Known And Unknown Threats

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I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me (Psalm 120:1). 

What power and love is packed into this short verse! “I call…He answers.” There’s nothing else I need to do—just called to my God. There is no delay or deliberation on His part—He answers me. 

Distress” comes from the root word that can mean a tight spot, or it can mean a hard pebble. The distress we face may be a full frontal assault or it may be a nagging, almost indefinable, annoyance. Since Psalm 120 is a Psalm of Ascent, whatever the distress is, the psalmist feels like it is keeping him from going up into God’s presence. He lists three known distresses: 

  1. Deceit—people around him were lying or distorting the truth. 
  2. Separation—he wants to ascend into God’s presence but feels held back by those among whom he lives. 
  3. Turmoil—he’s looking for peace, but everyone around him wants to stir up trouble and controversy. 

What about those annoying, hard-to-identify distresses? In the next Psalm of Ascent the call is for us to trust God and to not worry. But in this psalm, there’s no calling to God for help because no specific threats have been identified. Still we learn that our Heavenly Father, who does not slumber, perpetually watches over us. Our Father knows our needs before we can even perceive them, and He is fully prepared to handle them. 

So we are promised: 

  • I can sleep securely
  • I can travel safely
  • I can work each day confidently
  • I can pass through the night unharmed
  • I can move around without having to look around
  • The LORD will watch over my coming and going both today and forevermore! 

Father, may any distresses I experience today send me ascending into Your presence. Whether I know what the threats are or not, I know that You are watching over me and will answer me whenever I call to You. I thank You for this confidence that I have both today and forevermore! 

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Powerful Childlike Prayer

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I was at a friend’s house and interacting with their two young children. Their son was very energetic and playful, but not very talkative. When the tikes climbed up to the kitchen counter for lunch, their mom asked them what they wanted to eat. The little girl placed her lunch order and then said, “He wants PB&J with milk.” I asked him, “Is that really what you want?” He smiled a big grin and nodded his head. Isn’t nice to have someone give us words when we are lacking in our own vocabulary? 

Last week we learned how the Spirit of Truth would help us speak truthful words to those who were antagonistic to the Good News of Jesus. If the Holy Spirit will do this when we are speaking to people who are enemies of the Cross of Christ, how much more so will He help us when we are speaking to our loving Heavenly Father! 

Here’s something we never have to doubt: God’s love for us. We don’t have to try to get our Father’s attention because He wants to lavish His love on us (Matthew 6:7-8; Luke 11:9-13; Ephesians 1:5). 

Jesus likens our coming to God as a child coming to its father. Sometimes we come with fears or tears, sometimes with hunger or thirst, or sometimes just to feel His closeness. The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Adoption, and He loves to keep on reminding us how much our Father loves us (Romans 8:14-17). 

“When our perplexed spirit is so befogged and beclouded that it cannot see its own need and cannot find out the appropriate promise in the Scriptures, the Spirit of God comes in and teaches us all things and brings all things to our remembrance whatever our Lord has told us. He guides us in prayer and thus He helps our infirmity. … He will write the prayers that I ought to offer upon the tablets of my heart, and I will see them there and so I will be taught how to plead! It will be the Spirit’s own Self pleading in me and by me and through me before the throne of grace!” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our loving Father is not looking for well-polished prayers; He’s looking for real, childlike prayers. Let’s be honest: Not even the most educated person in the world has a vocabulary sufficient enough to accurately communicate with The Almighty God! So He wants us to come to Him in simple, childlike anticipation. Jesus reminded us, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Our Father wants to answer our prayers, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to help us pray in a way that He can answer (Romans 8:26-27). 

The Holy Spirit turns our tearful, childlike prayers into powerful, poetic prayers!

Don’t try to spruce up your vocabulary before you come to God in prayer. Just come to God in prayer, trusting that the Holy Spirit will make a beautiful prayer even out of your childlike groanings! The Holy Spirit turns our groans into prayerful poetry in our Father’s ears! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called We Are: Pentecostal, I’ve shared the complete list here.

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Poetry Saturday—The Mother’s Prayer

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Starting forth on life’s rough way,
   Father, guide them;
Oh, we know not what of harm
   May betide them;
‘Neath the shadow of Thy wing,
   Father, hide them;
Walking, sleeping, Lord, we pray,
   Go beside them.

When in prayer they cry to Thee,
   Do Thou hear them;
From the stain of sin and shame
   Do Thou clear them;
‘Mid the quicksands and the rocks
   Do Thou steer them;
In temptation, trial, grief,
   Be Thou near them.

Unto Thee we give them up;
   Lord, receive them.
In the world we know must be
   Much to grieve them—
Many striving, oft and strong,
   To deceive them;
Trustful in Thy hands of love
   We must leave them. —William Cullen Bryant

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Poetry Saturday—Eternal Spirit

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Eternal Spirit, we confess
And sing the wonders of Your grace!
Your power conveys our blessings down
From God the Father and the Son.
Enlightened by Your heavenly ray,
Our shades and darkness turn to day.
Your inward teachings make us know
Our danger and our refuge, too.
Your power and glory work within,
And break the chains of reigning sin,
Does our imperious lusts subdue,
And forms our wretched hearts anew.
The troubled conscience knows Your voice,
Your cheering words awake our joys;
Your words allay the stormy wind,
And calm the surges of the mind.

*Spurgeon used this poem as a conclusion to his sermon entitled Human Depravity and Divine Mercy. I was unable to find this poem attributed to anyone else, so I am assuming it was written by Spurgeon himself. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Simple Faith Is Still Powerful Faith

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.

Simple Faith Is Still Powerful Faith

     I would have you note that the faith that justified Abram was still an imperfect faith, although it perfectly justified him. It was imperfect beforehand, for he had prevaricated as to his wife and bid Sarai, ‘Say you are my sister’ (Genesis 12:13). 

     It was imperfect after it had justified him, for the next chapter we find him taking Hager, his wife’s handmaid, in order to effect the divine purpose, and so showing a lack of confidence in the working of the Lord. It is a blessing for you and for me that we do not need perfect faith to save us! ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’ (Matthew 17:20). If you have but the faith of a little child, it will save you. Though your faith is not always at the same pitch as the patriarch’s when he staggered not at the promise through unbelief, yet if it is simple and true, if it confides alone in the promise of God, it is an unhappy thing that it is no stronger, and you ought daily to pray, ‘Lord, increase my faith,’ but still it will justify you through Christ Jesus! A trembling hand may grasp the cup that bears a healing draught to the lip, but the weakness of the hand will not lessen the power of the medicine.

From Justification By Faith

A prayer that Jesus loved was simply this: “Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-27). The recognition that Jesus alone could help is the essence of faith. 

I’ve often said that the simplest, most powerful prayer we can pray is, “Lord, help!” In just those two words we are saying, “I cannot do a thing to help myself, but, Lord, I believe Your power is limitless to help me!” 

Small faith is still powerful faith—even faith as small as a mustard seed—because it can move mountains. Childlike faith touches the heart of God. I love how Spurgeon reminds us that the weakness of the hand that grasps the cup promise does not lessen the power of the medicine in the cup. 

The best way to learn to pray in faith is simply to pray in faith. A baby doesn’t wait until he has a fully-formed vocabulary to ask his father or mother for help. Just pray! The Holy Spirit can turn even your childlike prayers into pleasing sounds in your Heavenly Father’s ears. 

Maybe you could paraphrase that father who was in desperate need of Christ’s help, “Lord, I am praying; help me to keep on praying!

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Never Beyond God’s Love

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.

Never Beyond God’s Love

Lost, perishing sinners, hear the voice of God, for it speaks to you. 

“Where art thou? for I am come to seek thee.” 

“Lord, I am in such a place that I cannot do anything for myself.” 

“Then I am come to seek thee and do all for thee.” 

“Lord, I am in such a place that the law threatens me and justice frowns upon me.” 

“I am come to answer the threatenings of the law, and to bear all the wrath of justice.” 

“But, Lord, I am in such a place that I cannot repent as I would.” 

“I am come to seek thee, and I am exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins.” 

“But, Lord, I cannot believe in Thee, I cannot believe as I would.” 

“A bruised reed I will not break, and a smoking flax will I not quench; I am come to give thee faith.” 

“But, Lord, I am in such a state that my prayers can never be acceptable.” 

“I am come to pray for thee, and then to grant thee thy desires.” 

“But, Lord, Thou dost not know what a wretch I am.” 

“Yes, I know thee. Though I asked thee the question, ‘Where art thou?’ it was that thou mightest know where thou art, for I know well enough.” 

“But, Lord, I have been the chief of sinners; none can have so aggravated their guilt as I have.” 

“But wherever thou mayest be, I have come to save thee.” 

“But I am an outcast from society.” 

“But I am come to gather together the outcasts of Israel.” 

“O but I have sinned beyond all hope.” 

“Yes, but I have come to give hope to hopeless sinners.” 

“But, then I deserve to be lost.” 

“Yes, but I have come to magnify the law and make it honorable, and so to give thee thy deserts in the person of Christ, and then to give thee My mercy because of His merits.” —Charles Spurgeon

My friend, there isn’t anything you can do to make God love you any less or any more—God IS Love. You are never beyond His love! 

There is never a hole so deep, or a burden so heavy that God cannot rescue you—God IS All-mighty. You are never beyond His rescue! 

You cannot escape the powerful love of your Heavenly Father. Jesus purchased your salvation with His blood, and the Holy Spirit is calling to your heart today. Will you come to Him in faith? O, please, my friend, receive God’s love today! 

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Prayer (book review)

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John Bunyan was in prison for refusing to bow to the dictates of the ecclesiastical rulers of England, but prison could not silence his pen. Before writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan said came to him in a dream, he wrote two manuscripts on prayer which can only have come from a visit to a much more substantial heavenly realm. 

Prayer is actually two books written in the mid-seventeenth century. The first book is A Discourse Touching Prayer in which Bunyan dives deep on the apostle Paul’s desire, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The second book is The Saints’ Privilege And Profit, which is a deep dive into the idea of “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:15). 

When I say “deep dive” I mean that John Bunyan gives us a masters’ level course on prayer! This is not reading for a new Christian nor for someone who merely utters a superficial prayer here and there. These books are for the mature Christian who is dissatisfied with their current level of prayer and longs for a deeper level of intimacy in communion with our Heavenly Father. 

Let me reiterate that Bunyan wrote these books from jail. Not exactly the idyllic setting for contemplation, nor an environment for pious platitudes that are reserved for the serene time of prayer in a place of comfort. Just imagine: Bunyan uses just one verse from the Bible for each of these works, and then keeps drilling down and down into the immeasurable riches that are found in our relationship with God. 

If you’re ready to take your prayer to an entirely new and more intimate place, spend some time with your Bible and these two short books from John Bunyan. 

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The Fame Of God’s Name

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In You, Lord, I have taken refuge … Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Psalm 31:1, 24). 

The bookend verses of Psalm 31 speak to the security we have when we are IN God: “IN You and all you who hope IN the Lord.” 

Jesus taught us to pray for Our Father’s name to be hallowed—for His fame to be as great on earth as it is in heaven. Those who are called CHRISTians literally carry the name of Christ IN themselves everywhere they go. Granted, there are some who will carry the name but not the character of Christ. To those people, Jesus will one day say, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.”  

But for those Jesus does know—those who carry IN themselves both the name and the character of Christ, those who have made their place IN God their utter dependence—there are amazing blessings that hallow God’s name. David lists blessings like:

  • being free from shame
  • answers to prayer
  • guidance 
  • deliverance from entrapments 
  • stores of abundantly good things 
  • protection from slander
  • preserved for all of eternity

God will cause His name to be hallowed and glorified through those who remain IN Him. We are not only recipients of His favor, but we also become conduits of His favor that make His name as great on earth as it is in Heaven! 

Thanks be to Jesus who has made us accepted in the Beloved, and has taken us IN Himself so that we can remain IN the Father (Ephesians 1:6; John 14:20)! Father, I pray that You will always find me IN You so that You can glorify Your name THROUGH me. Amen! 

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Poetry Saturday—Arise, My Soul, Arise

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Arise, my soul, arise,
shake off your guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice,
in my behalf appears;
Before the throne my Surety stands,
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above,
for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love,
His precious blood, to plead;
His blood atoned for every race,
His blood atoned for every race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears;
received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away
the presence of His Son;
The Spirit answers to the blood,
The Spirit answers to the blood
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry. —Charles Wesley

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Our Daily Diet

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A couple of weeks ago I shared how Jesus made prayer the literal heart of His Sermon on the Mount. Prayer is what empowers us to live a perfect, God-honoring life. In the introduction of His model prayer, Jesus gives us two don’ts and one do. 

DON’T #1: Don’t be a hypocrite. That word literally means a play-actor. More than anyone else ever will, God sees who we really are. We cannot fool Him so there is no reason to fake it. For proof, check out some of the gut-level-honest prayers David records in the psalms!  

DON’T #2: Don’t babble. The Greek word here is unique: It’s made up of the name of a poet named Battus who was needlessly wordy, and the Greek word for word. In Greek, the word battologeō is an onomatopoeic word (like our English words that sound like what they really are describing: words like whoosh, buzz, or smack). It means rambling with our mouth, but our hearts and heads simply aren’t engaged as well. 

DO: Jesus gives us a DO, which is built right into the two don’ts: Do come to God as your Father (also see Luke 11:9-13). Our perfect Father knows perfectly what we need, and He alone can perfectly meet that need. Jesus uses our need for daily food to show how even earthly fathers provide for their children. So the very first petition in His model prayer for us is, “Give us today our daily bread.” 

“When prayer has become secondary, or incidental, it has lost its power. Those who are conspicuously men of prayer are those who use prayer as they use food, or air, or light, or money.” —M.E. Andross 

My friend’s trainer recently told him, “You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.” I think this is just as true in the realm of prayer: You cannot out-________ a bad prayer diet. You cannot…

  • …out-religion a bad prayer diet, as though your religious exercises can make up for a lack of prayerful food.  
  • …out-talk a bad prayer diet, or “babble,” as Jesus said.  
  • …out-strategize a bad prayer diet, as one successful man attempted to do (see Luke 12:16-20).

Jesus said our heavenly Father is just waiting for us to ask Him for what we need. In Psalm 5, David explained how attentive God is, even understanding our cries, our sighs, and our groans. So David’s conclusion was: “Lord, every morning You hear my voice. Every morning, I tell You what I need, and I wait for Your answer. 

Friends, we need to be first responders in prayer. Make it a habit every morning to let God hear your voice before anyone else does. DON’T make a show out of it or babble some words you don’t really feel, but DO talk with your loving heavenly Father about what you need for this upcoming day. He has already prepared a good, healthy diet for you, so ask Him to give you this day what you need, and then be expectant all day long in the ways your Father will answer you.

If you’re missed any of the other messages in our Be A First Responder series in prayer, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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