A Prayer for the Bound Up

Another thoughtful prayer by Scotty Smith

Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43–44

Dear Lord Jesus, as surely as you spoke and Lazarus walked out of his tomb fully alive, so when you spoke the gospel to my heart, I too was raised from the dead and was made fully alive in you! With all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have passed from death to life. For the sovereign grace and the resurrection power of the gospel, I praise you today. Indeed, salvation is of the Lord!

Yet as surely as Lazarus needed to be freed from his graveclothes, so do I. The smell and signs of death still haunt me and stalk me. There are many areas of my life for which I long for greater freedom—a freedom you alone can give.

Jesus, I want greater freedom from living for people’s approval. I want your glory to be my consuming good. I want to be able to respond to trying situations and people with grace and wisdom rather than reacting with irritation and fear. I want freedom to value and see in others what you value and see in them. I want to be quicker to pray and slower to worry; quicker to repent, slower to make excuses; quicker to encourage, slower to criticize.

I want indifference to be replaced with good listening and passivity to be replaced with passion. I want to be free from the toxic shame that often paralyzes my heart. I want to know what stuff from my past still needs to be dealt with and what stuff simply needs to be left till the day of final resurrection. I want to be much bolder in sharing the gospel and much slower to share gossip.

I want to be able to sit still longer and laugh louder. I want to age grace-fully, not regret-fully. I want to stay more fully alive to the only love that will never let me go—your love, Lord Jesus, the only love that is better than life. You’ve made us alive in you, Jesus; make us much, much freer, all for your glory. I pray in your priceless name. Amen.

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God is inviting us to enjoy Him

by CS Lewis

In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

The Beauty of His Holiness

by Stephen Charnock

The holiness of God is his glory and crown. It is the blessedness of his nature. It renders him glorious in himself, and glorious to his creatures. “Holy” is more fixed as an epithet to his name than any other. This is his greatest title of honor. He is pure and unmixed light, free from all blemish in his essence, nature, and operations. He cannot be deformed by any evil. The notion of God cannot be entertained without separating from him whatever is impure and staining. Though he is majestic, eternal, almighty, wise, immutable, merciful, and whatsoever other prefections may dignify so sovereign a being, yet if we conceive him destitute of this excellent perfection, and imagine him possessed with the least contagion of evil, we make him but an infinite monster, and sully all those perfections we ascribed to him before.

It is a contradiction for him to be God and to have any darkness mixed with his light. To deny his purity, makes him no God. He that says God is not holy, speaks much worse than if he said there is no God at all. Where do we read of the angels crying out Eternal or Faithful Lord God of hosts? But we do hear them singing Holy, Holy, Holy. God swears by his holiness (Psa. 89:35). His holiness is a pledge for the assurance of his promises. Power is his hand, omniscience his eye, mercy his heart, eternity his duration, but holiness his beauty. It renders him lovely and gives beauty to all his attributes. Every action of his is free from all hints of evil. Holiness is the crown of all his attributes, the life of all his decrees, and the brightness of all his actions. Nothing is decreed by him and nothing is acted by him that is not consistent with the beauty of his holiness.

The Existence and Attributes of God

You don’t know me but I’m your brother

A repost from Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church blog

We were made for community. It is difficult to read any part of Scripture without recognizing this important fact. We were made to fellowship with God and with one another.

Unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to build relationships with one another. And, when we do start building relationships, we often stop when it becomes a struggle. In fact, that struggle – or ( http://www.alanknox.net/2007/09/depths-of-community.html )
relational friction  as I’ve called it before – is an indication that we finally beginning to form a relationship. We’re finally starting to get down below the surface into the depths of community.

It is there in the depths – below the surface level – that we begin to understand that “love one another” includes loving those who are not like us and don’t believe like us and sometimes aren’t even pleasant to be around. It is there in the presence of relational friction that we truly begin to understand what it means to forgive one another, bear with one another, accept one another, live in peace with one another. Unfortunately, too often, before we can even begin to live in the reality of these “one anothers”, we give up on the relationship all together and look around for someone who is more like us so we can be “like minded”.

There is a reason that Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi exhorting them to have the “same mind”. What reason? Because it’s not easy – it’s not natural – at least, not in our fallen state. There is a reason that Paul wrote a very personal letter (Philemon) about a very personal problem (a runaway slave named Onesimus) and addressed that letter to several people and the entire church that met with Philemon. What reason? Because we naturally want to protect ourselves and our own interest. We need help to look beyond ourselves to see the benefit to the kingdom of God.

We use our doctrines, our creeds, our confessions, our interpretation, our denominations, our leadership, our structures… many man-made things in fact… as excuses to separate from other believers. Or, if we don’t outright separate, then we use these things as excuses to choose who we will form relationships with and who we won’t form relationships with. We would prefer to sit in an auditorium on the other side of the city filled mostly with strangers than to deal with the relational friction caused by differences with those who live next door to us.

Why? Because we don’t allow God to form our primary identity. Oh, we say that we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, but we live as if we’re second cousins at best. We says that we all have God as our Father, but we would prefer it were not so.

Guess what? We don’t choose our brothers and sisters… God does. And we are specifically told (in the context of doctrinal differences) to accept others just as God accepted them in Christ Jesus (Romans 15:7).

The person across the street who is a brother in Christ… is our brother in Christ, and it is our responsibility – as much as depends on us – to foster a relationship with him. The person who works in the office who is a sister in Christ… is our sister in Christ, and it is our responsibility – as much as depends on us – to foster a relationship with her. This is true for every believer that God brings into our life. Yes, everyone of them. Will we have the same depth of relationship with all of them? No. But, that’s not the point. Our relationships with our brothers and sisters should be growing and deepening – even with those who disagree with us. If we’re looking for excuses to stay away from a brother or to not relate a sister, then there is a problem with us… not with them.

Unity among brothers and sisters in Christ is not just a good idea. It is one of our primary arguments and our primary evidences that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and was sent into the world to redeem the world (John 17:20-24). We should grieve over the fact that we have lost this argument and evidence. Then, we should seek the unity of the Spirit – he is providing if we will simply live in it.

Pursue a closer relationship with Jesus

by Anne Graham Lotz

Every day presents a fresh opportunity to pursue a closer relationship with Jesus – and the more you have of Jesus in your life, the better your life will be. So don’t settle for just occasional encounters with Jesus in some parts of your life. Keep pursuing more of Jesus until your whole life is saturated with His power.

Here’s how you can pursue more of Jesus:

Go for the maximum, not the minimum. Choose to go after more than just the bare minimum God has to offer you. Make your faith about more than just trying to escape hell and get your ticket punched to heaven. Invite God to completely transform you: bending your will, awakening your conscience, breaking your heart, transforming your mind, overcoming your prejudices, soaring in your spirit, and conforming you into His glorious image.

Pursue more of His voice in your ear. Out of the many voices you hear speaking to you each day – through other people, circumstances, etc. – you need to learn how to discern what’s truly God speaking and what’s not. Keep in a mind that any authentic message from God is biblical (straight from God’s Word), personal (in the language of your own life), and powerful (resulting in lives either changed for the better or saved).

If someone claims to have a message from God for you, test it by making sure that it’s in accord with and confirmed by the Bible. Remember Jesus’ promise that He would go ahead of you to guide you in every situation. Learn how to recognize Jesus’ voice by getting to know the Bible well (reading it, studying it, understanding it, applying it, and living by it) and then trust His guidance when making decisions.

Pursue more of His tears on your face. Jesus understands and cares when you’re crying tears of pain. Remember how much He suffered on the Cross, and see your own sufferings as opportunities to draw closer to Jesus. No matter what you’re going through – the loss of a job, a friend’s betrayal, a health crisis, a spouse’s unfaithfulness, a child’s rebellion – Jesus is crying along with you and will meet you in the middle of your suffering with His presence.

Pursue more of His praise on your lips. It’s easy to praise Jesus when your life is going well, but Jesus is still worthy of praise even when problems and pressures darken your circumstances. Make the deliberate, conscious choice to praise Jesus every day, no matter what, to honor Jesus and learn how to walk by reliable faith instead of shifting feelings.

Praise Jesus for who He is by frequently thinking of one His many wonderful attributes and thanking Him for it. Praise Jesus for what He has done by thanking Him for specific blessings in your life on a regular basis. Real praise is affirming your faith even in the midst of desperation when you choose to cling to Jesus alone.

Pursue more of His death in your life.Death produces power that leads to more blessings in life. Just as Jesus died on the Cross so you could be spiritually alive, He wants you to die to your own desires and yield to His desires for you so you can experience the best life possible. God uses pressures, problems, and pain in your life as nails to pin you to cross of your own. If you submit to Him while you go through them, you experience what it’s like to die to yourself so God’s power can live through you. Every kind of brokenness you experience can lead to a corresponding blessing if you’re willing to die to your own: will, goals, dreams, desires, expectations, plans, rights, and reputation. If you choose to die to yourself, God will pour out blessings like a character that reflects His own, a witness that leads to other people’s lives being transformed, and rewards from God himself.

Pursue more of His dirt on your hands. Just as Jesus was willing to get His hands dirty serving others willingly, humbly, obediently, and gladly, He expects you to do the same. Choose to serve other people whenever God calls you to – even when it’s not convenient or when you’re struggling with serious problems of your own. Shift your focus from yourself to Jesus and the people He wants you to serve. In the process, your own problems will become more manageable.

Never view yourself as being above any particular type of service – changing diapers, mowing grass, making coffee, visiting prisoners, etc.. When you do any task that God calls you to do, your work – no matter how humble – will become important because you’re answering God’s call.

Pursue more of His hope in your grief. Jesus has given you the hope of heaven in your grief. Let the promise of heaven sharpen your focus to help you see that any difficult situation you’re going through now is temporary compared to a joyful eternity with Jesus. Look forward to the reality of seeing Jesus face to face and enjoying the company of loved ones who have gone before you, when it’s your time to go to heaven.

Pursue more of His fruit in your service. If your service for God lacks the fruit of changed lives, you don’t have to try harder, pray more, or claim greater territory in service. Instead, you should examine your personal relationship with Jesus to see how closely you’re connected to Him. It’s the quality of your connection to Jesus that will determine whether or not you’ll have the power to bear good fruit for His kingdom.

The fruit you bear isn’t produced through your own efforts; it’s produced by the Holy Spirit through you as you consistently rely on God. Jesus is the Vine and you are the branches. God may sometimes choose to prune you to bear good fruit by cutting out of your life everything you depend on – except your relationship with Jesus. When you’re forced to pay attention to your relationship with Jesus because that’s all you have, your connection to the Vine gets bigger, empowering you to produce more fruit.

Trust God when He prunes the branches of your life; He knows what’s best to help you grow. Pray for greater fruitfulness in your service, asking God t conform you more closely to the image of Jesus, use you to make others want to know Him better, give you opportunities to share His Gospel and give you the fruit of changed lives as a result, draw others to Himself through a Bible study you lead, or give you one person to share His love with today.

Pursue more of His love in your home. As you give Jesus more of your heart, He will fill it with more of His love, and that will overflow into the lives of the people with whom you interact each day. When you let God’s love flow through you, it will empower you to love even those people who are difficult for you to love – those whose personalities or behavior makes them seem completely incompatible with you.

Rather than just avoiding or tolerating difficult people, choosing to show God’s love to them will bless you in the process because God will use them to grind off the weak edges of your character to make you stronger. Ask Jesus to help you love people sacrificially, as He does. Instead of choosing to love only people who meet your needs, whom you get along with, who make you feel good, who do things for you, who give you things you want, whom respond with love, and whom you like, choose to demonstrate love toeveryone, regardless of whether or not you like them and how they respond to you. When you love someone sacrificially, your act of love then becomes an act of worshiping Jesus.

Pursue more of His courage in your convictions. Be willing to stand out and speak up for Jesus in all areas of your life, and with whoever you meet. Take a strong public stand for the uniqueness of who Jesus is; for the truth of the entire Bible; and for the necessity of living a life of integrity, purity, and humility in order to please God. Rather than living a lifestyle that simply blends in with that of non-believers, show people the difference that your relationship with Jesus makes in your attitudes and actions.

Pray for the courage you need to stand by biblical convictions when others pressure you to be complacent or politically correct. Ask the Holy Spirit to use all of your conversations with others to glorify God in whatever ways He guides you to do so. No matter how much pressure you encounter to compromise your convictions, decide that you will never give up, shut up, or let up, because of your love for Jesus.

Pursue more of His nearness in your loneliness. When you feel lonely, remember that Jesus is always with you. Pray for more awareness of His presence close to you, and take comfort in it. Although other people may sometimes disappoint you or abandon you, Jesus will always be there for you. Remember that Jesus is much more than just a man, prophet, teacher, revolutionary, icon, or symbol. Jesus is God Himself – and He loves you!

Pursue more of His answers to your prayers. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to go directly to God at any time and in any place with your prayers. Jesus has promised that when you ask Him for anything according to His will and believing in His power to act, He will answer. Whenever your prayers seem to go unanswered or turn out the opposite of what you asked God to do (such as when you pray for your career and get laid off or when you pray for a loved one’s healing and he or she dies), trust God anyway. Remember that His ways are not your ways, and He will act according to what’s best from His unlimited perspective on every situation.

Pursue more of His glory on your knees. Embrace God’s purpose for your life single-mindedly and wholeheartedly. Stay focused on what God wants for your life, and do all you can to fulfill that purpose well. Let your determination to do the work God has for you to do lead you to make wise choices like: less sleep and more prayer, less TV and more study, less shopping and more tithing, less eating and more exercise, less talking and more listening, or less work and more worship. Serve God faithfully to glorify Him every day.

Adapted from Pursuing More of Jesus, copyright 2009 by Anne Graham Lotz.

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, is the President and CEO of AnGeL Ministries, a non-profit organization that undergirds her efforts to draw people into a life-changing relationship with God through His Word. She is the award-winning author of 10 books, including Just Give Me Jesus and I Saw the LORD. 

A Prayer of Comfort When Feeling, “It’s too Much”

by Scotty Smith

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus. 2 Cor. 7:5–6

Loving Father, this brief vignette from Paul’s life comes to me today like a well-timed kiss from heaven; like a call from the right friend when you least expected it, but most needed it; like the first sign of daylight after a starless night; like a big trout at the end of a fish-less day.

First of all, Father, I praise you for chronicling Paul’s experience of being restless, fearful, and downcast. Many times I suffer from “should-ness”: if I really loved you, if I were more full of the Holy Spirit, if I truly got the gospel, I “should” never feel downcast. I should only feel upbeat, on top of my game, and happy.

It’s comforting to know the gospel doesn’t make us less human but more yours. Thank you for being a Father who doesn’t shame the downcast; you don’t chide the overwhelmed; you don’t grow weary with the weary. You pursue us, you provide for us, you comfort us—you comfort me.

As I begin this day, I feel like I’m swimming in a pool of baby piranha—no big sharks like Paul was dealing with… well, make a couple, but mostly small piranha nibbling at my spirit and my dwindling resources. I’m surrounded by a lot of little decisions, a lot of little needs, a lot of small conflicts, a lot of little unfinished projects, a lot of little things over which I have absolutely no control, and the combination of these things is weighing me down.

I’ll not fight the piranha; I’ll just look for you. I won’t pull my best-effort belt over one more notch, nor suck it up and perform. I gladly collapse on Jesus right now. Indeed, Father, it’s so good to know you’re running toward us in the gospel right now, not with a furrowed brow, but with a compassionate and merciful heart. And as you comfort me, I’ll seek to be a Titus for others. What a privilege it is to comfort others with the very comfort you bring to us in all our troubles (2 Cor. 1:3–4). O the privilege of being weak with the weak. We pray in Jesus’ name with great anticipation and freedom from our striving. Amen.

A Constant, Delighting and Enduring Love

by Spurgeon

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church.” (Ephesians 5:25)

What a golden example Christ gives to His disciples! Few masters could venture to say, “If you would practice my teaching, imitate my life;” but as the life of Jesus is the exact transcript of perfect virtue, He can point to Himself as the paragon of holiness, as well as the teacher of it. The Christian should take nothing short of Christ for his model. Under no circumstances ought we to be content unless we reflect the grace which was in Him. As a husband, the Christian is to look upon the portrait of Christ Jesus, and he is to paint according to that copy. The true Christian is to be such a husband as Christ was to His church.

The love of a husband is special. The Lord Jesus cherishes for the church a peculiar affection, which is set upon her above the rest of mankind: “I pray for them, I pray not for the world.” The elect church is the favourite of heaven, the treasure of Christ, the crown of His head, the bracelet of His arm, the breastplate of His heart, the very centre and core of His love. A husband should love his wife with a constant love, for thus Jesus loves His church. He does not vary in His affection. He may change in His display of affection, but the affection itself is still the same. A husband should love his wife with an enduring love, for nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” A true husband loves his wife with a hearty love, fervent and intense. It is not mere lip-service.

Ah! beloved, what more could Christ have done in proof of His love than He has done? Jesus has a delighted love towards His spouse: He prizes her affection, and delights in her with sweet complacence. Believer, you wonder at Jesus’ love; you admire it—are you imitating it? In your domestic relationships is the rule and measure of your love—”even as Christ loved the church.

A Glorious Church, delivered on May 7th, 1865, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington