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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Thursdays With Spurgeon—My Rock

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.

My Rock 

[God] alone is my rock and my salvation (Psalm 62:2).

     How noble a title; it is so sublime, suggestive, and overpowering. ‘My rock.’ It is a figure so divine that to God alone will it ever be applied. …  

     Unchangeable He is in His being, firm in His own sufficiency. He keeps Himself immutably the same. And ‘therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob’ (Malachi 3:6). … So is our God a sure defense, and we will not be moved if He has set our feet upon a rock and established our goings (see Psalm 40:2). …  

     ‘He is my rock.’ How glorious a thought! How safe am I and how secure and how may I rejoice in the fact that when I wade through Jordan’s stream He will be my rock! I will not walk upon a slippery foundation, but I will tread on Him who cannot betray my feet. And I may sing when I am dying, ‘He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92:15).

From God Alone The Salvation Of His People

Spurgeon mentioned singing about God our Rock even when we come to death’s door. Immediately a couple of songs from my childhood sprang to mind.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee. (Augustus Toplady)

Where do I go when there’s nobody else to turn to?
Who do I turn to when nobody wants to listen?
Who do I lean on when there’s no foundation stable?
I go to the Rock, I know He’s able, I go to the Rock.

I go to the Rock of my salvation,
I go to the Stone that the builders rejected,
I run to the Mountain and the Mountain stands by me.
When the earth all around me is sinking sand
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand
When I need a shelter, when I need a friend, I go to the Rock. (Dottie Rambo)

My friend, no matter how unstable things may seem, no matter how uncertain the future may appear, remember the One and Only Rock. He alone is my rock and my salvation! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Don’t try to make your own secure place, but run to the Rock of Ages, and this immovable Mountain will stand by you and keep you secure for all of eternity! 

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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:

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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?

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.

“These Things”

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…whoever does these things will never be shaken (Psalm 15:5). 

David says “these things” are what allow us to come into God’s presence, but we cannot consistently nor completely do “these things” without the help that can only come from being in God’s presence. So I have to already be doing “these things” in order to get into His presence in order to get empowered to do “these things”?! 

That seems like a classic, no-win, Catch-22! 

So… how do I get into God’s presence in the first place?

Simple: I can’t. 

Only Jesus can. 

Thankfully, He made it possible for me to come in: He became the Door! 

Only by Jesus can I come in. Only in Jesus can I be empowered. Only with Jesus can I consistently do “these things.” 

What are “these things” that David listed that both allow me to come into God’s presence and then keep me in God’s presence? David said we must…

  1. …walk blamelessly before God. Or as Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I am blameless in God’s sight only when I am in Jesus.  
  2. …speak truthfully: from the heart, no slander on my tongue, no unkind words in my mouth, no gossip on my lips. 
  3. …live courageously: honoring what is good and opposing what is evil. 
  4. …keep my oaths: making my yes mean yes, not making any excuses, helping others to do the same. 

“These things” both glorify God and keep me in God’s presence. And “these things” attract others to His presence too. But I don’t try to do “these things” in my own strength—that would make me God—nor just as a religious To-Do List—that would make me a Pharisee. But I take a cue from the apostle Paul—

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out His special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). 

It is grace—a free gift of God—that enables me to do “these things” not in my own strength, but in His strength! 

I don’t try harder to do “these things” that keep me secure in God’s presence, but I trust more profoundly in His grace that continually empowers me to successfully do “these things” every single day.

God Is One, God Is Love

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There is a common characteristic among every human civilization: they all have had a pantheon of gods. It seems that no one god could capture all of the attributes each civilization thought were important, so they created multiple gods to help fill in the gaps. 

Onto the world scene comes the account recorded for us in the Bible of a God who creates the universe. The Hebrew word for this God is elohiym which means “a divine one.” This name is used throughout the Creation story in Genesis 1. 

Then in Genesis 2:4, a new name appears, one that is used over 6500 times in the Bible. It is the unpronounceable name YHWH: often pronounced Yahweh or substituted with the word Jehovah. In most Bible translations this name is designated by all capital letters: LORD. Yahweh or Jehovah means “the existing One.” 

The first part of our second foundational truth states, “The one true God has revealed Himself as the eternally self-existent ‘I AM,’ the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of mankind.” This Creator is uncreated: He sustains the universe without needing to be replenished Himself. He is utterly complete in Himself; hence, His name means I AM (see Exodus 3:13-15). 

The second part of this foundational truth statement says, “He has further revealed Himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” 

The I AM is One (see Deuteronomy 6:4), but He reveals Himself in three Persons—Father, Son, Spirit—that we call the Trinity (although this is not a word found in the Bible). 

Sometimes Christians have done a disservice to the I AM by making it appear He is divided. For instance, we might say, “The Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Spirit is the Regenerator.” But remember that our One God is not a pantheon of gods; He is One. We see the fullness of the Trinity operating in every area. Here’s just a short sampling:  

  • The creation of the universe—Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:15-16; Psalm 104:30 
  • The creation of man—Genesis 1:26-27 
  • A prophecy about Jesus’ advent—Isaiah 9:6 
  • The incarnation of Jesus—Luke 1:35 
  • The baptism of Jesus—Matthew 3:16-17
  • The resurrection of Jesus—Acts 2:32; John 10:18; Romans 1:4 
  • Our atonement—Hebrews 9:14 
  • A Christian’s baptism in the Holy Spirit—John 14:16 

(You can read all of these verses for yourself by clicking here.) 

A good question for us to ponder is: Why would this I AM God create humans? If He needs nothing to complete Himself or sustain Himself, why make us? 

The apostle John captures the essence of the Trinity in three words: God is love.

God created us out of an overflow of His love so that we too could enjoy the intimate, eternal pleasure of being at-onement with Him forever. God then wants our love to overflow to everyone around us, so that they will also be drawn into this at-oneness with the I AM. 

When Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment, He first quoted from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God, the LORD [Yahweh] is one.” Christ’s conclusion was for us to love this All-Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then Jesus added an obvious overflow of that love: “And love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:29-31).

Love to God and from God should overflow from us to others to bring them into the One God who is love itself.  

The more we understand this love that the I AM has for us: (1) the better able we will be to love and worship Him, (2) the more we will love others out of this overflow of love, and (3) the more glory our awesome GOD will receive. Which is exactly what the apostle Paul prayed for us in Ephesians 3:14-19. 

This idea of an I AM God who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit has been described by the Latin phrase mysterium tremendum. It is indeed a mystery: not one that frightens and confuses, but one that energizes and enlivens. Pray Paul’s prayer for yourself, so that you can see more dimensions of this awesome love that God has for you! 

If you missed any parts of this series exploring our foundational belief statements, you can check out the full list by clicking here.

Poetry Saturday—The Scriptures

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Note: the spelling in this poem is preserved from the 1663 edition of Herbert’s book of poems

Oh that I knew how all Thy lights combine,
And the configurations of their glorie!
Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christian’s destinie:

Such are Thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on Thee: for in ev’ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
This book of starres’ lights to eternall blisse. —George Herbert (see Psalm 19:1, 7, 10-11)

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Adopted By God

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.

Adopted By God

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. (Ephesians 1:3-5) 

     It is at once a doctrine of Scripture and of common sense that whatever God does in time, He predestined to do in eternity. …  

     Adoption is that act of God whereby men who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, and were of the lost and ruined family of Adam, are from no reason in themselves, but entirely of the pure grace of God, translated out of the evil and dark family of satan and brought actually and virtually into the family of God. … This is an act of pure grace. …  

     [God] found a rebellious child, a filthy, frightful, ugly child. He took him to His bosom and said, ‘Evil though you are, you are comely in my eyes through my Son Jesus. Unworthy though you are, yet I cover you with His robe, and in your Brother’s garments I accept you.’ …  

     His only begotten and well-beloved Son was quite enough for Him. … And His own omnipotence was adequate enough to have created a race of beings far superior to us. He stood in no need whatever of any to be His darlings. It was, then, an act of simple, pure, gratuitous grace—and of nothing else—because He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and because He delights to show the marvelous character of His condescension.

From Adoption

I love that thought that “whatever God does in time, He predestined to do in eternity.” When Adam and Eve sinned, God wasn’t scrambling to fix the sin problem. When He said that a remedy for sin was coming (Genesis 3:15), He was talking about a plan that was already in place. 

When John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he was only announcing what was a fact from before time began, where the apostle John described Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 5:12, 13:8)! And the apostle Paul said God “chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world”! 

Friends, think of what this means: God saw a relationship with you—saw you adopted into His family—before you were born, even before the universe was created! What indescribable love! What amazing grace! 

Do you realize your value in God’s eyes? He didn’t have to send Jesus, but He did. He didn’t have to lavish His love on you, but He does. He didn’t have to adopt you into His family, but what He has done in time, He predestined to do in eternity—from before He even said, “Let there be light” at the moment of creation. 

Don’t ever buy into the lies of satan that you’re nothing special, when, in fact, you mean more to God than you can possibly comprehend!

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