Questioning God

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In the first six chapters of the book of Zechariah, question marks appear 18 times. 

Question marks invite a conversation; whereas, periods or exclamation points tend to end the conversation. Clearly, God enjoys dialogue.

God sometimes asks questions to get Zechariah to evaluate his surroundings or the prevailing culture. Sometimes God asks Zechariah a question to get him to clarify what he is seeing or thinking. 

But without a doubt, most of the questions are posed by Zechariah to either God or to the angelic messenger who sometimes serves as Zechariah’s guide. Not once does God nor the angel tell Zechariah to hold his tongue. Zechariah’s questions are never belittled nor treated as though they were a bother. Nor are his questions ignored. 

Rather, every single question is answered.

God enjoyed talking with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, He walked and talked with Enoch, He listened to the questions asked by Job and the psalmists, and here He engages Zechariah in conversation too. 

Prayer is never designed to be a monologue—with us just speaking to God—nor is Bible reading designed to be a monologue—with just God speaking to us. Both prayer and Bible reading are used by the Holy Spirit to keep a dialogue active and engaging. You and I should never be afraid to approach God with our questions, nor should we be afraid to listen to the questions God asks us. 

The dialogue between us and God builds an intimacy that cannot be developed in any other way. So keep asking those questions!

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Spirit-Filled Dads 

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Last week I mentioned that there are numerous people who only appear in the Bible once. They come on the scene—many of them nameless to us—to play their part and then we never hear about them again. 

But we still hear from them because their lives are still teaching us. 

Remember that each of you is God’s gift to the world IF you are using God’s gift in you to glorify God in the world. We meet one of those gifts in the Book of Luke that can teach us Dads some valuable lessons. 

There are several “one-timers” listed by Luke in the Advent story. Luke was a first-rate historian, researching his subject and talking to eyewitnesses to the events. Some of these one-timers have a few details Luke shared with us: 

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth—we know their family lineage (priestly), Zechariah’s role in the temple, and the fact that Elizabeth was barren 
  • Shepherds—we know where they came from (the fields surrounding Bethlehem) and their occupation. 
  • Anna—we know her tribe (Asher), her father (Phanuel), and role (prophetess), and that she had been married and is now widowed. 

But all Luke can say of Simeon is, “There was a man called Simeon…” (Luke 2:25-35). 

Although, even that short introduction is packed with meaning. 

Simeon in Greek means harkening while Simeon in Hebrew means heard. So he was both one who heard God and one who was heard by God. This speaks to me of an intimacy of relationship. Simeon didn’t view his conversation with God as a monologue but as a dialogue. I think that far too often we view our Bible reading time as God simply speaking to us, and our prayer time as us speaking to God. But both of these activities should be a two-way dialogue.

A.W. Tozer has a great definition of a godly leader that I believe accurately portrays Simeon: “A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.” 

I think this means that a safe, godly leader is one who sees what is happening in a Christ-less culture, who then cries out in pain to God, and then who hears the Holy Spirit telling him how to live a holy life in that Christ-less culture.

We could call this external pressure grief over unrighteousness. Simeon so stood out in his culture that Luke calls him “righteous.” This is one whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God. 

He also calls Simeon “devout.” This is a compound Greek word that only Luke uses in the New Testament which means to catch good things and make them your own. Simeon took hold of the things of God, made them his own, and then observed them carefully.

Finally, Luke tells us that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation.” He was living expectantly to see God’s Word come to its fulfillment. He could do all of this because the Holy Spirit was upon him and the Holy Spirit had revealed truth to him. 

That phrase “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit” again speaks to the intimate relationship Simeon had with God. 

Simeon knew that what God promises, He fulfills. He knew the consolation God had promised through Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-2), and then Simeon saw its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ—

“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

In today’s darkening, Christ-less culture, godly men like Simeon are needed again. 

Dads, do you feel the external pressure of today’s culture? If so, I pray that you will also feel the inward strengthening of the Holy Spirit drawing you into a more intimate relationship with Himself.

God gives His Word to men that will wait expectantly and pray fervently for its fulfillment. God is looking for men—for Dads—that will not cave in to cultural pressure. 

Guys, let the Holy Spirit’s inward pressure strengthen you to stand strong. As you see the external downward spiral away from God, don’t collapse, don’t complain, but hear God’s Word and remain a righteous and devout man for your family and your community. 

In our series We Are: Pentecostal, we talked much more in-depth about how the Holy Spirit wants to help us. You can check out all of those messages by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—How Pruning Helps Prayer

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

How Pruning Helps Prayer 

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

     How is this privilege of mighty prayerfulness to be obtained? The answer is, ‘If you abide in Me and My words abide in you.’ … Beloved, the first line tells us that we are to abide in Christ Jesus our Lord. … 

     As if to help us understand this, our gracious Lord has given us a delightful parable. Let us look through this discourse of the vine and its branches. Jesus says, ‘Every branch in Me…that bears fruit He prunes’ (John 15:2). Take care that you abide in Christ when you are being purged. ‘Oh,’ says one, ‘I thought I was a Christian. But alas! I have more troubles than ever. Men ridicule me, the devil tempts me, and my business affairs go wrong.’ Brother, if you are to have power in prayer, you must take care that you abide in Christ when the sharp knife is cutting everything away. …  

     Take care, also, that when the purging operation has been carried out you still cleave to your Lord. … When you see the work of the Spirit increasing in you, do not let the devil tempt. He will try to get you to boast that now you are somebody; you need not come to Jesus as a poor sinner and rest in His precious blood alone for salvation. Abide still in Jesus. … Your work for Christ must be Christ’s work in you or else it will be good for nothing.

 From The Secret Of Power In Prayer

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be fruitful because that brings Him glory and lifts Jesus up for others to see. 

We have to commit to abiding in Jesus despite the pruning process. It’s helpful to remember that the reason the Husbandman prunes us is because He has seen fruitfulness in us, but He wants us to be even more fruitful. When we stay in the process during the uncomfortable—and sometimes painful—pruning, more fruit will begin to appear in our lives. 

It’s at this point that we have to guard against pride. The devil loves for me to get proud of “my accomplishments.” But I have to remind myself that apart from the Vine I am worse than fruitless; I’m just a dead branch only fit for the fire. I’ve learned that there is a danger in success, so I must constantly choose humility over pride, and abiding over self-sustaining. 

As we abide, our prayers take on an ever-increasing vitality so that conversation with our Lord becomes as natural as breathing. I hope none of us will ever settle for anything less than this intimate, ongoing communion with our Master!

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Natural Out-Gushing

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

The Natural Out-Gushing

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7) 

   He does not say, ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will do spiritual things,’ but ‘you will ask.’ By prayer you will be enabled to do. But before all attempts to do, you will ask. The choice privilege here given is a mighty prevailing prayerfulness. Power in prayer is very much the gauge of our spiritual condition. …  

     Prayer comes spontaneously from those who abide in Jesus. … Prayer is the natural out-gushing of a soul in communion with Jesus. Just as the leaf and the fruit will come out of the vine without any conscious effort on the part of the branch but simply because of its living union with the stem, so prayer buds and blossoms and produces fruit out of souls abiding in Jesus. … They do not say to themselves, ‘Now is the time for us to get to our task and pray.’ No, they pray as wise men eat—namely, when the desire for it is upon them. …  

     Habitual asking comes out of abiding in Christ. You will not need urging to pray when you are abiding with Jesus. … 

     ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask’—and you will not wish to cease from asking. He has said, ‘Seek My face,’ and your heart will answer, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek’ (Psalm 27:8). … 

     This power in prayer is like the sword of Goliath. Wisely may every David say, ‘There is none like it; give it to me’ (1 Samuel 21:9). This weapon of all-prayer beats the enemy and at the same time enriches its possessor with all the wealth of God.

 From The Secret Of Power In Prayer

When I first met the beautiful young lady that would eventually become my wife, we spent hours and hours and hours talking with each other. It was how I got to know her heart, and how she got to know mine. My conversations with Betsy are still some of the most cherished times I have. 

But what if after we got married I said to Betsy, “I love you, my darling, and I’m so looking forward to a lifetime with you! I will make it a priority to give you my undivided attention for 90 minutes every Sunday morning. Other than that, I’ll be thinking about you while I go about my busy life.” How intimate is this relationship going remain? 

Sadly, this is how many Christians treat their relationship with Jesus. “Thank You for saving me from the penalty of my sin, Jesus! I love You and I’m so looking forward to an eternity with You in Heaven. I will make it a priority to give You my undivided attention every week at church. Other than that, I’ll be thinking about You while I go about my busy life.” 

This is not abiding. 

No branch can remain healthy and produce any fruit if it is only occasionally attached to the vine. In order for the branch to be fruitful, it must be continually abiding in the life-giving sap of the vine. 

Intimacy with Jesus means abiding with Him at all times. It means engaging in conversation with Him at all times. Brother Lawrence commented, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” 

My friend, let’s all seek to become more aware of the closeness of Jesus. Let us “take delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) and continually engage Him in intimate conversation. As we do, the fruitfulness of our prayer life cannot help but blossom into beautiful things that give God great joy and glory.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Present Communion With Jesus

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.

Present Communion With Jesus

     The desire of a renewed soul is to find Christ and to be with Him. … Past communion with Christ is very well: ‘Therefore I will remember Thee from the land of Jordan…’ (Psalm 42:6). But these are only stale meats, and a loving soul wants fresh food every day from the table of Christ. … 

     A true loving soul, then, wants present communion with Christ. So the question is, ‘Tell me where You feed. Where do You get Your comfort from, O Jesus? I will go there. … Where do You feed Your flock? In Your house? I will go there, if I may find You there. In private prayer? Then I will not be slack in that. In the Word? Then I will read it night and day. Tell me where You feed; wherever You stand as the Shepherd, there will I be, for I want You. I cannot be satisfied to be apart from You. My soul hungers and thirsts to be with You.’

From The Church’s Love To Her Loving Lord

There are so many pictures in the Bible about our continual reliance on God’s presence—from the manna that was only good for each day, to Jesus teaching us to pray for “our daily bread,” to the vivid example of Christians being as dependent on Jesus as a branch is dependent on the vine (see Exodus 16:4-5, 14-17; Matthew 6:11; John 15:1-8).  

All of these mean that we need to constantly abide with our Savior. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I spend two chapters talking to leaders about the need to rest—or sabbath. In fact, I call it sabbathing to give it the emphasis on the ongoing nature of this activity. I wrote—

“Without building in sabbath breaks, we run down emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically, which means loving God becomes a chore, not a delight (Mark 12:30). This then means loving your neighbor becomes nearly impossible (Mark 12:31). Ultimately, this means that we aren’t able to be the compassionate, wise, strong shepherds that the sheep under our care need us to be. … 

“The goal of sabbathing is to infuse more vitality into the shepherd leader for the purpose of pasturing the sheep under that leader’s care. You cannot give hope to others unless you are hope-filled; you cannot give health to others unless you are healthy; you cannot consistently speak wisdom to others unless you are growing in wisdom. All of this healthy growth for the shepherd leader takes place while sabbathing….” 

To reiterate what Pastor Spurgeon said: “A true loving soul, then, wants present communion with Christ.” I hope you will always seek that for yourself.

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Global And Personal

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You who answer prayer … You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior…. Shout for joy to God, all the earth! (Psalm 65:2, 5; 66:1). 

Psalms 65 and 66 tell of God’s awesome involvement in our lives. He is both globally involved and personally involved. He’s not too big to care for my needs, and He’s not so preoccupied with me that He is unaware of global events. 

Look at the grandeur of our Creator—

  • You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness 
  • You are the hope of all the ends of the earth 
  • You formed the mountains by Your power
  • You stilled the roaring of the seas 
  • You care for the land and water it; You enrich it abundantly 
  • Your carts overflow with abundance 
  • all of creation shouts for joy and sings praise to You
  • all the earth says, “How awesome are Your deeds!” and bows down to You in praise 
  • You rule forever by Your power, Your eyes watch the nations 
  • how awesome are Your works on man’s behalf! 

And yet He is not just God of global events, but He is intimately involved with each and every person. He notices me! 

The psalmist says, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.” Then he tells how God…

  • forgave my sin
  • listened to my prayer
  • honored my prayer 
  • has not withheld His love from me 

Oh, come and see! See how awesome God is that the earth trembles before Him. See how awesomely loving He is that He stoops to listen to me. He is indeed a global God but He is also an intimately personal God. 

The more we know our God in both His majesty and His intimacy, the more we will praise Him.

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Prayer (book review)

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

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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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Precious Jesus!

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.

Precious Jesus! 

Therefore, to you who believe, [Jesus] is precious. (1 Peter 2:7)

     It is important, while looking at these words of the apostle Peter, that we should lay our hands upon our hearts and ask, ‘Do I know what this means? Is Jesus more to me than gold or any other thing that can be desired? Can I truly say:

Yes, You are precious to my soul,
My transport and my trust:
Jewels to You are gaudy toys,
And gold is sorted dust’? … 

     Dear friends, if we can verify the statement, it is not only satisfactory to ourselves but glorifying to our Lord! …  

     Those who are actually trusting Him and us putting Him to the test are those who have the highest opinion of Him. … Usually men feel sadness at an increase of obligation, but in this case the more we are His debtors, the more we rejoice to be so. … 

     How do believers show that Christ is thus precious to them? They do so by trusting everything to Him. … Our affection flows toward Him as all our hope flows from Him. … We have deposited with our Lord everything that concerns us, and we have no secondary trust wherewith to supplement His power or love. … Our implicit faith in Him proves our high estimate of Him. …

     When saints have outward goods, they enjoy Jesus in them, and when outward goods are gone, they find them in Him. 

From Christ Precious To Believers

Have you learned how precious Jesus really is? 

The more you get to know Him, not only does His preciousness grow, but so does the hunger to know Him even more intimately! Don’t ever stop—let the Holy Spirit reveal more and more and more of this priceless Savior and Friend to you!

Close To God

Imagine being close enough to hear God’s voice—Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Here’s a great question I recently heard: “What if God doesn’t want to give us answers, because He wants to give us His presence?” 

Perhaps if God showed me my whole path, I might just take off down the path as fast as I could. Maybe I’d even say something like, “Thanks, God, I’ll take it from here!”

But God wants me close to Him. He wants me to hear His voice at every single step saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” 

The model prayer that Jesus taught us is all about that closeness and total reliance on God’s close presence: 

  • Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name [close enough to worship Him intimately],
  • Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven [close enough to know His heart].
  • Give us today our daily bread [close enough to rely on Him for all of my daily needs].
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors [close enough to know His forgiving love for me and for others].
  • Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one [close enough to His strength to say “no” to temptations that would entice me off of His path].
  • For Yours is the kingdom, and the glory, and the power forever [close enough to bask perpetually in His glory and His power].

God wants us THAT close to Him—to rely on Him, to lean into Him, to be empowered by Him, to be protected in Him. 

A good question for all of us to ponder: How close to God am I?

Intimate Prayer Requests

“When you bring Me prayer requests, lay out your concerns before Me. Speak to Me candidly; pour out your heart. Then thank Me for the answers that I have set into motion long before you can discern results. When your requests come to mind again, continue to thank Me for the answers that are on the way. If you keep on stating your concerns to Me, you will live in a state of tension. When you thank Me for how I am answering your prayers, your mind-set becomes more positive. Thankful prayers keep your focus on My presence and My promise.” —Jesus (in Sarah Young’s 40 Days With Jesus)

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