Highly Esteemed

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

“Highly esteemed” is how two different angels addressed Daniel (Daniel 9:23, 10:11). This was a title they obviously heard from God Himself. At both instances, Daniel was in a time of intense and sustained prayer and fasting. 

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making request to the Lord my God for His holy hill … Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me…. (Daniel 9:20-21) 

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all. (Daniel 10:2-3) 

Prayer was a regular habit for Daniel and prayer was also what Daniel turned to immediately in times of trouble (Daniel 2:18, 6:10). 

We see the same thing in the lives of two notable women in the New Testament. Elizabeth is described as an upright woman who observed all of God’s commandments blamelessly. She continuously prayed that she might get pregnant, and then Gabriel came to bring the good news of her upcoming pregnancy. Elizabeth responded by saying, “The Lord has done this for me.… He has shown me His favor” (see Luke 1:5-25). 

Mary was also a righteous woman who was steeped in Scripture (as we can see in her song of praise). When Gabriel appeared to her, he called her “highly favored” (see Luke 1:26-55). 

A righteous, prayer-filled lifestyle also brings favor and esteem with earthly kings. Daniel and his friends fasted and prayed, which led to King Nebuchadnezzar’s favor directed to them (Daniel 1:11-20, 2:48-49). After three days of prayer and fasting, Queen Esther found favor in the eyes of King Xerxes, which led to the salvation of all the Jewish people (Esther 4:15—5:3). And Nehemiah’s sustained prayer over four months won the favorable reply from King Artaxerxes (see Nehemiah 1:1—2:8). 

If you want to hear deep things from God, if you want to be called “highly esteemed” by the Most High, if you want to gain favor with earthly kings, you must be committed to the sustained work of prayer and righteous living. If you would like to dig into this deeper, check out 4 Thoughts To Help Prayer Become A Daily Habit.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Lubricate The Message With Tears

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

Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, “Why are you groaning?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming.” (Ezekiel 21:6-7)

Judah’s sin had exhausted God’s patience. Now punishment was coming in the form of the invincible Babylonian army, and Ezekiel was tasked to deliver the news. 

I and my fellow pastors often have to speak a heavy word. How we speak this word may make all the difference in the world in how it is received. We cannot speak brashly nor robotically. The Word of God should break our own hearts first, just as it did to Nehemiah.  

I must tell people about the consequences of their sin, but I must tell them with groaning. 

I must warn people of the horrors of hell, but I must warn them with bitter grief. 

I must confront a wayward brother or sister, but I must do so with a broken heart. 

I hope all my fellow pastors will join me in praying this: Holy Spirit, help me! May Your word break my heart before I open my mouth. May tears always lubricate the painfully loving words I must speak! 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

The Awesome Jesus

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

Comedian Brian Regan tells a story about people trying to one-up others with their stories. He explains that he has a “social fantasy” that he wishes he was one of the 12 people who have walked on the moon. How nice it must be, he says, that they can top any story!  

It’s one thing to read things, hear things, and even believe things, but it’s something completely different when you experience those things for yourself. 

The one with an experience…

  1. …is never at the mercy of the one with an argument 
  2. …gains the ear of others 
  3. …inspires others to desire a similar experience for themselves 

In the case of prayer, I feel bad for those who have heard that God no longer answers prayer, or no longer does the miraculous for His children. I have personally experienced God’s healing power as a direct result of someone praying for me. In fact, I’m alive today because of the prayers of my two grandmothers! 

When God answers prayer, it is awesome! 

The dictionary defines awesome with three main words: reverence, admiration, and fear. I think we can be a bit more specific with these definitions—

  • for saints: reverence 
  • for seekers: admiration 
  • for sinners: fear 

It is so important for Christians to personally experience the awesome deeds our God has done because we have prayed in the awesome name of Jesus! 

A.W. Tozer wrote, “There’s an awesomeness about God which is missing in our day altogether; there’s little sense of admiring awe in the Church of Christ these days.” 

I think this is because our prayers are too tame. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us about the powerful personal relationship we can have to Almighty God through Jesus Christ. His conclusion is, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29). 

When Christians pray in the awesome name of Jesus, and God does awesome things in response, the saints stand in reverent worship of Him. God told Moses, “The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you,” and David exclaimed, “You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds” (Exodus 34:10; Psalm 65:5). 

These awesome answers that we personally experience gain the attention and admiration of seekers. Again, David said, “Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind!” (Psalm 66:5). 

But God showing up in His awesome strength will also create fear in sinners. The prophet Joel said, “The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing” (Joel 2:11). The righteous judgment of God is awesome, but so is the love of God: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5). We need to use the awesomeness of God as a means to tell both sinners and seekers how they can know the awesome love of God.  

Remember that Tozer said “there’s little sense of admiring awe in the Church of Christ these days.” So I think we need to pray this, “God, forgive us for expectations of You that are too low.” 

I challenge you: 

  • Let’s pray bolder prayers this year to our awesome God. 
  • Let’s worship in reverence of His awesome deeds. 
  • Let’s create a sense of admiration in seekers which will lead them to reverence as saints. 
  • Let’s address the fear of sinners, and lead them to admiration as seekers, and to reverence as saints. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series on prayer called Awesome, you can find all of the messages by clicking here. 

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

Links & Quotes

One of the last pictures I took with my Mom ♥

“Love of the Word appears preeminently in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He read it publicly. He quoted it continually. He expounded it frequently. He advised the Jews to search it. He used it as His weapon to resist the devil. He repeatedly said, ‘The Scripture must be fulfilled.’ Almost the last thing He did was to ‘open their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:45). I am afraid that man cannot be a true servant of Christ, who has not something of his Master’s mind and feeling towards the Bible.” —J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading 

“The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Light praying will make light preaching. …The preacher must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. In the school of prayer only can the heart learn to preach.” —E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer 

I have blogged several thoughts about the historicity of the Bible. Here’s a post on Breakpoint about yet another archeological discovery that once again vindicates the Bible’s trustworthiness.

“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture. … The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well. … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent.” —Martin Luther

Looking at God’s awesomeness brings a peace that nothing else can.

A very thought-provoking Q&A with Sean McDowell and Dr. Stephen Meyer: Does Science Point to God?

Persistent And Insistent Prayer

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

When I first began this series on prayer, I challenged all of us to make prayer a habit. I suggested putting up “Have I prayed about it?” Post-It Notes all over the place to get us thinking about prayer continually. 

“Have I prayed about it?” is a great start. But then I need to ask, “How long have I prayed about it?” or maybe even, “How long am I willing to pray about it?” 

Thomas Merton wrote, “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” In other words, why do we go through the motions of praying and then strike out on our own? Or why do we pray for a little bit and then think, “Oh, perhaps God isn’t interested in this prayer”? 

In Romans 12:12, the apostle Paul challenged us to never stop praying:

  • faithful in prayer (NIV) 
  • constant in prayer (AMP) 
  • prayerful always (TLB) 
  • continuing steadfastly (NKJV) 

This verb emphasizes the –ing part. Even though this is a verb, it’s what is known as a “verbal noun”: the noun pray is the same thing as the verb praying. 

This Greek word is defined as: devoted, giving unremitting care to something, being courageous in perseverance, and staying at constant readiness. I would sum it up this way—

Prayer that is both persistent and insistent! 

When Jesus teaches us that the motive for our prayer is, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” He is also implying that this requires continuous—persistent and insistent—involvement. With every prayer, we are persistently and insistently advancing God’s Kingdom and God’s glory. 

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is of a persistent and insistent mother. Her daughter was in desperate need, and she simply would not take “no” for an answer. She insistently kept asking Jesus for a miraculous touch, and Jesus finally said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

I’m also moved by the insistent and persistent prayer of Nehemiah. He prayed, “Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of [King Artaxerxes].” He prayed this every day for over 4 months. The king finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, asked him what was wrong, and then “because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”  

Nehemiah kept praying for 120 days or more, believing every day God would open the door of favor. In the meantime, God was moving things into place so that when Artaxerxes finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, and Nehemiah shared what was on his heart, the king granted every single request! 

Friends, don’t be timid in your prayers and don’t give up praying. P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens. Pray for God’s glory to be seen, for His kingdom to advance on earth, and for His will to be done. 

Prayer starts it, prayer sustains it, prayer successfully concludes it! 

Let me say it again: DON’T STOP PRAYING! 

If you missed any of the messages in our Be A First Responder series, you may access all of them by clicking here.

Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry?

Two Joys

…joy… (Nehemiah 8) 

Although the word in English is “joy,” there are two different Hebrew words used here. Think of them this way—one is the root and the other is the flower. 

In verse 10, the Hebrew word chedvah is only used twice in all of the Old Testament (it’s also used in 1 Chronicles 16:27). This word describes the source of joy—or the root—which is found exclusively in God’s presence. 

In verses 12 and 17 the word for “joy” is simchah. This word essentially becomes the outward expression—or the flower—because it is nourished by the chedvah root. 

Here’s how it plays out in the book of Nehemiah. Because the people had heard and been given understanding of God’s Word, they joyfully celebrated. And because God helped them complete the wall around Jerusalem and reestablish worship at the temple, they also happily celebrated. God was the chedvah root of their joy, and their outward celebration was the simchah flower. 

God alone is the Root—the Source—of chedvah. My simchah celebration both glorifies Him as the Source and points others to Him. My simchah flower will make others desirous for the chedvah root that has brought about this outward joyful expression from me. 

To be a joyless Christian is a contradiction of terms. To not express simchah means either I am not abiding deeply in the root of chedvah, or that I don’t believe it is worthwhile enough to share with others. But of course, if I have truly been to the Source, I will want others to enjoy this relationship with God as well.

Two questions for me to ask myself: (1) Is my heart abiding deeply in God as my Source of joy? And (2) Is my outward joy a making others desirous to know this Source of joy for themselves? 

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that to be a Christian and to be unhappy is a sin. A joyless, unhappy Christian gives God no praise, robs Him of glory, and paints God in a bad light. A happy Christian knows the Lord is his strength, his comfort, his supply. The joy-filled, happy Christian lifts God high and invites others to know this All-Good, All-Happy God too! 

Which Hand Is On You?

…the hand of God … the hand of foreign kings… (Ezra 7-9 and Nehemiah 1-2).

The picturesque language of someone’s hand being on another person signifies who is in control and to whom one is giving their allegiance. Ezra and Nehemiah boil it down to God’s hand or the hand of foreign leaders.

God’s hand brings:

  • favor with foreign kings
  • safety
  • courage 
  • coworkers
  • protection from bandits 

A foreign king’s hand brings:

  • a sword
  • captivity
  • pillage
  • humiliation 

Ezra explains, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to Him, but His great anger is against all who forsake Him” (8:22). So God’s hand prevents the hand of a foreign king from doing anything outside of God’s will. 

Here are two irrefutable and unchangeable principles: (1) I can only have one hand on my life at a time, and (2) I get to choose which hand it will be: God’s or a foreign leader. 

True Prosperity

…and so he prospered (2 Chronicles 31:20-21). 

When I look up “prosper” in the dictionary, the first entry says, “to be successful or fortunate, especially in financial respects.” This isn’t even close to the Old Testament Hebrew word for prosper! 

God makes prosper a dependence on Him. Mammon makes prosper a dependence on self. 

The Hebrew word tsalach means: 

  • to overcome obstacles (like crossing a river) 
  • to be empowered by the Spirit of God to overcome an enemy (like Samson did) 
  • to flourish like a plant growing to full harvest 
  • to have favor with man so that good can be done for others (Nehemiah 1:11) 
  • to finish well (2 Chronicles 7:11) 
  • to be poured out; to be a conduit of God’s blessings to others 

Prosperity God’s way is being blessed to be a blessing to others.

Prosperity is never for me, only from God through me. 

Prosperity from God helps me overcome obstacles for others, defeat enemies for others, bring in a good harvest for others, have earthly favor that will benefit others, finish well for the sake of others. 

I’ll say it again: True prosperity ISN’T for me, it’s only from God through me! 

Hezekiah showed how God’s prosperity came through him to benefit others: 

  • he did “what was good and right and faithful before the Lord” 
  • he lived “in obedience to the law and the commands” 
  • “he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly” 

In light of this definition, I have no problem praying, “God, make me prosperous. As I seek You and work wholeheartedly, flow through me to bless others!

20 Helpful Thoughts On Criticism

“Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” —Aristotle 

“The Lord uses critics to show us our own hearts, even if what they say is not fully true, informed, or even fair. There is almost always a germ of truth in what our critics (in their own pain and disappointment) shout at us. The wise leader will humble himself and look for the truth embedded in every oppositional interaction.” —Dick Brogden [see 2 Samuel 16:5-12] 

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” —Ken Blanchard 

“Criticism can be received as a gift from God. It is an opportunity to pray, search Scripture, evaluate your own heart, and offer grace to others. The right response to criticism should not be retaliation or pride (which just perpetuates hurt), but rather humility.” —Jeremy Carr

“There is a growing trend to attack, criticize, and resent anyone who has talent or achievements that sets them apart from others. This tendency extends to those who resent the efforts of leaders who challenge the status quo. Opponents of change initiatives often attempt to marginalize leaders by attacking their character and questioning their motives. If the messenger is flawed, then the message and vision they offer cannot be trusted. As disappointing as it is, these challenges come with the territory of leadership.” —Dr. J. Lee Whittington

“If I were to attempt to answer all the criticisms and complaints I receive, I would have no time for any other business. From day to day I do the best I can and will continue to do so till the end. If in the end I come out all right, then the complaints and criticisms and what is said against me will make no difference. But, if the end brings me out wrong, then ten angels coming down from heaven to swear I was right would still make no difference.” —Abraham Lincoln

“If a ministry is God-anointed, it doesn’t matter who criticizes it. If it’s not anointed, it doesn’t matter who praises it.” —Rick Warren 

“Your critics have information that your friends are withholding.” —John Maxwell 

“God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.” —Oswald Chambers 

“No leader is exempt from criticism and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.” —J. Oswald Sanders 

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body: It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” —Winston Churchill 

“Every man needs a blind eye and a deaf ear, so when people applaud, you’ll only hear half of it, and when people salute, you’ll only see part of it. Believe only half the praise and half the criticism.” —C.H. Spurgeon 

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” —Dale Carnegie

“A mark of a godly leader is one so focused on God’s plan that he pays no attention to his critics or enemies.” —Craig T. Owens

“Never be afraid of honest criticism. If the critic is wrong, you can help him; and if you’re wrong, he can help you. Either way, somebody’s helped.” —A.W. Tozer 

“It’s so much easier to teach correct principles than it is to know and love a person. It’s so much easier to give brilliant advice than to empathize and be open. It’s so much easier to live independently than to live interdependently. It’s so much easier to be a judge than to be a light. It’s so much easier to be a critic than to be a model.” —Stephen Covey

“When is it inappropriate to praise a critical person? One: When you are being criticized for outright sin, and the criticism is accurate. If what is said is true, the tension you feel will be relieved only one way: confession. Two: when you are falsely accused of sin. Sin is a serious charge, obviously more serious than those ‘against you’ realize or they would have done their homework.” —Blaine Allen

Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.” —Mark Batterson

“There is no better antidote for unjust criticism than a clear conscience before God.” —James Hernando

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the many who point out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.” —Teddy Roosevelt 

Book Reviews From 2018

%d bloggers like this: