Talk to God, Not Just About Him

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

The form of this psalm is instructive.

In Psalm 23:1–3 David refers to God as “he”:

The Lord is my shepherd . . .
he makes me lie down . . .
he leads me . . .
he restores my soul.

Then in verses 4 and 5 David refers to God as “you”:

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me.
You anoint my head with oil.

Then in verse 6 he switches back to the third person:

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.

The lesson I have learned from this form is that it is good not to talk very long about God without talking to God.

Every Christian is at least an amateur theologian — that is, a person who tries to understand the character and ways of God, and then put that into words. If we aren’t little theologians, then we won’t ever say anything to each other about God, and we’ll be of very little real help to each other’s faith.

But what I have learned from David in Psalm 23 and other psalms is that I should interweave my theology with prayer. I should frequently interrupt my talking about God by talking to God.

Not far behind the theological sentence, “God is generous,” should come the prayerful sentence, “Thank you, God.”

On the heels of, “God is glorious,” should come, “I adore your glory.”

What I have come to see is that this is the way it must be if we are feeling God’s reality in our hearts as well as describing it with our heads.

 

God Strengthens Us Through Others

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32)

What about the other ten apostles (not counting Judas)?

Satan was going to sift them too. Did Jesus pray for them?

Yes, he did. But he did not ask the Father to guard their faith in the very same way he guarded Peter’s.

God broke the back of Peter’s pride and self-reliance that night in the agony of Satan’s sieve. But he did not let him go. He turned him around and forgave him and restored him and strengthened his faith. And now it was Peter’s mission to strengthen the other ten.

Jesus provided for the ten by providing for Peter. The strengthened becomes the strengthener.

There is a great lesson here for us. Sometimes God will deal with you directly, strengthening your faith alone in the wee hours of the morning. But most of the time (we might say ten-elevenths of the time) God strengthens our faith through another person.

God sends us some Simon Peter who brings just the word of grace we need to keep on in the faith: some testimony about how “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Eternal security is a community project. Whenever God encourages your heart with the promise that in Satan’s sifting your faith will not fail, then take that encouragement and double your joy by using it to strengthen your brothers and sisters.

What Binds the Hands of Love

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.(Colossians 1:3–5)

The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world.

The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on.

It is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love. It is worldly-mindedness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend.

Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like marbles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?

He is not in bondage to the Internet or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love.

Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love!

It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise — these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope.

I say it again with all the conviction that lies within me: it is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love on this earth. It is worldly-mindedness. And therefore the great fountain of love is the powerful, freeing confidence of Christian hope.

 

10 Results of the Resurrection

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Here are ten amazing things we owe to Jesus’s resurrection:

1) A Savior who can never die again. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again” (Romans 6:9).

2) Repentance. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel” (Acts 5:30–31).

3) New birth. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

4) Forgiveness of sin.If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

5) The Holy Spirit. “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32–33).

6) No condemnation for the elect. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

7) Jesus’s personal fellowship and protection. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

8) Proof of coming judgment. “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

9) Salvation from the future wrath of God. “[We] wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9).

10) Our own resurrection from the dead. “[We know] that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 6:4; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20).

~ Devotional excerpted from “What We Owe the Resurrection of Jesus”

How to Delight in God’s Word

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!(Psalm 119:103)

Never reduce Christianity to a matter of demands and resolutions and willpower. It is a matter of what we love, what we delight in, what tastes good to us.

When Jesus came into the world, humanity was split according to what they loved. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). The righteous and the wicked are separated by what they delight in — the revelation of God or the way of the world.

But someone may ask: How can I come to delight in the word of God? My answer would be twofold:

1) pray for new tastebuds on the tongue of your heart;
2) meditate on the staggering promises of God to his people.

The same psalmist who said, “How sweet are your words to my taste” (Psalm 119:103), said earlier, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). He prayed, because to have holy tastebuds on the tongue of the heart is a gift of God. No man naturally hungers for and delights in God’s wisdom.

But when you have prayed, indeed while you pray, meditate on the benefits God promises to his people and on the joy of having almighty God as your helper now and eternal hope.

Who would not delight to read a book, the reading of which would change one from chaff to a cedar of Lebanon, from a Texas dust bowl to a Hawaiian orchard? Nobody deep down wants to be chaff — rootless, weightless, useless. All of us want to draw strength from some deep river of reality and become fruitful, useful people.

That river of reality is the word of God, and all the great saints have been made great by it.

Satan’s Candy Store

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.(1 Peter 4:1)

First it puzzles. Did Christ have to cease from sin? No! “He committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).

Then it clicks. When we arm ourselves with the thought that Christ suffered for us, we realize that we died with him. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). When we die with him we cease to sin.

It’s just like Romans 6. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. . . . So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:6–7, 11).

Peter says, “Arm yourselves with this thought!

Paul says, “Consider yourselves dead!”

The weapon for our vacation is a thought/consideration.

When the temptations of Satan come — to lust, to steal, to lie, to covet, to envy, to retaliate, to put down, to fear — arm yourself with this thought: When my Lord suffered and died to free me from sin, I died to sin!

When Satan says to you, Why deny yourself the pleasure of lust? Why deal with the mess you could avoid by lying? Why not go ahead and get that harmless luxury you covet? Why not seek justice by returning the same hurt you received?

Answer him: The Son of God suffered (really suffered!) to deliver me from sinning. I cannot believe he suffered to make me miserable. Therefore, what he died to purchase must be more wonderful than the pleasures of sin. Since I trust him, my susceptibility to your allurements has shriveled up and died.

Satan, be gone! My mouth doesn’t drool any more when I walk by your candy store.

God’s Best Promise

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

The most far-reaching promise of God’s future grace is found in Romans 8:32. This is the most precious verse in the Bible to me. Part of the reason is that the promise in it is so all-encompassing that it stands ready to help me at virtually every turn in my life and ministry. There never has been, and never will be, a circumstance in my life where this promise is irrelevant.

By itself that all-encompassing promise would probably not make the verse most precious. There are other such sweeping promises such as Psalm 84:11: “No good thing does [God] withhold from those who walk uprightly.” And 1 Corinthians 3:21–23, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” It is difficult to overstate the spectacular sweep and scope of these promises.

But what puts Romans 8:32 in a class by itself is the logic that gives rise to the promise and makes it as solid and unshakable as God’s love for his infinitely admirable Son.

Romans 8:32 contains a foundation and guarantee that is so strong and so solid and so secure that there is absolutely no possibility that the promise could ever be broken. This is what makes it an ever-present strength in times of great turmoil. Whatever else gives way, whatever else disappoints, whatever else fails, this all-encompassing promise of future grace can never fail.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . . ” If this is true, says the logic of heaven, then God will most surely give all things to those for whom he gave his Son!