When It’s Hard to Pray

Text: Romans 8:18-27

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” —Romans 8:26

When I am communicating at one of our cross-cultural sports camps in Italy, Germany, or Dominican Republic, I always make sure to have a translator app on my phone. There have been many times I couldn’t speak in a foreign language, but thanks to technology, I could pull out that app and type in what I am saying and let the person read it off of my phone—and voilà, I am communicating though I don’t know the right native words to use.

Sometimes I feel like I’m unable to communicate and express my heart when I pray to my heavenly Father—and I’m not alone. Many of us struggle at times with prayer. But the apostle Paul wrote, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26–27).

How amazing is the gift of the Holy Spirit! Better than any technology or computer program, He clearly communicates my thoughts and desires in harmony with the Father’s purposes. The work of the Spirit not only makes prayer work, that intercession also carries us when our hearts fail.

Perhaps you are going through a time in which you find it difficult to talk to God. It’s comforting to know that God doesn’t expect us to have all the right words. He is merely looking for childlike faith in our hearts—the simple and innocent trust, even naïve dependence, that our heavenly Father is going to take care of us no matter how bleak a situation looks. In those times when our hearts fail and words are not to be found, God meets us in our weakness. The Spirit searches our hearts and speaks on our behalf. The Psalmist said (Psalm 73:26):

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

PRAYER

Father, I thank You for the gift of Your Spirit and the privilege of prayer. Help me to lean on Your Spirit in moments when I don’t know how to pray. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for having the words when I don’t. Thank you for meeting me in my weakest and bleakest of moments—interceding for me when I get stuck. My flesh and my heart may fail, but YOU are my portion forever. I praise YOU that I am never, ever left to my own devices. I am YOURS, and YOU carry me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. In what circumstances might a Christian find it hard to pray?
  2. What is the relationship between God and the Holy Spirit, and how does the Holy Spirit help us in our weakness? (Romans 8:26-27)
  3. What does God promise to us that can make any suffering bearable?
  4. What do we learn about God’s love for us when we realize that the Holy Spirit helps us even when we cannot pray?
  5. How can you lean on the Holy Spirit as you seek to abide in the Father’s love this week?

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Easter Devotion: God Isn’t Holding Out On You

Text: John 11:1-44

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces.” —Isaiah 25:8

Have you ever felt like God was holding out on you? Martha might’ve felt that way after her brother had died.

The text tells us that Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus. They spent a great deal of time and fellowship together. But when a crisis hit, Jesus didn’t exactly rush upon the scene to prevent a tragedy. Lazarus fell ill, and instead of sweeping in with a miraculous healing, Jesus tarried a few days before coming. Lazarus ended up dying and Jesus didn’t even get there in time for the funeral!

To make sure that the readers of this story don’t misconstrue Martha and Mary for not having enough faith to receive a miracle, the Bible makes it clear that these were full-fledged worshipers and devoted disciples (John 11:2). If any folks were worthy of a miracle, you’d think it would be these sisters who followed Jesus so faithfully. But it seemed like Jesus was holding out on them.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha laments to Jesus after he finally shows up. Why did Jesus delay in coming and allow a friend whom He loved so dearly to die? In Jesus’ response to Martha, we get one of the most precious verses of hope and promise. Jesus said in John 11:25-26…

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

As all the others who had been grieving gathered together at the tomb where Lazarus lay, Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out,” and “the man who had died came out.”

I don’t know what you may be going through in this moment, or how it will all pan out; yet one thing of which I am certain is that Jesus does know. He even knows the pain in the process as He weeps with us (John 8:35). He isn’t late as you might suppose, but He is surely sovereign over the timeline of your life. His timing is always perfect. Inevitably, you will see that whatever has “died” in your life will be raised again to redemption and glory. In that moment, Jesus will also rejoice with you as He has wept with you.

Martha wanted healing; Jesus wanted resurrection. His plans are always so much bigger than ours. His disciples learned that lesson after their plans were shattered at Christ’s crucifixion. They wanted to save Jesus from the cross, yet He purposed to destroy the power of sin and death through the cross. We do well to remember that the resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a last word, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter reminds us that you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.

PRAYER

God, you are to be praised. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus you have destroyed once and for all the sting of death. No longer is the grave the end, but it has become the womb for birthing the greatest of all miracles—a restored fellowship with YOU and a total victory over all that is in this world. Thank you for the salvation afforded to us through the resurrected Christ.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

    1. What do the people you know fear most in life?
    2. What sort of miracle would be the most spectacular to witness?
    3. Under what circumstances have you doubted the power of God?
    4. How did Jesus show Martha the importance of her faith? (John 11:40)
    5. What specific situation do you need to trust God to work out in your life?

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When At a Crossroads in Life, Consider…

Text: Deuteronomy 28:1-68

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life.” —Deuteronomy 30:19

Last week my wife and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the dorms where our daughter is going to be a freshman in college this fall. It’s a bittersweet moment for me as a father—watching my child leave the home and take on more independence. Though she will surely be in a good place and in the Lord’s hands, I have to admit that it’s still not easy letting her go. Frankly, it’s quite hard.

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses is at a place where he must let the people go whom he has been shepherding for many years. The transition is inevitable. It was time for Israel to step foot on the soil of their new habitation—the long awaited Promised Land—and Moses wasn’t going over with them.

Many Israelites were filled with uncertainty. It was well documented that there were “giants” in the land, but there were also many other unknowns. It was a critical transition into a new chapter in which God would present them with a crossroads of particular outcomes—outcomes of blessings if they made the choice to obey Him, or outcomes of curses if they chose not to obey Him.

At this pivotal moment, Moses assured the people that God had already appointed overwhelming favor that would overtake them. The unambiguous condition was “if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1). An obedient Israel would be blessed everywhere—in their homes… in their farms… in the city… in the country… when you come in… when you go out. God’s purpose in blessing Israel was greater than merely enriching the nation for it’s own sake; God intended to glorify Himself through blessing them. The antithesis would be that their disobedience meant robbing God of that opportunity of glorifying Himself through them.

This chapter can be quite intimidating if we read it as a list of do’s and don’ts rather than God’s intended aim that the people would simply abide in Him by serving “the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart” (Deuteronomy 28:47). Therefore this crossroads isn’t about passageways of perfection, but rather journey’s of grace-filled joy. God wants to be our heart’s desire. And if He is that primary passion, we will want to follow Him faithfully each and every day as His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

When you consider the crossroads that God has put before you, know that He never intended for you to take that journey alone. The same Jesus who died on the cross to take the punishment for your sins (disobedience) and bear Deuteronomy’s curse for you at Calvary (Galatians 3:13), is the same Jesus who intercedes for you today at the right hand of the Father. He is pulling for blessings to overtake you as you walk in union with Him! In Christ’s all-sufficient grace, the Savior says, “Take my hand, let’s walk this path together. Through all the ups and downs, I will never let you go. I will never leave you. I promise.”

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for the life you have set before me. You have invited me into a journey where you alone have already and sufficiently met all the criteria for me to live in union with you. Because of Christ’s blood, and His grace alone, I can share in this blessed journey. Please continue to grace my heart that it’s primary passion and desire would be to serve you with gladness and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What choices are the most difficult for you to make?
  2. In Deuteronomy 28, what blessings would Israel receive for following God’s instructions? What curses would be the outcomes of disobedience?
  3. How might small decisions for God have an impact on bigger faith decisions for God?
  4. What confidence should it give us that when facing a particular crossroads in life, Christ has already given us the victory and appointed blessings to overtake us?
  5. What choices do you need to make this week that will honor God with the glory He longs to gain from your life?

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Overcoming Grasshopper Vision

Text: Numbers 13:25-33

“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” —Numbers 13:33

Have you ever felt stuck between two chapters in your life—a place where it doesn’t seem like there is much purpose and a place where you feel that God, like a middle school crush who failed to call you, has subtly moved on without you?

The tribes of Israel were in such a place in Numbers 13. They had witnessed the power of God in saving their families from Egyptian bondage, leading them out of slavery and steering them on toward the possession of their very own Promised Land. But they hadn’t gotten there yet! They were stuck in between and their faith was beginning to fail.

It was in this wilderness place that Moses sent out twelve spies to seek out the land they had been promised and to bring back a report to the rest of the people. The last instruction he gave them was: “Be of good courage…” (Numbers 13:20). Tragically, the spies came back with “grasshopper” vision—all but two of them (Joshua and Caleb) referenced the size of the giants and said, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33). Woefully, their adversaries saw them the same way they saw themselves!

These spies discouraged the hearts of the people by obsessing over the size of the giants in the land and the impossibility of the mission that God had given them.

Grasshopper vision is what happens when our eyes look at our problems or obstacles in regard to their intimidating size or our own personal inadequacy, rather than looking at them in regard to the greatness and the all-sufficient power of our God. People with grasshopper vision view God in proportion to the enormity of their problems rather than viewing their problems in contrast to the size of their God.

Caleb, however, seconded by Joshua, encouraged them to go forward (Numbers 13:30). He does not say, “Let us go up and conquer it”; but, “Let us go up at once and occupy [possess] it.” The former relies on self while the latter relies on God to do what He already promised to do. It later says of Caleb: “Therefore Hebron [the mountain once possessed by giants] became the inheritance of Caleb… because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 14:14).

“Difficulties that are in the way of salvation, dwindle and vanish before a lively, active faith in the power and promise of God,” noted Matthew Henry. “All things are possible, if they are promised, to him that believes; but carnal sense and carnal professors are not to be trusted. Unbelief overlooks the promises and power of God, magnifies every danger and difficulty, and fills the heart with discouragement. May the Lord help us to believe! We shall then find all things possible.”

God isn’t calling you to conquer anything. He is simply asking you to “occupy” what He has already promised and conquered Himself. He wants you to occupy a faith-filled mindset. He wants you to occupy a God-size vision. He wants you to occupy a believer’s heart. He wants you to occupy a trust-in-Him spirit—an overcoming attitude. He wants you to occupy a peace in the midst of the storm. I have said this before but it bears repeating: In Christ, we don’t fight for victory; we fight from victory. We occupy what Christ has already wrought for us on the cross.

Whatever giants may be standing before you today, let them not meet in you a grasshopper mentality. Let them tremble at the reality of a faith-filled worshiper completely occupied by the strength, size, and greatness of their God!

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for your greatness—the sovereignty to promise and the sufficiency to come through. Let us not waver in unbelief or be crippled by grasshopper vision. May our hearts swell with faith as we begin to see those problems shrink in proportion to the immensity of WHO you are. You are all-powerful and all sufficient, and you have called us into a journey of seeing the impossible give way to miracles. We worship you today as the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What kinds of risks are involved in standing up for what you believe?
  2. What did Moses tell the spies to look for and what were they told to bring back? (Numbers 13:18-20)
  3. What did Caleb say and how did the other spies react to Caleb’s comment? (13:30-31)
  4. How can trusting in Christ give you the courage to face difficulties this coming week?
  5. In what ways can you shift from fighting for victory to fighting from victory? How can this shape your worship?

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What Rivals Your Love for God?

Text: 1 John 2:7-17, Hebrews 12:1-3

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” —1 John 2:15

“Unrivaled: Earnhardt vs. Gordon” is a new documentary that highlights the 90s rivalry between NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Though the drivers were combatants on the track, they were friends outside their cars. The documentary contrasts their family backgrounds, driving styles, paint schemes and fashion sense. But perhaps the most polarizing aspect of their personas was that of their loyal fan bases. The film highlights how it was virtually impossible for fans to love one without hating the other.

As we run our race in life, there are things all around us that rival our relationship with Christ. This imagery is well portrayed by the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)

This exhortation reminds us that running our race with endurance involves a shedding of things that would hinder our growth, our progress, and our missional influence. Love for God and love for the world cannot coexist.

John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This passage should not be taken as an extreme rejection of everything in the world, for “God… loved the world” (John 3:16), but rather a warning about attaching ourselves to pursuits, affinities, and idols that would rival our passion for God. John doesn’t demonize God’s whole created order, but gives examples of what a believer should guard against—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.”

The world wants our love—that which dictates how we spend our time, our attention, and our money. It rivals God’s call on our lives to seek first His kingdom, to love Him with all of our being, and to serve others in generosity and compassion. Saint Augustine captured the heart of this when he prayed, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”

Is there an affinity in your life right now that is rivaling your love for the Father? Your deliverance from that competitor begins, not so much in the effort of giving up this or that, but in seeing the world through God’s eyes—recognizing that everything opposed to God is under a death sentence. For “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the less our affection will be for those things that rival him. We can then say with the psalmist:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26 NIV)

PRAYER

God, be my portion in this life and the one to come. There is nothing in this world that can compete with you. Let nothing rival my love for you and your kingdom. You have my heart, my vision, and my desires. I am wholly Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What makes TV commercials and advertisements so appealing?
  2. Which of these three most clearly motivates the people you know: (1) the drive to meet their physical needs, (2) the drive to get things, or (3) the drive to succeed?
  3. Why did John tell us not to love the world? (1 John 2:15-17)
  4. What would you categorize as “the desires of the flesh,” “the desires of the eyes,” and “the pride of life”?
  5. What in your life might be rivaling your love for the Father today? What steps can you take to find satisfaction in God over the things of the world?

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Wisdom is Crying Out to You

Text: Proverbs 8:1-36

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” —Proverbs 8:1

I have a friend and colleague in Northern Ireland who loves to awaken young people at summer camp to the melody of an old traditional children’s song. Each morning he grabs the megaphone, stands in the center of camp, and with the morning fog hovering over the mountains as his backdrop he sings so that the whole countryside can hear:

So rise and shine
And give God the glory glory
Rise and shine
And give God the glory glory
Rise and shine and give God the glory glory
Children of the Lord

The children reluctantly rise to a voice that beckons them to wipe the crust from their eyes and liven their senses.

In Proverbs 8, we hear a voice crying out as widely and broadly as possible “to the children of man,” like a prophetess summoning those within earshot to navigate through the world’s fog and find “prudence” and “sense.” Wisdom is personified as a noble woman rising early in the morning and calling out to the “simple ones” to find “life” and “obtain favor” from the Lord—even offering a stern warning that he who fails to do so “injures himself” (vv. 35-36).

One of the main purposes of the wisdom principles in Proverbs is to align a person’s heart with what the Lord loves, also bringing contrast to what wisdom hates (and therefore what the Lord hates). The call is for a person to examine his or her heart, to guard it from such things, to walk in accord with what the Lord loves, and to seek wisdom for all of life’s interactions. Whether a person’s heart and path are aligned with wisdom is a recurring theme of this chapter (vv. 8:17, 21, 36).

“I love those who love me” reinforces the call to seek wisdom, for she will show favor and then grant multiplied benefits. “Those who seek me diligently find me” reinforces the promise that the Lord will give wisdom and its benefits (vv. 8:18–21, 35). “Riches and honor” come with wisdom, but also something even greater: a kind of “enduring wealth and righteousness” (v. 18), a “fruit” that is “better than gold” and “silver” (v. 19), and an abundant “inheritance” (v. 21). One professor noted: “Paradoxically when wealth is sought it corrupts, but when wisdom is sought, edifying wealth is given (see 1 Kings 3:4–15).” While this description would include any material blessings that come to those who seek wisdom, these things cannot compare to the greater value of what is promised here: life and favor from the Lord (v. 35).

Not everything in life is easy to figure out. How can I be a better parent, spouse, or neighbor? What should I major in? Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? Should I make this financial investment? How can I resolve this relational conflict? How do I honor the Lord with my business? Mr. Google may have a wealth of information, but he doesn’t necessarily have wisdom.

We don’t need to buy into the lie that wisdom is elusive or beyond us. God has never been veiled or cryptic in His leading. His word is clear: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5-6). He loves to bring clarity into our confusion. He promises to direct “the steps of the godly” because “He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). Sometimes we just fail to ask Him. Ask in faith and you shall receive!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you are the Author of all wisdom, and I’m trusting that you will make this path straight. Please give me insight, clarity, and instruction for what I am facing in this moment. Your Word says you give generously without finding fault, and I believe that promise. I ask for wisdom in faith and I trust you to lead me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What one possession do you value more than any other?
  2. In Proverbs 8, why do you think wisdom was depicted as being out in the streets of the city?
  3. What keeps us from asking God for wisdom? What role does faith play in asking God for wisdom?
  4. What is something that you have mistakenly valued more than wisdom?
  5. What is a big question mark in your life right now? How will you go about seeking God’s wisdom this week?

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George Mueller: Faith in God’s Providence

Text: Genesis 24:1-67

“The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way.” —Genesis 24:40

What happens when an ordinary person puts all of his or her faith in an extraordinary God? Well, extraordinary things!

The life of George Mueller is a prime example. He has been described as the reformed playboy who became a missionary to the street orphans of 19th century England. The bawdy youngster found himself in prison for stealing when he was 16 years old. After a glorious conversion from a life of sin and selfish ambition, he became a prominent evangelist and philanthropist. He built five large orphan houses and cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. He provided educational opportunities for them to the point that he was even accused by some of empowering the poor to rise above their accepted status in British life.

Additionally, Mueller established 117 schools that offered Christian education to more than 120,000 young people. He did follow up work for D. L. Moody, preached for Charles Spurgeon, and inspired the missionary faith of Hudson Taylor. Yet perhaps what is most remarkable is the way that he went about his work.

Three weeks after his marriage, he and his wife decided to depend on God alone to supply their needs and to never again approach people about them. Mueller didn’t draw attention to his charity work by asking others to support his life-changing ministry to needy children. Instead he depended solely, and relentlessly, on God’s response to his prayers of faith to supply all things. Rather than petitioning donations from people, he simply took all of those petitions directly to the throne of God—and he saw God provide in the most unorthodox ways.

On one occasion when the housemother of the orphanage informed Mueller that there was no food for them to eat, he asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited, trusting with a confidence that God would provide. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed so he asked Mueller if he could use some free milk. The man of God smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.

Mueller loved to quote Psalm 84:11…

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
     the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
     from those who walk uprightly.

The Mueller life and legacy has proved to the world the truth of Philippians 4:19-20—“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

George Mueller denied that he had the gift of faith but would point others to the grace of faith, saying that God had given him the mercy in “being able to take God by His word and to rely upon it.”

Abraham (the “father of faith”) is considered the poster child for trusting in the promises and relying on the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 24, he sends out his servant on a long journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, giving Eliezer this bold assertion: “The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way” (Genesis 24:40). Not “might” or “could” or “perhaps,” but the Almighty “will” show up. Abraham never doubted that God would lead his servant to the right woman for Isaac. As you read this chapter, try to count the many divine providences that occur—all because Abraham believed.

Mueller once said, “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up. And the answers are always coming.” Your answers are coming, beloved. They are coming because your God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord, before whom you have walked, will show up. Trust Him!

PRAYER

God, it is so easy to read about men and women of faith and to think of them as great or gifted people. But the truth is that they were just ordinary people who took you at your word and experienced extraordinary outcomes. They believed your promises, trusted your character, and relied on your faithfulness. Help me to do the same. Teach me to be utterly dependent on you for all things in my life. Grace me with the mercy of faith where it is lacking in my heart. I love you Lord. I trust you to show up and to show up big! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Where would you like for God to show up big in your life right now?
  2. Why do you think it was so important to Abraham that his son would marry the right woman?
  3. How did God respond to Abraham’s faith and Eliezer’s prayers? (Genesis 24:15-25)
  4. When was the last time God specifically answered one of your prayers?
  5. For what major decisions will you ask God to give you guidance this week? In what way will you demonstrate trust in His provision?

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God Didn’t Make a Mistake With You

Text: Hebrews 11:1-40

“Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” —Hebrews 11:16

I once heard a missionary say, “When God called me, I thought for sure He had made His first mistake,” underlining his initial feelings of inadequacy. But if we learn anything from those difference makers in Hebrews 11 who rocked their world, we come to understand they were very flawed people. They certainly weren’t specimens of perfection. In fact, many of them failed often. I imagine they also had feelings of unworthiness.

The men and women we read about in what some describe as this “Hall of Faith” are not there because they were great people; they are there because they had faith in a great God. Consider them and others mentioned in the Bible. Abraham was the father of faith and yet he lied twice about Sarah being his wife because, well, he lacked faith. Their son Isaac did the same thing. Sarah laughed at God’s promise of a child and then denied she laughed. Isaac’s son Jacob lied, connived, and manipulated.

Noah got drunk. Samson was immoral and impulsive. Gideon was timid and afraid. Rahab was a prostitute. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Elijah was depressed and suicidal at one point. Jonah ran from God. The Samaritan woman was divorced more than once. Peter outright denied Christ in public. These people messed up, but God used them despite their flaws and failures—despite their past.

God doesn’t want us getting stuck in a pit of unworthiness; He wants us to get past our past. Past our fears. Past our shame. Past our regrets. Past our complacency. Past our excuses. He offers restoration and redemption for those who are contrite enough to admit their inadequacies, walk in repentance, and put their faith fully in Christ and the sufficiency of His righteousness alone.

Maybe you’ve struggled with feelings of inadequacy, found yourself in a lapse of faith, or felt stuck in the mire of failure. We need to remember that God never gives up on us. The same God who bankrupted heaven in sending His Son into this world to shed His sinless blood on Calvary’s cross for your salvation is the same God who will move any mountain and cross any sea to finish the work He began in you (Philippians 1:6).

God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew what He was doing when He chased you down. He knew what He was getting into with all the drama in your life—and yet He still pursued you. He called you, beloved, and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). He will bring your redemption story to completion. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

God, you have never made a mistake. Your calling on my life is unapologetically without regret. You bankrupted heaven to bring me into your family and you will stop at nothing to ensure that your work is completed in my life. What an awesome avalanche of grace you have initiated! Thank you for loving me withal my fears, flaws, and failures. Help me to rise above them all and serve you fully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What do you consider the greatest example of faith you have ever seen? Why?
  2. With which characters named in Hebrews 11 would you most like and least like to trade places? Why?
  3. How do you think those individuals commended in this chapter were looked upon by those of their day?
  4. When have you felt trapped by feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness?
  5. This week, how can you shift your focus from your own insufficiency to the all-sufficient God of your life?

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    Thanksgiving Family Devotional

    Text: Luke 17:11-19

    “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” —1 Thessalonians 5:18

    In her autobiography, Corrie ten Boom described a horrific time she and her sister experienced in a Nazi concentration camp during the early 1940s. On one occasion they were forced to take off their clothes during an inspection. Corrie stood in line feeling defiled and forsaken. Suddenly, she remembered that Jesus had hung naked on the cross. Struck with wonder and worship, Corrie whispered to her sister, “Betsie, they took His clothes too.” Betsie gasped and said, “Oh, Corrie, … and I never thanked Him.”

    In Luke 17:11-19, we read a passage that appears to be a simple account of Jesus working a healing miracle. But there is also a contrast with this incident and other miracles that Jesus performed, since the healing itself is not emphasized as much as the reaction to it.

    Lepers of ancient society were rejected and treated as outcasts. They were required to live outside the city in leper camps (Numbers 5:2-3) and were to cry out to warn others to keep away from them as they walked the streets (Leviticus 13:45-46). We can’t even begin to imagine their sense of shame and loss of all dignity… humanity. In utter desperation, these ten lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” he said. As they went they were all healed—all ten of them. Then only one of them—a Samaritan—upon realizing he had been healed, turned back with a loud voice of praise, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave him thanks.

    Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

    God’s blessings can be appreciated or underappreciated. One of the signs of a maturing faith is that it continues to react to the wonders of God with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. As matter of fact, if we ever find that our faith is no longer moved with awe and wonder at the living God then our faith has most likely stagnated. We might be lukewarm, or worse—even backslidden.

    It is too easy to slip into cruise control on our spiritual journey; we lose that wide-eyed wonder, take for granted the incessant works of our Lord, and have our hearts become dull. In this state of complacency, God’s works are thought of more in past tense rather than present tense. Yet in Psalm 68:19 we find a worshiper praising God because he understood that God—who daily bears us up—is always working on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

    Cory Asbury’s lyrics attest, “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” keeps chasing me down. It’s a relentless pursuit that never ceases. The more I am aware of this unfailing love, the more I am filled with awe-struck wonder—worship. Praise. Thanksgiving.

    We can learn much from the reaction of a grateful Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy. Praise comes very naturally when you focus on the living God. And there is no place for mediocrity in a soul that is filled with such praise and thanksgiving. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    Dear God, thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over our lives. You are the living God who daily bears us up—always working on our behalf, even behind the scenes when we are unaware. Forgive us for not thanking or praising you enough. If it’s been lost, please restore that wide-eyed wonder of WHO you are and what you are doing in us and around us. Renew our spirits that our cup would overflow with joy and praise this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. For what are you most thankful?
    2. What are some gratitude killers in the routine of our lives?
    3. In what ways do thankfulness or thanklessness correlate with our faith? What might they reflect about our faith?
    4. Where have you lost some wide-eyed wonder in your worship of Him?
    5. How can you cultivate a heart of praise and thanksgiving this week?

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    J.S. Bach: Soli Deo Gloria

    Text: Colossians 3:1-17

    “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:17

    Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded as one of the most brilliant composers of all time. From the Baroque era to present, his works have been revered for their musical complexities and stylistic innovations. Not a bad legacy for the musician who was once critiqued by a town councilor in describing his job candidacy: “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

    In 1685, Bach was born into a well-connected musical family from Eisenach, a town in central Germany that was strongly associated with Martin Luther and the German Reformation. As a child he learned violin, harpsichord, and organ. After becoming an orphan at age 10, the youngster lived with his eldest brother for several years while using music to express his innermost thoughts and feelings. His gift was not hidden for long as he landed his first job as a church organist when he was seventeen years old. When Bach played music he felt his soul praising God, once noting that the chief end of all music “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

    At one church where he worked, the people began to complain about the music he had been composing, saying it was “too showy” and sinful. Their criticisms cut him deeply. Bach was stunned, attesting “my music comes from the heart as a humble offering to God… no matter what musical style I use.” From this season of pruning came a practice that would ultimately mark his legacy for generations to come. Whenever he began a new composition, he bowed his head and prayed:

    “Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.”

    Before writing even one note, Bach etched across the top of the page the letters JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase). Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music,” he believed. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria)—praying that each piece of music would humbly proclaim “To God Alone be the Glory.”

    As part of Paul’s “Put on the New Self” address to Christ-followers in Colossae (Colossians 3:1-17), believers are urged to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2); to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (v.12); to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (v. 16). The variety here suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship whether in the assembly or in the home. And most importantly—“whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v.17).

    Bach had his own unique way of reminding himself the importance of these words—setting the mind’s affection toward that which is pleasing and glorifying to God in everything, word or deed. How might you be able to mark your days with “all for the glory of God” as the signature of your effort and activity? What could become your initials for asking Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work? What might your life look like if you covered each piece of your days with that same prayer? What kind of spontaneous worship might that elicit? Imagine the effect of your to-do list with “JJ” at the top and “SDG” at the bottom. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

    PRAYER

    Lord Jesus, I need your help. Apart from you I can do nothing of any significance or lasting effect. Help me to find my joy in doing everything for your glory alone. Teach me how to practice this in my daily approach to life. In your name and for your honor, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. Where did Paul tell the Colossians to turn their attention? (Colossians 3:1)
    2. How were the Colossian believers called to clothe themselves? (vv.12-17)
    3. What is one principle that ought to guide everything we do? (V.17)
    4. If you consistently set your affection on Christ, how would your life be different?
    5. How can you be mindful to ask for Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work this week?

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