“My house shall be a house of prayer.” Luke 19:46
In the spring of 2009 the woman leading our weekly prayer meeting requested prayer because the burden of leading was heavy on her. She was in charge because she was a known intercessor and I knew I wasn’t. Early one morning while praying for her, I received an impression of a large ship with a small rudder. A sentence came into my mind, “Lead the church from the prayer meeting.” With this thought came an immediate understanding of three things:
- I had been trying to lead the church from Sunday mornings to that point.
- Because of this I was leading the church politically (human effort) instead of spiritually (trusting God).
- The large ship represented the church and the small, unseen rudder; the prayer meeting. God was asking me to take my place as the leader of the prayer meeting.
From that time until this I have tried to lead our prayer meetings. From that time we tell all who come to our membership classes that we consider the prayer meeting our most important gathering of the week.
If you’ve ever been to a Tuesday night you know it’s not very impressive. Yet it’s the prayer meeting that gives me confidence God is in all the other ministries at church, including Sunday mornings.
Jesus said: “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Until we’ve prayed, we should do nothing. Once we’ve prayed, we should only go forward as God directs. This is true of a church, but it’s also true for individuals. We are the house God lives in today. (2Corinthians 6:16)
So what’s the rudder in your life? What is the underlying motivation for all you do? Is it money? Fun? Selfish ambition? Family? Responsibility? The same Jesus who turned the tables over in the temple knocks on our door today asking for our permission to enter. He is still filled with zeal to make us a house of prayer but has chosen to wait for us to make prayer a priority in our lives.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:8
I was in an informal conversation with a young pastor recently when he said, “I really struggle giving grace to church people who are not fully committed even though they know better.”
I asked if he minded me using the word “mercy” where he had used the word “grace,” and he told me to go ahead. “So here’s what you’re basically saying,” I responded. “You struggle to give mercy to those you feel don’t deserve it.” He understood where I was going. If someone “deserves” mercy it isn’t really mercy, it’s justice.
Jesus made it clear that our attitude toward others determines the ground under our own feet. If we choose to judge others than the same measure we use will be applied to us. (Matthew 7:1-4) But if we choose to be merciful toward the faults of others, we will find a wide place of mercy under our own feet as well. The merciful obtain mercy.
In Micah 6:8 God laid out clear instructions of how to please Him: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Our natural tendency is to give mercy to ourselves, love justice for others, and to walk in self-righteousness, independent of God.
We need grace to do justly instead of making excuses for ourselves. We need grace to not only give mercy, but to love showing mercy to others. And we need grace to simply walk humbly with God. No wonder Jesus said that the key was not us but Him in us. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Him we will bring forth much fruit. (John 15:5)
“Few things are necessary, really only one, and Mary has chosen the good part.” Luke 10:42
A recent quote I heard has really struck me, “It is almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.” Think about this for a moment. All talk about food and drink is really unimportant. All talk of sports is really unimportant. All talk of weather, past, present, and future is mostly unimportant. All speculation of how the rich and famous live is meaningless and most talk of others is to no valuable end either. It’s amazing how much we are able to talk without really saying anything important.
“Small talk,” is what we call it. It is purposely unimportant because it breaks the ice in relationships without causing controversy. I get that, but I hope our lives are aiming at something more valuable, or we may end up as empty as most conversations.
Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to His Word. There is nothing more valuable than a life focused on a relationship with God. Proverbs 1:32-33 says, “…the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” This is the good part.
Martha became distracted by her serving and ended up with the bad part; working for Jesus but no longer listening to Him; around Him, but not personally experiencing Him. Jesus is helping her to leave a distracted lifestyle by telling her that what Mary has, she has chosen. It’s as if He’s saying, “Martha, you are not a victim of your circumstances. You too can choose the good part.”
King David made this choice in the midst of his adventurous and busy life. “One thing have I desired and that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord (the Presence of God) all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
If something other than Him is the aim of our life, we’re on a tangent. Why not make a better choice today?
“No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:39-41
Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Not only does it foreshadow Christ’s resurrection; it also foreshadows the preaching of redemption to God’s enemies. The idea of transforming nations that Jesus introduced in the kingdom of God was not practiced in the Old Testament. Leaders, in that time, were appointed by God to restrain evil by staying separate from their enemies, or, if necessary, by engaging them in war.
So we can imagine Jonah’s shock when God tells him to preach to Israel’s arch enemy, Nineveh. Prophets spoke to Judah and Israel, not Assyria! (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria) Whenever other nations were mentioned by God to a prophet, it was a message about them, never to them.
“Why would God have me go to the land of my enemy and tell them He was going to destroy them in forty days?” Jonah must have pondered. There was only one answer he could come up with. God didn’t want to destroy them (or He just would have done it), He wanted to save them. When Nineveh repented, Jonah prayed this to God: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)
Mercy, not judgment, was on God’s mind, but it wasn’t on Jonah’s. God gave Jonah a second chance after his rebellion, but Jonah didn’t want to give that same chance to others.
Today God has given us His grace and forgiveness in Christ and wants us to extend that same message to others. I hope we do better than Jonah!
“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Matthew 13:12
To walk in the kingdom of God we have to change our thinking from lack to abundance and it’s not easy. The disciples thought Jesus was referencing bread when he started teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They immediately became afraid because they had forgotten to bring the left over bread with them. Jesus was frustrated by their assumption that He was concerned about the lack of bread.
“‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:19-21)
They were supposed to change their thinking. God fully resources those who are giving their lives for Him. Did you notice that He didn’t even ask them about how many were fed, but only about the leftovers. God has more than enough. There is an abundance in the kingdom which is why we reign in this life “through the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), and why Jesus said He came to give “life abundantly.” (John 10:10) Not just enough for us, but leftovers for others.
If we don’t embrace the abundance of the kingdom, we will end up living in the fear of self preservation. When we do this, the kingdom can’t spread. We must give our lives away with abandon knowing that God will take care of us. In the words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)
“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.’” Matthew 11:2-6
John had obeyed God. He was leading a revival with the spirit of Elijah on him and people were repenting and being forgiven of their sins. The only thing left was for the leadership to repent, so the whole nation could return to God. With that in mind, he confronted Herod Antipas about his wrong relationship with Herodias. Instead of repenting and being part of the revival, Antipas had John thrown in prison. This was not what John had prayed would happen nor what he had expected; he was disappointed.
It was in that place, in prison, alone, disappointed, that the man of God began to question everything. His predecessor, Elijah, went through a similar experience and also found himself alone expressing his disappointment to God. (See 1Kings 19) If these two great heroes of faith were tested in this way, it shouldn’t surprise us that dealing with disappointment is also part of our journey.
We all have desires and expectations that we want God to meet. When He doesn’t follow our plan in our time we experience disappointment which can easily turn into an offense against God. What John needed was the same thing Elijah needed; a fresh word from God. How intimate that Jesus would take time to give His friend in prison a specific word. He quoted Isaiah 61, a familiar Messianic scripture, assuring John that He indeed was the Expected One. John had heard right and had done just what God had wanted him to do, but was now faced with his biggest test – disappointment. Jesus gave him the path to freedom: “Blessed is he who does not take offense with Me.”
Let’s make sure we don’t get offended when God’s plan is different than ours. If you’re sitting in disappointment today and need a fresh word from heaven, why not ask right now?
“All authority comes from God so the one who resists authority is resisting God.” Romans 13:1
“We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places.” Ephesians 2:6
I fear that most American Christians don’t understand how God feels about positional authority. We tend to honor those who we feel are honorable while withholding honor from those we don’t think deserve it.
All authority has been instituted by God and therefore should be unconditionally honored. It doesn’t matter whether your dad is an alcoholic; if you learn to honor his position, God’s blessing for those who honor their parents will rest on you. David, the man after God’s own heart, refused to raise his hand “against the Lord’s anointed.” (1Samuel 24:6) Saul was demon oppressed at the time, so the anointing was not on the man, but on the position he held. (Notice, honoring authority does not mean remaining in a place of abuse as David fled when Saul started throwing spears at him.)
If we only honor authority that we feel is worthy, we will never take the place God has given us unless we feel worthy to take it. How often does that happen? The gospel isn’t about us being good enough, it’s about God’s grace and about a position He wants us to take in Christ. You have been made a child of God (Galatians 4:6), a priest of God (Revelation 1:6), and have been given the “the gift of righteousness,” so that you can “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)
We need to understand and honor positional authority, so we can honor the position God has given us in Christ. The late Reinhart Bonkhe didn’t begin to walk in the miraculous power of God until one day when God said, “My word in your mouth is just as powerful as My word in My mouth.” Africa was never the same as unprecedented miracles led to millions of recorded salvations.
I believe God and the world are waiting for each of us to take our position in Christ!
“If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1Corinthians 10:12-13
Part of the enemy’s strategy in getting us to give into temptation is seizing us and making us feel there is no choice except to sin. When God asked Adam what he had done the reply was, “The woman You gave me…” Basically, “it wasn’t my fault! It was the woman’s fault; in fact, it was kind of Your fault since You gave me the woman.” Then God asked Eve what she had done and she also shifted the blame: “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”
Our excuses are irrelevant to God and do not lead us into freedom but only into greater bondage. No matter what the circumstances were around our sin, Scripture tells us that God provided a “way out” if we had only looked for it and prayed about it. Proverbs tells us that whoever hides his sin (puts the blame somewhere else) will not prosper, but whoever “confesses and forsakes” it will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13) Own your sin; confess it, confess that you didn’t look or pray for the way out, and then forsake it.
But how much better it is to resist temptation and not fall into sin. God’s main strategy for us to keep from sinning is to flee that which is tempting us. The idea that we can handle being close to sin without falling into it is a deception because we are all weaker than we think we are. In fact, “if you think you are standing firm be careful that you don’t fall!”
Adam and Eve were given a whole garden to enjoy, yet Eve chose to stand right next to the one tree that was forbidden. Not smart. When I was a young believer I had developed a fixation for a certain young woman in our home town. As I was reading Proverbs the warning came, “Don’t look into her eyes.” (Proverbs 6:25) So from then on I made it a point to not look her in the eyes when I was around her, but I would still find myself driving by her house hoping that she was outside. Later I read another Proverb that said, “Don’t even go near her house.” (Proverbs 5:8) I was stunned. God’s strategy was not “get close and try to be strong”, but simply stay far away.
What is the area of your greatest weakness? Why not enjoy the rest of the garden and stay far away from that tree!
“How blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” Proverbs 28:14
One definition of the fear of the Lord can be inferred by its opposite. If hardening your heart is how you express not fearing the Lord; then the true fear of the Lord must involve maintaining a soft, responsive heart. So how do we do this?
First by repentance. To stay soft we must be good at repenting. Joel 2:13 “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” God doesn’t want us to fall into trouble, so He wants us to really repent (our hearts) and not just appear to repent (our garments). A great definition for repentance is given in the verse before our text: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
Secondly by prompt obedience. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” Every time God speaks to us we have the potential of becoming softer or harder. Purpose to obey Him no matter what, small or big, if He will make it clear to you that it is Him speaking. There are many voices speaking today: our own anxieties, demonic influences, false religious expectations; but also the sweet Spirit of God. Test what you are hearing and if it is the voice leading you toward “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17), obey without hesitation and reap the benefits of having a tender heart before God.
“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’” Matthew 19:27
Peter wanted to know what was in it for him. He paid a price to follow Christ and like any man, he wanted to know practically what the return would be. Jesus said in reply, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Jesus explained to him how grace works. He had already made it clear that they couldn’t earn eternal life by telling them in response to their question, “Who then can be saved?” that it was impossible with man. Peter and the other disciples aren’t going to be paid back for their sacrifice, as if God could be in their debt. Yet God is generous, and He is pleased when people go “all in” for Jesus and the gospel.
Jesus says something like this to Peter (my paraphrase): “Your life in this world will be 100 times better for following Me. God will multiply your relationships – you will have family everywhere you go. Everything that is Mine (which is everything) will be available to you – I will open houses and lands for your use. However, there will also be trouble for you in this world. Don’t take persecution as rejection from God, it will simply be part of your life in this present time. In the world to come, you will have eternal life with God and all the trouble of this life will be removed.”
Grace is amazing. We don’t follow Jesus to earn anything but because we love Him. God doesn’t bless us because he owes us anything but because He loves us and because He is unbelievably generous. He made us His favored sons and daughters in Christ, so He can pour His grace in and through us. Just walk with Jesus today and know that the favor of God rests on you.