True Friends

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy (Proverbs 27:6 NLT). 

Proverbs 27 may have more wisdom about our friends than any other chapter in this book. But sprinkled throughout the entire book of Proverbs is outstanding wisdom about our closest relationships. Allow me to share just a few observations with you.

(Click here to see all of the verses I reference below.)

In a previous post where I noted the conjunctions “but” and “and,” I see this—The righteous choose their friends carefully, BUT the way of the wicked leads them astray (12:26). Righteous friends keep me on the right path. 

Friends love me through my worst moments (17:17) because they have committed to stick closer than a brother to me (18:24).

I must be careful not to make friends with a hot-tempered person (22:24), and to be cautious of people who want to be friends with me only for what I can give them (19:4). 

My true friends will wound me in love to help me become the best that God intended me to be (27:5-6, 9, 17), so I must never forsake these friends (27:10). 

False friends will gossip to me and about me, but my true friends will guard my secrets and guard my reputation (16:28; 17:9). 

In order to have true friends, I first have to be a true friend.

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I noted how true friends will help us go farther and avoid the stumbles that could cut short our leadership influence. 

David was the gold standard for every king of Israel who followed him. Numerous times throughout the history of Israel, we will see a note that a certain king either followed God like David, or turned from God unlike David. Yet there exists a wart on David’s portrait: an adulterous affair with the wife of a man in his inner circle, and then subsequent lies and a murder to cover up the affair. “The thing David had done displeased the Lord” (see 2 Samuel 11). 

But I’d like to turn your attention to when this affair occurred: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). He was without his usual comrades. The men who knew David best, who could probably sense if something was amiss, weren’t around to warn him. When David tried to find out the identity of the bathing beauty on the roof next door to his palace, an unnamed attendant tried to remind him, “Isn’t that Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah?” but David dismissed him. 

Elijah was arguably the most forceful and fearless prophet in Israel’s history. Not only did he stand up to the evil kings of Israel, but he spoke out against the kings of surrounding nations, too. In answer to Elijah’s prayer, God brought a drought on the land, and again in answer to Elijah’s prayer, God sent rain. Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of the god Baal and the 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah to a duel to the death, which ended up in a decisive victory for Yahweh. Yet, shortly after this massive victory, Elijah was depressed to the point that he wanted to die. 

What led to Elijah’s depression? Something very similar to David’s slide into adultery: He was alone. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel’s death threat, left his servant behind, and proceeded all by himself into the desert. It was when he was without a comrade that he prayed to God, “I’ve had enough. Take my life” (see 2 Kings 17–19). 

And what about Peter? He boldly claimed his loyalty to Jesus, even to the point of wielding a sword at the guards who came to arrest his Master. But when Peter was alone, after the other disciples fled, he denied three times that he knew Jesus (Matthew 26:33, 51, 69–75). 

God designed us to be in relationship with others. His statement to Adam in some of the earliest words of the Bible—“It is not good for you to be alone”—are words for us still today. —from the chapter “Going Farther” 

We need true, God-fearing friends close to us. Ask God to bring those friends around you, and ask the Holy Spirit to make you into that kind of friend for those He does bring around you. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Wart Warning

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Wart Warning  

     At the instigation of his wife, Abraham adopted means that were not justifiable in order that he might obtain the promised heir [see Genesis 16]. He used means that may not be so vicious to him as they would be in men of modern times, but that were suggested by an unbelieving policy and were fraught with evil. He takes Hager to wife. He could not leave it to God to give him the promised seed. He could not leave it with God to fulfill His promise in His own time and justifies himself in turning aside from the narrow path of faith to accomplish, by doubtful methods, the end that God Himself had promised and undertaken to accomplish! How shorn of splendor is Abraham seen when we read, ‘And Abraham heeded the voice of Sarah’ (Genesis 16:2). That business of Hagar is to the patriarch’s deep discredit and reflects no honor at all upon either him or his faith. 

     Look at the consequences of his unbelieving! Misery soon followed. Hager despises her mistress. Sarah throws all the blame on her husband. The poor bondwoman is so harshly dealt with that she flees from the household. … One marvels that such a man as Abraham allowed one who had been brought into such a relationship with him to be heedlessly chased from his house while in a condition requiring care and kindness! 

     We admire the truthfulness of the Holy Spirit that He has been pleased to record the faults of the saints without extenuating them. Biographies of good men in Scripture are written with unflinching integrity—their evil recorded as well as their good. These faults are not written that we may say, ‘Abraham did so-and-so; therefore we may do it.’ No, brothers and sisters, the lives of these good men are warnings to us as well as examples, and we are to judge them as we should judge ourselves—by the laws of right and wrong.

From Consecration To God

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I also talk about the faults that we see in God’s leaders. In looking at David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, Elijah’s slide into depression, and Peter’s denial of Jesus, I see something similar: They were alone. 

David stayed in Jerusalem while his army went to fight, Elijah left his servant behind and went into the wilderness alone, and Peter was separated from his fellow disciples. Just like with Abraham, all of these other men were brought back into close fellowship with God. But all of these men now have a “wart” on their biography. 

“God designed us to be in relationship with others. His statement to Adam in some of the earliest words of the Bible—‘It is not good for you to be alone’—are words for us still today. As I mentioned earlier [in my book], you will not find the word ‘saints’ in the singular in the New Testament. Instead, you will find such phrases as ‘one another,’ ‘each other,’ and ‘all together’ prominently displayed throughout the New Testament church. Let me say it again: God designed us to be in relationship with others. If you want to go far in your shepherding, you cannot try to go alone.” —from the chapter in Shepherd Leadership called ‘Going Farther’ 

Let’s be forewarned by these examples. Stay close to God, but also stay close to godly friends that will help you in the hard times. Don’t let a wart blemish your record.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

 

Trainable

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Blessed are the people of whom this is true… (Psalm 144:15). 

This is how David closes the 144th Psalm, but a good question for us to ask is, “Of whom what is true?” David explains that blessed people are those who are experiencing safety from their enemies, healthy, prosperous children, abundant harvests, and freedom.

Well, you might ask, how are these blessings to be obtained? David opened this psalm by thanking God this way: “Praise be to the Lord my rock, Who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” In other words: Thank You, God, for giving me victory! 

This raises yet another question for me: Did David win all of these blessings of victory, or did God? The answer is quite simply, “Yes!” 

David recognized that God trains, but he had to be trainable. So too for us today, we have to be trainable to learn to discern God’s voice. Sometimes God says, “Attack,” and sometimes He says, “Stand still and watch My deliverance,” but in all cases, God is the ultimate Source of our victory and the blessings that flow from that victory. 

The blessings of God our Trainer flow to the people who have made themselves trainable.Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.” This blessing caused David to sing out in worship, as it still should for us today, “I will sing a new song to You, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to You, to the One who gives victory to kings, who delivers His servant David from the deadly sword. 

If you want to experience more of God’s blessings, you need to regularly ask the Holy Spirit, “Am I trainable today?” As this psalm makes abundantly clear: Those who are trainable are also bless-able! 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

No One Can Help Me

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

David uses the phrase “no one” three times in verse 4 of the 142nd Psalm. This verse is also the middle verse of the psalm. Since Hebrew literature often puts the central message in the center, we should start with this verse and then see the message that radiates out from the center. 

In this middle verse, David realizes that no earthly help can sustain him: 

  • no one is at my right hand with any strength to lend to me
  • no one is truly concerned for my wellbeing 
  • no one can help my eternal soul 

Radiating out from this middle verse we see…

  • …God, You watch over me, and You are my refuge (vv. 3, 5)
  • …I pour out my complaint to You, God, and You listen and respond to me (vv. 2, 6) 
  • …God, I cry to You for mercy, and You set me free from my prison (vv. 1, 7)

I find it interesting that David calls it “my prison.” David has learned that God may allow affliction and shaking so that he will see that there is only One who is reliable and stable. Trusting in anything or anyone else becomes, in essence, a prison. 

In verse 7, David mentions God’s “goodness to me.” Sometimes this word for goodness is translated “bountiful,” and it comes from a Hebrew word that can mean “to be weaned.” David is sharing with us that our afflictions can wean us from all human help so that we can fully enjoy the bountiful goodness of our loving God! 

When it appears that there is no one around to help me, that is actually a good thing.

It’s a good thing because it means that now that everything else has been cleared out of my way, I can clearly see The Only One that truly cares about me both today and forevermore! 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Zeal For God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

For zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult You fall on me (Psalm 69:9). 

David said this about 1000 years before Jesus lived it out. 

David was uncomfortable with the spiritual status quo that had seemed to descend on him and the people around him. He desperately wanted to stoke the passion of his heart to burn hot for God again. So he prayed, he fasted, he abased himself, he cried out to God. Zeal for God consumed David! 

Jesus wanted all people everywhere to come into His Father’s presence. So when Jesus saw His Father’s house overrun by merchants, effectively keeping people away from the closeness that David and others longed for, He went into action. Zeal for God consumed Jesus! 

In both of them we see a passion for God that moved them to action, but action that also aroused the anger of those who preferred the passivity of “religious activity” to the realness of God’s presence. Both David and Jesus became the targets of insults, scorn, and mockery. 

Just as Jesus would announce 1000 years later, David expressed the same motivation that prompted his zealous action: God’s glory—

  • may those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me
  • may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me
  • may Your salvation protect me 

Zeal for a real closeness to God’s presence is rare.

Zeal for that intimacy upsets hypocrites. 

Zeal for God empowers others who aren’t satisfied with merely playing at religion. 

Zeal for God glorifies God. 

And most importantly: Zeal for God pleases God! 

When you see play actors and religionists blocking hungry seekers from coming closer to God, I pray that your zeal, too, burns white hot. Be prepared to be the target of scorn, but know that God’s smile on your zeal for Him far outweighs their insults. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

A Leader’s Prayer

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

…May the Lord grant all of your requests (Psalm 20:5). 

To me, the blessing of this psalm feels like the blessing God gave to the high priest to pronounce over the people of Israel (Numbers 6:23-27). But in this blessing of Numbers 6, the people are simply passive recipients of the priestly blessing. 

Here in Psalm 20, David is asking God to give the people the blessing of His answer to their prayers. The people aren’t just passive but are actively involved in seeking God’s blessing. David teaches his people that they can pray for: 

  • relief from distress 
  • protection
  • help
  • support
  • acceptance of their sacrifices 
  • fulfillment of their desires
  • successful plans
  • victory

And in case someone might think that one or two of those items aren’t worthy of God’s attention, David adds this closing line, “May the Lord grant ALL your requests.” 

David also shows us the assurance with which his people can pray these prayers. He says, “Now I know…” 

  • God is the Source 
  • God answers out of His limitless power 
  • God is completely trustworthy 
  • God does “answer us when we call” 

This is a blessing a leader prays over his people as an encouragement to them to pray about anything and everything that is of concern to them. 

A mark of a godly leader is his prayer of blessing on the people under his care. 

This is part 56 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

When You’re Unfairly Attacked

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. (Psalm 35:1). 

This psalm is in a category called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” 

Does it sound unusual to your ears to pray a prayer like that? After all, aren’t we as Christians commanded to forgive those who offend us? How do we square that teaching of Jesus with these brutally honest prayers that David offers up? 

Always remember that imprecatory psalms are spoken exclusively to God, not to our enemies. So when we pray these prayers, we are really turning the matter over to God. God does the contending and the vindicating—He knows best how to dispense the appropriate judgment. 

David also shares with us several introspective prayers throughout the Book of Psalms, where he asks the Holy Spirit to search him. This heart-searching is interwoven in this imprecatory prayer of Psalm 35, as it should be with our prayers too. 

Notice that David can only say these things with integrity because he had already allowed the Spirit to search his heart, and then he had asked forgiveness and he had repented from any sin (see Psalm 139:23-24; Matthew 5:22-24; 6:12, 14-15). David could point out with a clear conscience what his enemies were doing because David was innocent of these actions himself. Things like… 

  • their attack was without cause (v. 7) 
  • their accusations were purposefully designed to entrap him (v. 11) 
  • they were repaying David’s good work with evil deeds (v. 12) 
  • David had attempted to treat them well (vv. 13-14) 
  • they gleefully piled on more slander when David stumbled (v. 15) 
  • the enemy’s mocking was malicious (v. 16) 
  • they hated me without reason (v. 19) 
  • they invented false accusations against David (v. 20)

After his imprecatory prayer, David resolves to turn his eyes from the bad guys to God. He declares that worship of God will be his comfort (v. 28). What a great example for us still today! 

When you are falsely, unfairly attacked, take these three actions: 

  1. Introspection. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart, and then quickly take action where necessary: Ask forgiveness, and repent from sinful thoughts, words, and actions. 
  2. Pray. Remember to share your hurts with God alone. There is no need to unleash your anger on those who have attacked you. 
  3. Worship. As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

Please keep these God-honoring action steps in mind the next time you are unfairly attacked. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Whom To Fear

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. … In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord whose word I praise—in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, 10-11). 

Have you ever been afraid of someone? Have you ever experienced the fear of God?

Interestingly, it’s the same Hebrew word (yaré) for both. This word can mean either something that causes me to fight or flight, or it can mean reverential respect. David is saying, “When I begin to feel the fear of man, I instead turn to the fear of God, and I am no longer afraid.”

Or to put it another way: “When I think I have to fight or flight on my own, I instead choose to reverence God and He takes care of my fear.” 

In both verses 4 and 10, the word “praise” is the Hebrew word for “Hallelujah!” When David feels fear of man creeping in, he looks to God’s Word, finds a promise on which to stand, and reverentially begins to worship God: “Hallelujah! With this promise, I no longer need to fear man!” The Amplified Bible says, “On God I lean, rely, and confidently put my trust; I will not fear.” 

There is one other difference in the Hebrew language that is not readily apparent in the English translation. In verse 4, David uses the name Elohiym for God. This means the Mighty God who is Supreme over all. In verse 10, he uses God’s covenant name Yahweh or Jehovah. To me, this sounds like David knew that the fear of God could combat everything from general fears of human philosophies to a specific fear of a specific mortal. His conclusion is a good one: What can man—a mere mortal—or any of his worldly philosophies do to rattle me? Absolutely nothing because I am secure in God! 

We all become fearful at times. If we choose to fight or flight the fear, we do it in our own strength. This may result in temporary relief, but the fear will come back around again. However, if we decide to fear God—to say “Hallelujah!” to His promises—He is able to completely remove our fear. 

The choice is ours: fear man or fear God. 

To paraphrase the declaration of Joshua: “Choose this day whom you will fear. As for me, I choose to fear God!” 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Refusing To Be Controlled By Fear

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

How many of my daily choices are affected by fear?

  • whether to try something new or to stick with what’s familiar?
  • should I confront a friend on a bad choice or let him figure it out on his own?
  • to spend money or to invest it for later? what do I buy? where do I invest?
  • what if people don’t like what I do or say? what if they talk behind my back?

David begins this psalm with the same kinds of questions, as he battles enemies surrounding him, the possibility of his family rejecting him, false witnesses speaking lies against him, and foes closing in from every side. 

In the middle of all of these swirling issues, David exhibits a confidence that starkly stands out:

  • whom shall I fear?
  • of whom shall I be afraid?
  • my heart will not fear
  • I will be confident
  • I am still confident

How can David respond this way? He kept turning his thoughts from the temporal to the eternal—

It may seem dark now, but God is light.

People may be fickle, but God is unchanging.

Foes may be strong, but God is the strongest.

People are mean, but God is good.

Both David’s opening and closing thoughts in this psalm are really a conversation with himself: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? … I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (vv. 1, 13, 14)

My friends, don’t let fear drive your decisions. Let confidence in God drive your decisions. Talk back to your fearful thoughts like David did and remind them of the great and loving God that cares for you. Don’t take matters into your own hand, but wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. 

I used Psalm 27 as a teaching example of how to turn passages from the Bible into our own personalized prayers. Check out this 5-minute video here:

Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? 

First In Forgiveness

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

From David’s bookend prayers to Jesus making prayer the central, empowering practice of the Christian lifestyle, I hope you’re beginning to see that prayer starts it, prayer sustains it, prayer successfully concludes it! 

There is another thing both David and Jesus agree upon. They both tell us that there is one thing that can block our prayer: unconfessed, unrepented sin. 

David wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” The Hebrew word translated “regard” means to be aware of something. David teaches us that we have to be made aware of our sin in order to confess our sin and ask forgiveness. We become aware of our sin through prayer and reading the Bible (Psalm 139:23; James 1:25; Romans 7:7-12). 

The NIV translates the same Hebrew word in Psalm 66:18 as “cherished.” After becoming aware of our sin, we have to be careful not to make excuses or justifications for it. And then the NLT translates the same word “not confessed.” After becoming aware of our sin and accepting responsibility for it, then we can confess it to God. 

In teaching us to pray, Jesus said our forgiveness of others had a direct correlation to the forgiveness we would receive from our Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Jesus further expounds this thought when He tells Peter to forgive others “seventy times seven times”; in other words: countless times. 

Think of it this way: Have you asked God’s forgiveness more than seven times? How about more than seven times for the same sin? I have! So Jesus is really asking Peter, “Do you want God to put a limit on how many times He will forgive you? If not, then don’t you put a limit on how many times you will forgive others.” 

The Amplified Bible has a great definition of forgiveness in Matthew 6:12—left, remitted, let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against. The Hebrew word David uses in Psalm 32:1 has a similar feel—lifted up, taken away, carried off. 

Our forgiven sins are forgotten sins. Every time we come to God for forgiveness, it’s like it is the first time. And Jesus says this is the same way we need to treat others. 

Let’s all strive to be first responders in confessing our own debts to God so we can be forgiven, AND then let’s also be first responders in forgiving the debts others have incurred against us. 

As I’ve said before: A mark of a maturing saint is one who is closing the gap between awareness of his sin and making his confession of that sin. 

But this is just as true: 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who is closing the gap between being injured and forgiving the offender. 

We do this again and again and again—countless times!—because that’s how often our Heavenly Father forgives us. 

Be a first responder in both asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness.
Don’t let your debts block your prayers.
Don’t let your unreceived forgiveness weigh you down.
Don’t let your ungiven forgiveness weigh others down.

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series on prayer, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry?

%d bloggers like this: