“When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
I was absolutely held by the word ‘revive’ in Psalm 119 as I was studying for my sermon for this weekend. Psalm 119:25 says, “I lie in the dust; revive me by your word.” Wow, what an idea. The Psalmist is saying that God’s word can actually revive us, it can bring us back to life; it can breathe life back into our lungs. I immediately started thinking about all of the movies that I’ve seen that feature scenes of endless CPR and people agonizing to bring someone back to life. And there’s always such a sense of relief when a once-dead person has air hit their lungs again; that huge gasp that has been made paramount in so many films. We celebrate those times; and it’s so exciting that God’s word, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, can revive us. His life truly can breathe life back into our lungs.
The crazy thing to me about this story with Lazarus, however, is the four days that he has been dead already. Surely that’s too long, right? Yeah, God can revive us, but he’s been dead for four days already. Isn’t that too far gone? You can’t fault Martha for thinking it was too late. But, she learned in this story the same thing we can learn; “too far gone” isn’t in God’s vocabulary or economy. There is no such thing as too dead or too lost for the power of Jesus’ saving grace. Rejoice in that truth today. Be encouraged by the fact that the Living Word revives us; and it doesn’t matter how dead we feel or lost we seem to be. Jesus doesn’t write us off; it’s never too late.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. Ephesians 3:14-15
When Paul wrote Ephesians 3:14-15, no doubt he was kneeling before the Father. No matter that a Roman guard was in the room, perhaps even chained to the prisoner. No matter whether the guard was making fun of him or respectful. No matter that his situation was bleak and without a lot of hope. Paul was on his knees.
Last night I had the opportunity to hear one of my grade school classmates speak about her last ten years as a missionary in Ethiopia. I was captivated by story after story of healings, lives changed and the impossible made possible by God through the power of prayer. More than once, when the obstacles seemed too big and too far gone, my friend Shelly and other faithful Christ followers would not give up. They continued to pray together because they knew that nothing was final until God made that decision. They thought stopping too soon was unacceptable and if they did, they were giving up on God. Not always, but often that’s when the miraculous happened.
Prayer is not a magic bullet, or a last resort, and it’s also not about you or me and how diligent we are. Prayer needs to be what we do all day long, not only reserved for meals and before we go to bed. Prayer puts the perspective on who is in charge and shows that not only do I depend and believe in God but I know that no one else has the power to change anyone or anything. Prayer is conversation and worship to the Father.
Do you trust and believe in the Father? Are you showing Him by what and how often you pray? Do you take time to kneel before God? If you are struggling in this area, make the commitment today to step up your prayer practices and let conversations with God permeate you entire day.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. – James 1.2-3
If I was a first century Christian, I’m not sure I would have read the rest of James’ letter. Somehow, I grew up thinking that the Jesus-following life was easier than life without God. I’m not sure where this Americanized version of the gospel came from, but it permeated my thinking.
I’m tracking with James as he starts, “Count it all joy…”
I’m all-in for joy. As I’ve grown in faith, I’m realizing that joy should be a central and definitive feature of the Christian life. We are sealed with the eternal Spirit of God and evidence of His activity in our life is joy.
But most of my joy is circumstantial.
So, James, what’s the secret to joy “when we meet trials of various kinds” and when we are experiencing the “testing of our faith?”
Trials and tests don’t naturally evoke floods of joy in my soul. When I’m feeling down, I never think, “If only I had a trial or test today I would feel better.” But James is emphatic. Being a Christian enables us to be joyful in various trials and all things that test our faith.
Too often with God, I want the result rather than the process. Joy is fruit of the Spirit, not a gift of the Spirit. God doesn’t impart joy to us; He develops it in us. Steadfastness/endurance/perseverance/fortitude is the virtue formulated in the painful circumstances. The increase of this virtue enables me to enter my trials and tests with joy.
If someone offered us guaranteed growth in fortitude, we’d accept it joyfully. So why are we so hesitant to accept the painful circumstances that come our way?
What circumstances have you been asking God to take away that He’s been asking you to count as joy?
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ…” Philippians 3:8 (NLT)
What is of infinite value in my life? Have you asked yourself that question lately? I’ve been thinking about eternity lately and the difference between what is temporary in this life and what will last past this life. (Maybe that’s too deep for a mid-week devotion, but it is still worth considering from time to time.) When I stop and think about it, the only things that are going to last are relationships – relationship with the Lord, and relationship with others who follow him too.
I can be pretty focused, especially in a one on one conversation with someone. But other than that, I can get distracted pretty easily. And when it comes to keeping an eternal focus, I have to work to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. My desire is to keep my focus on Him and stay close to him, and to want him to be number one above all other things. But if I am being honest, other things in this life can easily become center stage. Paul says that he came to see his relationship with Jesus as having infinite value compared to anything else. This relationship meant so much to him that everything else in comparison could be considered garbage. Specifically, Paul had worked up a good Jewish reputation for being righteous and even that reputation was considered garbage to him in comparison to knowing Jesus more.
How would you answer this question today? What do you value the most?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Raising four boys means many testosterone filled moments of wrestling and fighting. There seems to be an endless desire to one up each other. However, when one of the boys yells, “Mercy!” everything stops and the “prisoner” is set free and breathes a sigh of relief, if only for a second. Mercy changes everything.
The good news is that we have a God who constantly wants to show us mercy. Ephesians 2:4-5 states, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” The Apostle Paul testifies to God’s mercy, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners (1 Timothy 1:16a).” The good news is in spite of our choices and past, there is a way out. Mercy changes everything.
It doesn’t stop there. Once we have received mercy we are to extend the same mercy towards others. John Stott says, “We cannot receive mercy and forgiveness for our own sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.” Being mercy-filled toward others sometimes takes work and patience, but it’s worth it. We all currently have relationships where mercy and forgiveness need to be displayed. The mark of a Christ-follower is we choose to have ridiculous love and mercy on each other even when we don’t have to or want to. Mercy changes everything.
Spend some time reading Psalm 145:8-9 and reflect upon the abundant mercy God has bestowed upon you. Then choose one specific person that you will extend that same mercy.
What Do You Care Enough to Cry About?
“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, ‘O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer!’” Nehemiah 1:4,5 NLT
When is the last time you cried? What did you cry about? What makes you sad? What makes you angry? What grieves you? I’ve been recently challenged to think about this question, “What do I care enough to cry about?” It’s a great question. It gets to the heart of what is most passionate to me.
Nehemiah was deeply grieved about the condition of and sin in Jerusalem but he didn’t stop with his tears. After his initial grief, he fasted, prayed and poured out his heart to God. Do you detest sin so greatly that it moves you to tears? When you are deeply upset by something, do you keep it to yourself or do you pour your heart out to God?
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). This passage demonstrates that we serve a God who cares. When Jesus saw His friends grieving and weeping, he too wept openly. Jesus often expressed his emotion and we should not be afraid to demonstrate our feelings to God. He understands your hurt and has experienced your pain.
If there is something that is worth crying about it- it should be worth praying about. Turn your worry and tears into prayers to God today.
“The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego.
But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.”
I love Daniel’s resolve. Don’t you? Imagine it; you’re a slave in the massive Babylonian Empire and you’re chosen as one of the “elect” slaves that gets educated and gets different privileges. You should just be happy to be there, right? Do whatever they say; you’re lucky to get this opportunity.
Not Daniel, he can’t venture away from the life of following God that he’s learned. He was “determined” not to defile himself. We get so comfortable with cutting corners on the path of a holy life. “This one time won’t hurt. It’s not that big of a deal. What’s this rule for anyway?” Daniel was determined not to defile himself. Even on a “small” thing like what food to eat. He knew where his allegiance was. He knew who his God was. He was determined, in the big things and in the small things. Are you?