Monday, September 3, 2018

We can pray for our hearts!



Prayer is truly amazing. Because of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and because we have been adopted into His family, we can bring our requests to God. We can pray about the weather. We can pray for healing for ourselves and for sick family and friends. We can pray for governments. We can pray for safety. We can ask for guidance and wisdom. We can pray for people we’ve never met. All of this is great. But to me what is most amazing and wonderful is that we can pray for our hearts. We can pray for our own hearts and for the hearts of others. I’m not talking about our physical hearts (although we can pray for that, and recently I’ve been praying fervently for a sister who is having physical heart problems). The Bible teaches that we can pray for the inner part of us that has to do with our desires, thoughts, commitments, feelings, and priorities. And when we pray, God works good things in the hearts of those we pray for.

In order to emphasize this truth and to encourage you to pray more for hearts – your own heart, and the hearts of others – I will share seven specific ways in which we can pray for our hearts. Each of these by itself is wonderful and valuable, so don’t speed through them too quickly.

1. Prayer for our hearts to not be drawn to evil.

Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers;
 do not let me eat their delicacies.
(Psalm 141:4 NIV)

Although we don’t want to be, in this life we are in a constant war with evil desires. In this warfare, prayer is a might weapon. You can pray and ask God to not allow your heart to be drawn to what is evil. This strikes at the root of sin and temptation.

Jesus taught us to pray this type of prayer. It is part of the Lord’s prayer. “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). Like all of the Lord’s prayer, this is a prayer we pray for ourselves as well as for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, as seen by the introduction to the prayer: “Our father.” This is a prayer I pray at least daily.

2. Prayer for a pure heart.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
(Psalm 51:10 NIV)

Our prayers to keep our hearts from evil are effective, and yet in this evil age even those who are closest to the Lord still stumble and sin. Sin gunks up our hearts. Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to renew and purify our hearts. Psalm 51 is a powerful model for this kind of heart-prayer.

3. Prayer for our hearts to be devoted to God

May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our ancestors;
may he never leave us nor forsake us.
May he turn our hearts to him,
to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands,
decrees and laws he gave our ancestors.
(1 Kings 8:57-58 NIV)

The first two examples have been prayers to avoid sin and to be cleansed from sin. But our relationship with God is about much more than what we shouldn’t want and shouldn’t do. It’s about wanting and loving God Himself more than anything. As Christians, we want to want God, but we don’t always feel like we want Him most. Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to turn our hearts to him. As we love Him more, an expression of that love is to keep his commands (1 John 5:3).

4. Prayer for our hearts to know His hope, riches, and power.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
(Ephesians 1:18-19a NIV)

When we are aware of the certain hope of God’s promises, of the glorious riches which await us, and of His incredible power that is being used every second for our good, it completely changes how we feel, think, and act. The darkness of this world can sometimes dim our vision of these glorious truths. We can pray for each other the same prayer which Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus. No matter how dark and difficult our surroundings, we can pray for hearts that will clearly see and grasp God’s love and His promises in Christ Jesus.

Do you know someone who would benefit from such a prayer? Why not stop and pray for them right now!

5. Prayer for God to strengthen our hearts.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else,
just as ours does for you.
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy
in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
(1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 NIV)

It takes inner strength to serve God. We need courage to stand against the evils of our age and to swim upstream against the currents of lust, materialism, substance abuse, and godlessness. We can gain the strength we need for ourselves and others through prayer!

Paul modeled praying for our brothers and sisters to receive the inner strength they need:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)

6. Prayer for encouragement for our hearts

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,
encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NIV)

We easily become discouraged by worries, fears, and difficulties which weigh on our hearts. We are tempted to give up or give in. We all need encouragement to keep believing, keep serving, and to continue fighting the good fight. This is something we can pray for. As we pray, we can be confident that God will be pouring encouragement into the hearts of those we pray for.

7. Prayer for an undivided heart

Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
(Psalm 86:11 NIV)

The greatest command is to love God with all your heart (Matthew 22:37). We want to do this, but we find so many other things competing for our affection and devotion. Wrong beliefs, unforgiven sin, harmful habits, and unhealed hurts can all cause our hearts to be divided. How can we gain a whole, healthy heart, fully devoted to God? It’s a lifelong process. One of the means God uses to bring wholeness to our wounded, divided hearts is prayer.

Conclusion

The thought that God invites, indeed encourages, us to pray for human hearts is truly amazing. God will answer our prayers in many ways. He may arrange circumstances to help our hearts. Sometimes He will draw a person to just the right verse or cause them to notice certain lyrics in a song. He might work through you to encourage someone’s heart in answer to your own prayer! Since His Holy Spirit lives in all who believe, there are invisible ways in which God works on the inside which are beyond our ability to understand. We can be confident that when it comes to working in hearts, God knows what He’s doing:

From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth--
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
(Psalm 33:13-15 NIV)



Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Foot Theology



When my daughter was learning a little New Testament Greek in homeschool, we had vocabulary lists that noted how many times each Greek word was used in the New Testament. We were surprised to see that the Greek word for foot (πούς, pous) is used 93 times. Just for fun, we compared this to how many times a number of other words were used and jokingly decided that feet must be exceedingly important to understanding theology. Below are some Greek words which are used in the New Testament less often than feet.

The Greek word for:

peace (92x)
apostle (81x) (12x less than feet!)
baptize (80x) (As a Baptist pastor, this one stings a bit!)
head (76x) (Just because it holds your brain apparently doesn’t make your head worthy of more frequent mention than your feet!)
eternal (71x)
Jerusalem (62x)
joy (60x)
teacher (58x)
hope (54x)
wisdom (51x) (Wisdom is mentioned 42x less than feet, but on the bright side we can gain wisdom by considering what the Bible says about feet!)
temple (46x)

Many more examples of words which surprisingly are used less often than “foot” could be given. If you’re curious, you can find a list here.

Obviously, the importance of a word/topic cannot really be measured merely by counting how many times a certain word is used in the New Testament. Still, I became curious about why the word for foot/feet was used so often. As I looked through the 93 uses of foot, I found that feet are used to illustrate a number of truths which are important to our Christian faith. So, getting serious, here are seven important truths connected to the word “foot”.

#1 When we’re desperate, we can find mercy and help at the feet of Jesus.




Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. (Matthew 15:30 NIV)

Over and over again, in the New Testament we find people with desperate needs being placed or placing themselves at Jesus’s feet. And over and over gain Jesus shows them mercy and gives them help.

We all need mercy. We often find ourselves in desperate need of God’s help. And the place to find it is still at the feet of Jesus. We get down on our knees or on our faces, or if we are too weak for that we lie in our beds, and we cry out to Jesus for help, strength, guidance, forgiveness, or whatever else we need. When we humbly place ourselves at His feet we can know that we, too, will find Him merciful.

2. Our feet are intended to carry us to others who need to hear His truth and experience His love.




Jesus shows us mercy and gives us grace. He doesn’t want us to keep this good news to ourselves. One of the reasons God gave us feet is so that we can go and tell others the good news about salvation. Sometimes God asks us to walk across the street to share His love and truth. Other times, He wants us to walk onto airplanes travel across oceans.

Whether near or far, we should always be ready to share God’s good news (see Ephesians 6:15).

3.  Feet teach us about teamwork.






The task of going and making disciples for Jesus is not something we are called to do as isolated individuals. God calls us to work together as a team. Paul used the different parts of our bodies, including our feet, to illustrate the importance of teamwork in doing God’s work:

Indeed, the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, "Because I'm not a hand, I don't belong to the body," it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-15 CSB17)

Because we are all united in the Body of Christ, in addition to working together, we care for each other. If one of us hurts, we all hurt. When we stub a toe, our whole body reacts!

4. Everything will be placed under the feet of Christ


The Old Testament verse most quoted and alluded to in the New Testament is this one:

The LORD says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Psalm 110:1 NIV)

Some of the places where Psalm 110:1 is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament include: Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 1:13, 2:8 10:13.

Jesus is already Lord of all. He is currently seated at the right hand of His Heavenly Father. However, during this current age God is patiently allowing many people and fallen angels to live in rebellion against Christ. This situation is temporary. Soon, all those who have refused to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in this life will be forcefully subjected to His judgment. The end result of this will be their destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Because of our relationship to Christ, there is a sense in which our ancient enemy will also be crushed under our own feet:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:20 NIV)

5. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.



Jesus knew He was destined to rule over all. He is the King of Kings. And yet, this mighty King showed us humble love in action by washing His disciples’ feet the night before He was crucified. And let’s not forget that He commands us to follow His example of humble service:

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15 CSB17)

Has there ever been a greater act of love? Just one:

“. . . he showed them his hands and feet.” (Lk. 24:40 CSB17)

6. These truths should lead us to worship at His feet.




We worship at His feet figuratively now. One day soon we will join multitudes of the redeemed and the mighty angels and will fall before the feet of Jesus in worship.

In the meantime, we work to spread His good news and we sing His praises in the midst of this dark world.

7.  Putting our feet in stocks can’t stop our worship or the spread of the gospel.




They put the feet of Paul and Silas in stocks. But Paul and Silas kept praising God. The other prisoners heard this praise. And after God sent an earthquake to free them, the jailer and his household were also saved and became joyful worshipers of Christ.

The world can sometimes put our feet in figurative stocks. We face much opposition and many difficulties as we work to share the good news.  But all the opposition, persecution, and difficulties are ultimately used by God to further His loving purposes and increase His worship.

Conclusion

The New Testament uses a lowly part of our bodies – our feet! – to teach important Christian truths. We learn that we can find mercy at the feet of Jesus. We are called to use our own feet to carry the good news to others. This involves teamwork, as illustrated by the way our feet work in harmony with the  other parts of our body. One day soon, all the enemies of Christ will be crushed under His feet. He is a mighty King, yet He modeled humble, serving love by washing his disciples’ feet and allowing His own holy feet to be nailed to a cross. All of this leads us to worship at His feet. The world may sometimes put our feet in stocks, but God uses even this to spread His gospel and bring more praise to Himself.




Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .