Friday, October 19, 2018

Two Places where God Lives




“I live in a high and holy place,
and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit,”
Isaiah 57:15

In a way God lives everywhere. But in another way, He lives especially in certain places. Speaking through His prophet Isaiah, God speaks of two radically different types of places where His presence is found. One place is high, and the other is low.  I pray that as you think about this with me God will use this truth to bring you hope and encouragement.

A High Place

The fact that God lives in a high place, in fact in the very highest place, tells us that He is powerful and that He rules over all. There is no one with more power than God, or even with close to the same amount of power. There is no one with more or equal authority. God is high above all. As the second member of the Trinity, all that is true of God is true of Jesus. Jesus is seated “at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21 NIV).

A Holy Place

God lives in a holy place. He is completely separate from all that is evil or impure. “God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This means God never does anything wrong. He never feels a desire to do anything wrong. He is 100% good.

Stop and Think and Praise

Before we continue, stop and think about this truth: the most powerful being who exists is entirely good. This is great news! To realize how wonderful this truth is, imagine just for a second or two (not too much longer!) how terrible it would be if the most powerful being who exists was not entirely good. Imagine how terrible it would be if every now and then He did something wrong, cruel, or evil just because He wanted to. Who would be able to stop Him? What hope would anyone who was a victim of His wrong acts have? None at all! But praise God, He is both the most powerful being and the most holy being who exists. God has never done anything wrong and He never will and God can never be overpowered.

Don’t we all long to know and feel this is true?  When our daughter, Joy, was a child she liked to watch videos about a group of young dinosaurs who had adventures. Little Foot and his vegetation-eating dinosaur friends were never harmed, but they had plenty of close encounters as they were sometimes chased by the terrible meat-eating dinosaurs. This prompted Joy to make up her own stories about dinosaurs who lived in Joyland. In Joyland there was a new type of dinosaur, which she called a Brontyasaurus. It was a long-neck, peaceful, friendly dinosaur in some ways similar to Little Foot. But the Brontyasaurus was far bigger, stronger, and way more powerful than every other dinosaur. No tyrannosaurus could threaten him! With a swat of his mighty tail all meat-eating dinosaurs were vanquished! Not only that, but Brontyasaurus could fly far higher and faster than all other dinosaurs. Joyland was a safe and happy place! Isn’t that what every child’s heart (and, indeed, every human heart!) longs for? A world where the most powerful being is safe and good and on our side! Praise God, we live in such a world, though temporarily we experience evil and suffer. Which brings us to the other place God lives . . .

With the Oppressed and Lowly of Spirit

We believe God is powerful and good, and yet it doesn't feel like we're living in Joyland now. In one sense, we are not. We live in a world where there is much suffering, evil, and sorrow. It’s not God’s fault. It’s ours.

God allows us to choose. We (humankind, both collectively and as individuals) have chosen to go our own way. We chose to go down a road that God warned us not to go down. We went anyway. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. And like them, each of us has often chosen to do things that we know God did not want us to do. God made a good world for us. We have filled it with suffering, sickness, oppression, evil, and death.

Amazingly, our high and holy God has come to be with us right in the middle of the mess we’ve made. The most high, holy God is also Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Without ever compromising His holiness, He walks among sinners and calls us back to Himself. When we humbly recognize and confess our sins, He is ready to forgive us. He cleanses us from all our sins and begins to transform us.

When we are oppressed, God is with us. This is true when we are suffering for the gospel and for His Name sake. He is with us when evil forces which are stronger than us, but far less powerful than Him, threaten us. When we trust Him, these evil forces can do us no eternal harm (Luke 10:19). Anything we suffer God uses for our good (Romans 8:28). Even when our suffering is brought on by own sin (which it often is), whenever we humble ourselves and confess our sins He is quick to forgive. He gives us mercy and grace.

Because God is powerful, and because He is good, and because of His great grace and mercy, we are given strength and encouragement to stand firm and live for Christ in the midst of this dark world. And in Christ we have hope for a far better world to come, the true Joyland, the New Heavens and New Earth, where there will be no more sin or suffering, and where we will forever sing the praises of our high and holy God who came down into our lowly, broken world and saved us.

Hallelujah!





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

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Model for Intercessory Prayer, Epaphras in Colossians 4:12



Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings.
He is always wrestling in prayer for you,
 that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
Colossians 4:12, NIV

We’ve all heard of “intercessory prayer”. We’ve also heard about people who are “prayer warriors.” Neither the term “intercessory prayer” nor the term “prayer warrior” is found in Scripture. Nevertheless, these concepts are entirely biblical. There are numerous passages and verses which illustrate intercessory prayer and which encourage us to be prayer warriors. In this post, we will focus mostly on one such verse, Colossians 4:12.

“for you”

Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras was praying “for you.” This reminds us that intercessory prayer consists of prayers for other people. Of course, we should pray for ourselves. There are many examples of praying for our own forgiveness, needs, and strength throughout the Bible. Intercessory prayer puts into practice the second greatest commandment. It is a way of loving others as we love ourselves. When we are in trouble, we cry out to God in prayer and ask Him to help us. We should do the same for others.

“that you may stand firm”

It is impossible for me to read the words “stand firm” without thinking about Paul’s famous passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. In that passage, the same Greek word which is here translated “stand firm” occurs three times (Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13; Ephesians 6:14). This reminds us that intercessory prayer is part of spiritual warfare. We are praying for God to help, strengthen, protect, and give courage to our brothers and sisters who are under attack from our spiritual enemies.

“in all the will of God”

This reminds us that intercessory prayer is an application of one of the great requests found in the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). We are praying for God’s will in the life of another, and we are praying that they themselves will stand in God’s will and not be led into temptation (Matthew 6:13).

“mature and fully assured”

When we intercede for others, we shouldn’t merely pray concerning their circumstances. Of course, we will often pray for any specific problems (health, financial, relational, etc.) they are facing. But our prayers should go deeper. We also pray for their maturity in Christ. We pray that their faith in God will be strong and that they will grow in knowing and trusting Him.

“wrestling”

One of the things which distinguishes intercessory prayer from other forms of prayer is its intensity. Intercessory prayer feels like a struggle because it is a struggle. The Greek word for “wrestling” in Colossians 4:12 is agōnizomai. A closely related Greek word, agōnia, is translated “anguish” and describes Christ’s own intense struggle in prayer:

And being in anguish [agōnia], he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44 NIV)

“always”

When Paul says that Epaphras “is always wrestling in prayer for you,” he obviously didn’t mean that literally every minute Epaphras was involved in intense intercessory prayer. He did mean that intense intercessory prayer was not a one time or occasional practice for Epaphras. It was a regular, ongoing ministry.

“a servant of Christ Jesus”

Just before describing Epaphras’s intercessory prayer, Paul tells us that he was “a servant of Christ Jesus.” There are many ways to serve our Lord. One way to serve Him is through intercessory prayer for others. When we are praying for others, we are serving Jesus!

Intercessory Prayer is for All of Us

While I don’t deny that some Christians are called to a special focus on intercessory prayer, this should never become an excuse for any of us not to make intercessory prayer an important part of our lives. At the beginning of the same chapter where Paul gives Epaphras as an example for us, he urges all Christians to be devoted to prayer:

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should. (Colossians 4:2-4 CSB17)

In Romans, Paul asks other Christians to join in his struggle through prayer. Here, the Greek word for “join in struggle” [sunagōnizomai] has the same root as the word [agōnizomai] for struggling in prayer used in Colossians 4:12.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Rom. 15:30 NIV)

May God call and strengthen you to grow in intercessory prayer for others. As you do, you can pray with faith knowing that God will be using His great power and wisdom to help those you pray for and to further His good purposes in their lives and in our world, to the glory of Jesus Christ!






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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Knowing that God Created Everything Fuels Faith Filled Praying



The first verse in the Bible teaches us that God created everything. When this foundational truth gets rooted into our hearts and minds it produces good fruit of many kinds. Here, I want to share about just one of the good fruits which come from meditating on this wonderful fact. Let’s start with two biblical stories.

The massive Assyrian army had already defeated many nations. They had swept through the Northern Kingdom of Israel and had even advanced through much of Judah’s territory right up to Jerusalem. The leaders of the Assyrian army mock King Hezekiah and they even mock God. They boast that they will subject Jerusalem and all the people in it to a cruel siege and ultimately defeat them. They make many threats and humanly speaking it looks like they have the power to carry out those threats. Faced with this overwhelming power, many would just give in to despair. But Hezekiah remembers something important. He remembers that his God made heaven and earth. He bases his prayer not on his own weakness compared to the Assyrian army, but rather on God’s great power compared to the Assyrian army. Hezekiah prays to God. He begins like this:

LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. (Isaiah 37:16 NIV)

 God answers. The Assyrian army is devasted and retreats.

Notice how actively remembering that our God created everything drastically changes our perspective. Problems we face may indeed by overwhelming if we had to depend on our own resources without God. Praise God, He doesn’t ask or want us to face problems on our own. And remembering God changes the picture. Consider the two perspectives below using King Hezekiah and the Assyrian army as an example:





Later, in the book of Acts, the early church faces opposition and threats. The religious leaders, who just a short time ago had been behind the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, have Peter and John arrested. They warn them not to talk anymore about Jesus. Peter boldly replies:

But Peter and John replied, "Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20 NIV)

The religious leaders reply with further threats. What do Peter and John do when they are released? They go and hold a prayer meeting (prayer meetings are really important). And this is how they begin their prayer:

When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. (Acts 4:24 NIV)

In life you will sometimes face problems which feel overwhelming. Humanly speaking, whatever is opposing you and threatening you will be far beyond your power to deal with. That’s when it’s important to remember the very first verse of the Bible. You have a God who loves you. He created the heavens and the earth. Your problem is not too big for Him. Pray with faith.

Ah, Sovereign LORD,
you have made the heavens and the earth
by your great power and outstretched arm.
Nothing is too hard for you.
(Jer. 32:17 NIV)




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