.  In that moment perhaps the Holy Spirit is directing us to “pray and wait” or to seek godly counsel through others or the Bible.

Many times, we will even fain obedience (fake it) by responding “I’m praying about it” when we already know what God has directed us to do.  Ours is just to obey. Such was the case with Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying, “Go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Reluctant obedience = disobedience

Jonah was reluctant to bring God’s message to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s hated enemy, Assyria.  Foolishly, he thought he fled from the presence of the Lord (Psalm 139:7-10).

God was very clear in His instruction to Jonah.  “Go at once” and “Cry out against Nineveh”.  He was without excuse, yet he chose to be disobedient. The Lord did not allow him to escape.

Jonah eventually acquiesced.  God’s purpose was accomplished. Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:10).    But unfortunately, Jonah failed to mature spiritually (Jonah 4:3-4).  He was unsuccessful in understanding the nature of God and His mercy (Exod. 33:19).

Practicing mature obedience

Like Jonah, do we often find ourselves running from the presence of the Lord?  Is God asking us to respond to a divine directive we prefer not to do?  This is a great place to begin practicing mature obedience.

We practice mature obedience by first seeking God’s will through reading and meditating on His Word.  This will then move us naturally into prayer based on what we have read.  We have the assurance of the Holy Spirit to “guide us in all truth and to glorify God” (John 16:13, 14).

Finally, we must quickly respond to what God has instructed us to do. We must obey.  Hesitation is often the result of doubt, which soon leads to disobedience. Mature obedience can be practiced every day.  It begins with a willing heart that is swift to say, “Yes, Lord.”

The Character of Obedience

The Character of Obedience

The nature of obedience

As we defined last week, obedience is submission to authority.  Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?

Conversation about obedience seems especially appropriate as we enter the Lenten season.  As believers, we have committed to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ.  How well are we doing?   Lenten season presents a “space in time” in which we can answer that question.  It is also a time to identify those things that keep us from our obedience to God.

Obedience actualized

Accounts of the apostles and other great propagators of the faith give evidence that obedience plays a major role in our faith walk.

Obedience is a constant theme in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of many relationships in which we are asked to offer our obedience.  These includes obedience exercised within a family (Eph. 6:1; 1 Cor. 14:34,35), between a master and their servant (Eph. 6:5), or to civil government (Titus 1:1, 3:1).

In his letter to Christians living in the first century, the Apostle John teaches on identifying genuine faith in Christ.  The test is linked to obedience.

“Now by this we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”  (1 John 2:3-5)

The great 17th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say about obedience:

  • Love is the chief jewel in the bracelet of obedience.
  • That obedience which is not voluntary is disobedience, for the Lord looketh at the heart, and if He seeth that we serve Him from force, and not because we love Him, He will reject our offering.
  • You and I must be willing to do what God tells us, as God tells us, when God tells us, because God tells us, but only strong faith will be equal to such complete obedience.

Though these views come at varying times in biblical and church history, their message is still the same.  Obedience is an expectation for all believers.  It is not an option.

Jesus the Model of Obedience

The hallmark of obedience is modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ especially as He journeyed to the Cross.  Jesus modeled obedience by His humility, in His faithfulness, and in His submission to God’s will.

Jesus humbled Himself as Deity by shedding His blood for our sins.

Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Phil. 2:5-8

Jesus’ faithfulness is seen in His unflinching commitment to the Cross.

“(Jesus) who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”  Heb. 5:7-8

Jesus submitted to the will of God.

“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:18-19

Let us hear

The Greek word for obedience is hupakoe which means “attentive harkening, compliance or submission”.  It usually refers to obedience to God’s will in a “special sense”—of willing subjection.  Unlike the animals used in previous sacrifices, Christ came willingly to the Cross.  He expressed His submission to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane as He repeated “not My will but Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42; Mark 14:32-36).

Acceptance of the Gospel requires acceptance of Christ as not only Savior but also as Lord of our lives.  We no longer live for ourselves but for Him (Gal. 2:20; 1 Peter 4:2).  Through obedience, we learn to have the “same mind of Christ”—obedience in our faithfulness, our humility, and our submission to God’s will.

While the world encourages defiance and applauds noncompliance, Christ offers a different model for living.  Through Christ’s obedience two-thousand years earlier, He changed the “eternal outcome” to “all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9).  Once destined to an eternity in hell, we now are partakers of eternal life (John 3:16).  That’s worth our love, our devotion, and our obedience.

Remember our opening question: “Is obedience an outcome of our faith walk or is it the means by which our spiritual maturity is accomplished?”  The answer is, “it’s both”!

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

Obedience: An Invitation to Hear

The Believer’s Struggle

In his book, “Think Like Jesus,” pollster George Barna tackles a formidable topic, “How do Christians develop a “biblical worldview” in a fallen world?  But more than that, why is it important to do so?  How is it possible to be “in this world but not of this world”?  (John 17:14-15)

Our struggle with this dilemma is demonstrated by the world’s inability to see believers as being different from them.  The world labels Christian beliefs as intolerant and antiquated.  Because of that, we believers are often silent about our faith.  The result?  It is easier to “go along to get along.” The salt is no longer salty.  The light has grown dim (Matt. 5:13-16).

Obedience and the Christian’s worldview

Barna offers several scriptural principles to guide us as we create a biblical worldview for our life.  One of these principles is the importance of obedience to God.  “Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God wants and choosing to seek that outcome.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.  It is a time when we can focus on self-examination and self-denial.  It is also a great time to study this topic of obedience and answer the following questions:

What is obedience?

Why is it important in my faith walk?

How does obedience affect my “worldview”?

WIFM (What’s in it for me)?

What is obedience?

When you read or hear the word obedience, what comes to mind?  If you are like me, you may instantly think of its opposite—disobedience.  According to Webster, obedience is defined as submission to authority.

Operating with that definition, people immediately view obedience as harsh and demanding.  Their response is understandably, resistance.  Resistance is anchored in our human desire to control our destiny.  For the unbeliever (and believer, too) this desire includes living independent of God’s rule in their life.  This response, unfortunately, misses the true intent of godly obedience.  That is why we need a biblical view of obedience.

In the Old Testament, obey is interpreted as to hear.  It stresses not only hearing but also understanding. As God spoke through His revelation (His ways and works), His people were able to hear and understand His desire for them. (Jer. 29:11).

In the New Testament, obey is not only connected with hearing but also means to convince or to persuade.  Obedience is described as an attitude (2 Cor. 2:9) and a faith-rooted disposition (Phil. 2:12).

We hear, we are persuaded, and in an attitude of faith, we obey.  When we hear God speak to us (through His Spirit), our response should be to obey His instruction.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Obedience flows from the heart

The obedience of Jesus is held as the ultimate example for believers.  Jesus heard God’s instruction and “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8) His obedience flowed out of His personal relationship with God—He heard and knew the Father.  More  importantly, Jesus’ obedience was connected to and motivated by love.

Obedience is the outward response of a heart that loves God.  God’s call for obedience is a loving invitation to experience His best. Man’s response to God’s invitation is a heart that hears and turns to Him (Ps. 14:2).

Obedience, properly understood, is never a cold or impersonal command that arouses resentment. Our response of obedience should flow from a heart that hears God’s voice, feels God’s love, and turns to Him.  

Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.

Before I was afflicted, I went astray,

but now I obey your word.

Psalm 119:66-67 (NIV)

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