God Delights In Me

It’s been said that the bookends of success are starting well and finishing well. I believe that! 

David started well when he lifted up a prayer of thankfulness to God when he became king over the united nation of Israel. Prayer at the the beginning puts us on a path toward success. 

Have you ever begun to assemble a child’s toy or a piece of furniture, gotten completely stumped, and only then read the instruction manual? We’ve all been there! There are many things in life that we start on our own and then hit our knees in prayer only after we’ve exhausted all of our human resources. Fortunately, after we pray and God answers, we often end up finishing well with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The question is: what do we do when we again get ready to start something else? Do we pause to start well with prayer, or do we dive in on our own again? 

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t go to prayer quickly is because we feel unworthy to go into the presence of a holy, righteous God. 

One commentator said about Psalm 18 that David probably prayed this “before he committed his terrible sin” with Bathsheba and Uriah. That may be, but with very few minor changes, David prayed this exact same prayer (2 Samuel 22) at the very end of his reign. His reign as king was bookended with the same prayer. 

Between the bookend prayers of Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, David prayed another prayer—this one was after he had sinned against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah. David truly believed that God forgave that sin and wiped the slate clean, so much so that he noted this great blessing on his life: “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. 

He rescued me because He delighted in me?! Yes! 

David knew that God had told us that He delights in those who obey Him. The example of God’s delight was seen in Jesus. Because Jesus paid the price for the forgiveness of my sins, I can be completely cleansed. Then Jesus comes in me, and takes me into Him, and takes both of us into the Father. So now when our Heavenly Father looks at a forgiven sinner, He sees only the righteousness of Jesus—something He utterly delights to see! (Check out all of the biblical passages I’m referencing by clicking here.)  

David said his sin had been washed “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7), So now look at what he could claim—

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All His laws are before me; I have not turned away from His decrees. I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His sight” (2 Samuel 22:21-25). 

…according to my cleanness in His sight. 

In GOD’S sight! The devil wants to accuse me. He wants my sight to dominate. The devil doesn’t want me to see myself as God sees me. But I declare it out loud: I am clean IN HIS SIGHT! 

This cleanness allows me full, bold, confident access to Almighty God! I can take everything to God in prayer because I am clean in His sight! 

If you would like to read more of the posts in our prayer series called Be A First Responder, please click here. 

Learning Contentment

A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am. 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Praising God In The Troughs

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God! 

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.

Poetry Saturday—An Exercise For The Mind Of Christ

The mind—ah!, what a precious gift!
But what a task each day to sift
from every thought just those that lift
and raise us to God’s glory.

But take from Paul each day one phrase,
and seek just one of many ways
which someone dear its truth displays,
and note it, to God’s glory.

Then, when the day at last is through,
share what this person means to you,
how in this one this phrase is true,
for God’s delight and glory.

The mind is precious, but untrained
unless its ways are all constrained
to serve the Lord. Thus shall be gained
for us, eternal glory! —T.M. Moore, inspired by Philippians 4:8

The Legacy Of Worship

As my friend Josh Schram led us through Psalm 66 in our Selah series, I was reminded how our worship of God—especially in our trials—can leave a godly legacy that crosses generations and continents. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm. Remember that Selah is a call to pause to consider the impact of what the inspired biblical text just said to us. The Selahs in this psalm are surrounded by praise to God, as well as the impact of that praise. 

“We don’t praise God because our circumstances are good. We praise God because our God is awesome!” —Josh Schram 

 Psalm 66 could be briefly outlined like this:

  • We say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds!” 
  • Selah—pause to ponder how awesome God is. 
  • We say to others, “Come and see the awesome things God has done!” 
  • Selah—pause to let our worship of God impact others. 
  • Others join with us in saying, “God is worthy to be praised!” 
  • Selah—pause and rejoice as their praise to God reverberates. 
  • Now we can say to an even larger audience, “Come and listen to the awesome things God has done!” 

Notice that our praise of God—despite the circumstances we’re in—makes all of the other steps possible. 

“Come and see my life of praise” (v. 3) precedes the opportunity to say, “Come and listen to my testimony” (v. 5). In other words, we live out our love for God and earn the right to speak out to others about our love for God. 

Look at the same pattern in Paul and Silas:

  • They are thrown in prison on sham charges and they still are about to sing through their physical pain, “How awesome is our God!” 
  • God sends an earthquake that breaks off their shackles and opens the prison doors. 
  • The jailer asks how he also can have this kind of relationship with Jesus. 
  • Paul and Silas have the opportunity to say to him and his family, “Come and listen.” 
  • The jailer and his family accept Jesus as their Savior. 

But it’s not just this jailer. Luke wrote that the other prisoners were also listening to Paul and Silas sing about their awesome God. Through the jailer and perhaps some of these prisoners, a church was started in Philippi. 

Later on, Paul would write to this church about their partnership in ministry, and he would write to the Corinthian church about the amazing missions generosity of the Philippian church (see Philippians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 8:1-2). That’s what I mean about leaving a godly legacy that crosses generations and continents. 

God is worthy to be praised! Let others hear you saying, “God is awesome” even in the midst of your painful trials, and you, too, will earn the opportunity to say to them, “Come and listen as I tell you how awesome it is to be in a relationship with God through His Son Jesus!” You can be a part of this godly legacy in your community. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

Impossible To Empowered

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined a “game plan” for His followers. He showed us how to correctly apply the Scripture to our daily lives with this repeated pattern: “You have heard it said [God’s Word], but I tell you [real-life application].”  Smack-dab in the middle of this sermon Jesus drops this on us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). 

You might say, “But ‘perfect’ doesn’t really mean perfect, does it?” 

Actually, it does. The Greek word telios means the end goal of being complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. In other words: complete in body, soul, mind, spirit—just like Jesus. 

Think about it: Jesus never misspoke, He never waited too long to act, He never acted too quickly, He never overstepped God’s boundaries, He never needed to apologize. 

Again, you might push back with, “Yes, but He is Jesus. He is God!” 

You are absolutely correct, but—miracle of miracles!—Jesus chose not to use His deity while He was on earth (Hebrews 2:17; Philippians 2:6-7). He lived a perfect life as a human, not playing His “God card,” to show us that it was possible. Jesus demonstrated that He needed to rely on the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1, 14; John 5:19-20, 12:49-50). 

This is what Jesus wants for us as well, which is why He told His disciples to wait for the empowerment that came with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. On our own, perfection is impossible. But when we baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live perfectly. 

Remember the definition I gave for perfect (telios): complete in body, soul, mind, spirit. That’s exactly how Dr. Luke described Jesus, and it’s also how Jesus described our perfect love of God (Luke 2:52, 10:27). 

On our own: this is impossible. But with the baptism in the Holy Spirit: we are empowered for perfection. 

Don’t stop at salvation—press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If Jesus was so reliant on the Holy Spirit, what would make us think we could live with anything less?! 

If you missed any of the other posts in this series, you can find them all listed here. 

Remember … Reorient … Rejoice … Repeat …

…remember… (Deuteronomy 16).

As Moses called the Israelites to keep three main feasts each year—Passover, Weeks (or Pentecost), and Tabernacles—he said the purpose was to remember.

Closely linked to all three of these feasts was another important word: celebrate (vv. 10, 13, 15). 

This remembering and rejoicing on a regular schedule was to keep God’s people aligned with God’s intimate and ongoing involvement in their lives. As a result, an attitude and an action should become just as ongoing in the lives of God’s people—

  • The attitude: joyful gratitude (vv. 11, 14)
  • The action: joyful giving (vv. 10, 15, 17)

These three set times were to be a time of reorientation. They were not supposed to be the only three times God’s people remembered what God had done, celebrated His goodness, let joy overflow their hearts, and let giving overflow to others. These reorientation times should excite us to live like this every single day! 

That’s why Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). 

What celebrations can you build into your life that will help you 

Remember … Reorient … Rejoice … Repeat …

Child Of God

You are the children of the Lord your God… (Deuteronomy 14:1). 

I am a child of the King of kings.
He is the King of Endless Supply.
He has no lack, no deficiencies, no quotas. 
He IS Abundance! 

So why would I live like a pauper—scraping by and scrambling to provide for myself? Why would I live like an orphan—with a scarcity mindset? 

My Heavenly Father knows what I have need of before I even ask, and He has already promised to supply for all of my needs (Matthew 6:8; Philippians 4:19).

As a child of God, I should have a joy-filled, peace-filled, abundance mentality. With this mindset I can…

I’m not trying to build a bankroll here. My inheritance is secure in Heaven. As a child of the King of kings, I can expect Him to provide all I need. 

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. (Psalm 37:25) 

With the same measure I use to bless others, I will be blessed. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. (Luke 6:38) 

I need to live as a child of the Abundant King, not as a helpless orphan with no one on whom to call for help! 

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

4 + 4 Strategies To Eliminate Distractions To Your Prayer Time

There’s a quote that has been the theme for this series on prayer: “Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” —John Piper 

And unless I’m badly mistaken, the most obvious thing we need to plan to eliminate is distractions. 

Some people say they can juggle a lot of things at once. “I’m a really good multitasker,” they say. But science says differently. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller concluded that our brains are “not wired to multitask well…. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” What is that cognitive cost? “Multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old” (Inc. Magazine). 

If the devil can make you think you can multitask prayer with other things, he has seriously inhibited the effectiveness of your prayers. 

Jesus was not a multitasker—but He was singularly focused on His Father’s plan. And yet He accomplished more in His three years of public ministry than anyone else in history! 

Here are 4 strategies to help you get ready to pray:

  1. Try to have your prayer time in the same place and at the same time. Your brain likes routine and it will help you zero-in during your scheduled prayer times. 
  2. Silence your cell phone or other noisy distractions. 
  3. Keep a notepad handy for random thoughts that pop into your head. Writing them down will keep your brain from switching back-and-forth to them.
  4. Focus on listening, not on talking—Eugene Peterson said, “Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention.” 

When we get right down to it, prayer is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:10-18). In the context of warfare, the word strategy means the maneuvering that takes place prior to the battle. The devil is a masterful tactician, and he will do everything he can to keep you distracted. 

That’s why three times Peter tells us to be clear-minded and singularly-focused in our thoughts SO THAT we can pray without the hindrances of distractions (1 Peter 1:13-14; 4:7; 5:8-9). And Paul tells us to take all our thoughts captive, so that no un-Christlike thoughts are inhibiting our prayer time (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

Here are 4 strategies to help you stay focused in prayer:

  1. A—adoration. Enter into God’s presence with a Psalm or worship music. 
  2. C—confession. Deal with unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or relationship strife as quickly as possible (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:21-24). 
  3. T—thanksgiving. Paul counseled us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  
  4. S—supplication. Intercede for your brothers and sisters in the battles they are facing (James 5:16; Job 42:10; Ephesians 6:18).  

Remember—

Prayer isn’t preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle! Let’s not be distracted from that!

%d bloggers like this: