The Mercyseat

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Hear my cry for mercy … He has heard my cry for mercy (Psalm 28:2, 6).

For David, his cry for mercy was never a one-and-done action. The verb in verse 2 makes this verse read more like, “Hear my cry for mercy as I am continually calling to You for help, as I am continually lifting up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place.” 

Why the Most Holy Place? What was there? Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant of the Lord which represented the presence of God. 

What was on top of the ark of the covenant, covering and superseding the Law that was inside the ark? It was the mercyseat (or the “atonement cover” in some translations). The mercyseat is where the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial lamb every year to make atonement for sins.

Jesus became the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb to make ultimate atonement for all who would believe in Him. When Jesus had finished His work on the Cross, the curtain separating us from the Most Holy Place was torn in two. The ark of the covenant of the Lord with its covering mercyseat—the presence of God—was now accessible to all of us! It was accessible because it was in Jesus, and when I have taken Jesus as my atonement, He is in me and He takes me in to the Father. The mercyseat of my heart has been sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb (see Hebrews 9:1-5, 11-14; 10:19-22). 

Whether David was saying, “Hear my cry,” or “He has heard my cry,” the Hebrew word means to listen with interest and full attention. Whenever you pray, God listens to you with interest and full attention because you are praying right in His presence! Your very breath can be a continual crying, a continual lifting of your voice toward the mercyseat where God meets with you! 

God is not far away from us. He is closer than we usually think. That’s why David says, “My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him”! 

Keep this in mind the next time you are asking God to hear your cry: He listens to you with full attention because Jesus has taken you right into His presence.

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Persistent And Insistent Prayer

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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.

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Refusing To Be Controlled By Fear

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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

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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?

Poetry Saturday—Must I My Brother Keep?

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Must I my brother keep,
And share his pain and toil;
And weep for those who weep,
And smile with those who smile;
And act to each a brother’s part,
And feel his sorrows in my heart?

Must I his burden bear,
As though it were my own,
And do as I would care,
Should to myself be done;
And faithful to his interests prove,
And as myself my neighbor love?

Then Jesus at Thy feet
A student let me be,
And learn as it is meet,
My duty, Lord, of Thee;
For Thou didst come on mercy’s plan,
And all Thy life was love to man.

Oh! make me as Thou art;
Thy Spirit, Lord, bestow—
The kind and gentle heart
That feels another’s woe.
May I be thus like Christ my Head,
And in my Savior’s footsteps tread! —Thomas Raffles

Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? 

Biblical Mindfulness

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I have always been mindful of Your unfailing love…. (Psalm 26:3).

The dictionary defines “mindful” as simply being aware. Unfortunately, many psychologists today have constricted this term to mean simply being aware of the present moment, especially one’s own emotions in the present moment. 

In the New Living Translation, this verse has David saying to God, “I am always aware of Your unfailing love.” God’s unfailing love is an eternal attribute of God, and David says he is perpetually contemplating this attribute. But notice how David applies mindfulness not just to his present moment, but to his past and future as well. In fact, David invites God to examine his heart and mind to verify that David is always properly mindful of God’s love.

Notice the past, present, and future tenses David uses—

Past (v. 1):

  • I have led a blameless life 
  • I have trusted in the Lord without wavering 

Present (vv. 3, 7, 11):

  • Your love is ever before me 
  • I walk continually in Your truth
  • I proclaim aloud your praise
  • I lead a blameless life

Future (v. 12):

  • In the great assembly I will praise the Lord

Notice that between David’s claim that he has led a blameless life and that he is still leading a blameless life, we read his request for God to, “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” David was perpetually mindful of God’s awareness of both his thoughts and his lifestyle.

Being mindful of God’s love means looking back in gratitude to recall God’s past provision, looking around in worship to see God’s ongoing involvement, and looking ahead in hope to anticipate God’s unending grace. 

Unlike modern-day psychology which tells us mindfulness is a narrowing of our thoughts, biblical mindfulness is an expanding of our thoughts. Biblical mindfulness sees God’s past work and His future grace, and brings those to bear on our present circumstances. 

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.

Learning Life’s Lessons

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Have you heard the cliché, “Experience is the best teacher”? I don’t think that’s really true. I’ve known a lot of people who have had some huge experiences but haven’t learned a single lesson from them. Honestly this is the better statement: Evaluated and recalled experience is the best teacher. 

Many of my “life lessons” have cost me money. For instance, I was told numerous times by my parents, grandparents, and my driving instructor not to speed, but I didn’t learn that lesson the easy way. It cost me financially. I recovered from that, and I’ve only had one speeding ticket in the 40 years that followed! 

Most of us can recover from a financial loss. But other life lessons cost us more dearly: our broken physical health, lost intimacy in a relationship, a damaged reputation, or missed opportunities. Then we walk around with the weight of guilt, baggage, second-guessing, and regret. Jesus didn’t die on a Cross for us to live weighed down like this! 

God wants to help us! So why do we wait to call on Him until after we’ve tried to do it ourselves? Or until after we’re so deep in trouble or weighed down with baggage? Perhaps we think, “This is such a tiny thing. I can handle it myself.” 

  • Solomon said it was the tiny things that brought ruin 
  • God told Cain that it was the sin that was crouching at his door that wanted to take him down 
  • The devil prowls around and looks for the most opportune time to pounce on us 
  • Which is why Paul tells us to put on all of God’s armor and prayer all the time (see Song 2:15; Genesis 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 6:10-11, 18) 

Portia Nelson summed it up well in her short story that I think all of us can relate to…

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I fall in.
   I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I pretend I don’t see it.
   I fall in, again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I see it is there.
   I still fall in… it’s a habit… but my eyes are open, I know where I am.
It’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.
    —Portia Nelson

Prayer helps us avoid the holes in our sidewalk, the crouching sin at our door, the prowling devil, and the lurking temptations. But more than that, prayer puts us on the right path to avoid all of these things in the first place (see Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:21; 2 Samuel 22:34, 37)! 

God doesn’t have to get ready to help us; He’s already ready to help us. He’s just waiting for us to ask for His help. 

No matter how little or big the challenges, with God I can overcome! 

No matter how obvious or hidden the hole is, with God I can go down the right street! 

No matter how many times I fall in the hole, God can get me out! 

No matter how much the devil wants to bring me down, with God I can live righteously! 

No matter how many times sin pounces on me and I give in to it, God can forgive me! 

Don’t wait a moment longer to call on your heavenly Father in prayer. Let Him hear your voice early and often—He loves to hear from you and respond to you! 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on prayed called Be A First Responder, you can find the full list by clicking here.

The Prayerful Heart Of Our Testimony

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The best way to be a first responder in prayer is to work on making prayer a habit. Prayer needs to come first. Remember: I can do more than pray, but I shouldn’t do anything until I have prayed. 

King David showed us his nearly-identical “bookend prayer” that he prayed both at the beginning of his reign as king and again just before he died. We can pray similar bookend prayers when we begin with a petitionary prayer—“God, please help me”—and finish with a thankful prayer—“God, thank You for helping me.” We can also try to expand those bookends toward the middle, allowing us to live as the apostle Paul admonished in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: 

  • Pray without ceasing 
  • Pray continually 
  • Never stop praying 

Jesus gave us a model prayer at the heart—the very middle—of His Sermon on the Mount. This sermon has 107 verses of Christ’s words, making the middle verse Matthew 6:6, which starts, “When you pray….” Notice the model Jesus gave us: 

  • Hallowing God—Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name
  • Bringing our petitions—Give us our daily bread, help us forgive, deliver us from evil
  • Worshiping God for His answers and for Who He is—Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!

Surrounding this prayer is a Christ-centered life that is:

  • Blessed (the beatitudes) 
  • God-glorifying—so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven
  • Perfect—be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect
  • Compassionate—when you give to the needy

—Model Prayer—

  • Disciplined—fasting, handling your treasures 
  • Anxiety-free—do not worry
  • Fruitful—every good tree bears good fruit
  • Secure—your foundation is on the rock

You see: Prayer helps us live out a God-honoring testimony, and that God-honoring testimony is empowered by prayer. Prayer is both the bookends AND at the heart of a Christ-centered life. 

The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

David’s bookend prayer follows the same model Jesus gave us: hallowing God, making petitions, and then worshipping God. 

Christians need to be BOTH first responders in prayer AND continual responders in prayer—prayer at the beginning, prayer at the heart, and prayer at the end. This way, when God does answer, there is no doubt that He was the One who answered, and it wasn’t just because of something we did. 

Prayer fuels our testimony. Our testimony glorifies God. At the heart of this testimony, our answered prayers glorify our heavenly Father and point others to Him. 

Let me say it again: The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

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

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. 

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