God answers prayer in one of three ways: “yes,” “no,” or “yes, but not yet.” This last reply seems to be the most dreaded— sometimes even more than an outright “no.” However, patience is an important trait for the Christian, as Scripture stresses repeatedly in stories, psalms, and epistles.
Waiting on the Lord to unlock a door is always wiser than attempting to pry it open ourselves, even when the delay has been long. After God promised him descendants (Gen. 12:2), Abraham lived for 25 years with an answer of “not yet.” After that quarter-century, the answer finally became “yes.” But meanwhile, Abraham and Sarah came up with their own plan to get an heir—Sarah’s servant Hagar bore Ishmael. The couple may have convinced themselves they were “helping” God live up to His prophecy, but really they were disobeying. The consequences were disastrous. Bitterness and blame affected every member of the family (Gen. 16:4-6; Gen. 21:9-10). What’s more, Ishmael’s people lived in enmity with their neighbors, and that hostility persists in the Middle East today (Gen. 21:9-14; Gen. 25:18).
Our patience gives God time to prepare the opportunity on the other side of a closed door. Even if we could force our way by manipulating circumstances, we would not be happy with what we find there. No one in Abraham’s camp was satisfied with the situation they created! We can have contentment and joy only when we access the Lord’s will at the very moment He ordained. The blessings we find on the other side of an open door are always worth the wait.
Bible in One Year: Ezekiel 26-28
Read: 1 Chronicles 16:11–18, 28–36
Bible in a Year: Psalms 143–145; 1 Corinthians 14:21–40
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.—Colossians 4:2
“Will we see any snakes?”
Allan, a young boy in our neighborhood, asked that question as we started on a hike by the river near our home.
“We never have before,” I answered, “but we might! So let’s ask God to keep us safe.” We paused, prayed together, and kept walking.
Several minutes later my wife, Cari, suddenly took a quick step backward, narrowly avoiding a poisonous copperhead partially coiled on the path ahead. We waited as the snake left the trail, giving it a wide berth. Then we paused and thanked God nothing had happened. I believe that through Allan’s question, God had prepared us for the encounter, and our prayer was part of His providential care.
Our brush with danger that evening brings to mind the importance of David’s words: “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chron. 16:11). This advice was part of a psalm celebrating the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. It recounts God’s faithfulness to His people in their struggles throughout history, reminding them to always praise Him and “cry out” to Him (v. 35).
What does it mean to “seek [God’s] face”? It means we turn our hearts toward Him in even the most mundane moments. Sometimes our prayers are answered differently than our asking, but God is faithful come what may. Our Good Shepherd will direct our paths and keeps us in His mercy, strength, and love. May we declare our dependence on Him. —James Banks
Prayer imparts the power to walk and not faint. Oswald Chambers
INSIGHT: Recall an occasion when you sought “God’s face,” when you “look[ed] to the LORD and his strength” (1 Chron. 16:11). What caused you to call and depend on God? How did the Lord respond to you? Sim Kay Tee
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Being born again is a matter so mysterious, that human words cannot describe it.” He continues to explain this divine act: “Being born in a Christian land and being recognized as professing the Christian religion is of no avail whatever.”
Today’s passage focuses on a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, who came in search of Jesus. The Pharisees were a respected religious group within Judaism. Nicodemus would have kept the law and been deeply familiar with Scripture. Although he approached Jesus under the cover of night, he also spoke with a measure of respect, calling Him “Rabbi” (v. 2).
Nicodemus admitted that anyone who performed the miracles Jesus did must surely be from God. Nicodemus was not against Jesus, but neither did he fully understand that this was the Son of God. When Jesus began to speak to Nicodemus of spiritual things, the Pharisee was confused. He asked, “How can someone be born again when they are old?” (v. 4).
This concept of being born again was unfamiliar to Nicodemus. This respected religious teacher could not understand spiritual things: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light” (v. 19). Nicodemus, for all his good works and religious knowledge, was still walking in darkness.
John 3:16 is often quoted to explain salvation, and Jesus clearly states what it means to be born again: belief in the Son of God. Trusting in the person and work of Jesus brings eternal life. This salvation was freely offered to Nicodemus and to each of us as well. God has miraculously made a way for us to be born again.
APPLY THE WORD
Being born again means more than saying that Christianity is a good idea; rather, it is accepting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for your sins and was resurrected from the dead. This is the only way to have eternal life with God. If you haven’t trusted Christ, make today your spiritual birthday!
For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent].— Ephesians 1:5 (AMPC)
Why does God love us as imperfect as we are? Because He wants to—it pleases Him. It’s in His very nature to love us, no matter how sinful our actions may be.
God conquers evil with good (see Romans 12:21). He does that by pouring out His limitless grace upon us so that when we sin, His grace becomes greater than our sin. And just as it is impossible for God not to love, so it is impossible for us to do anything to keep Him from loving us.
God loves because that is His nature. He is love (see 1 John 4:8). He may not always love everything we do, but He does love us. God’s love is the power that forgives our sins, heals our emotional wounds and mends our broken hearts (see Psalm 147:3).
God’s love is unconditional; it is based on Him, not us! Once you realize that God loves you regardless of what you have or haven’t done, you can experience incredible breakthrough. You can quit trying to earn His love and simply receive it and enjoy it.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
A young Christian leader, who was probably more impressed with himself than he should have been, shared with me one day how he had difficulty in being humble about all of his talent. He was a better than average speaker and a reasonably gifted singer, he had a good mind and personality, and in his heart of hearts he knew that as a Christian he should be humble.
He said, “I spend many hours on my knees asking God to make me humble.” I responded, “I can save you a lot of prayer time in that regard if you are interested.” He assured me that he was. Whereupon I explained to him that every gift he possessed – personality, good mind, his ability to sing, speak, and other qualities – were all gifts of God and could be taken from him at any moment by a brain tumor or a car accident or plane crash or any of a thousand different things. Furthermore I reminded him that Scripture admonishes us to humble ourselves.
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart,” Andrew Murray said. “It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or irritated or sore or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed hope in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness when all around and above is trouble.”
Few Christians achieve such high standards, nevertheless it is an objective toward which we all should strive as long as we live, following the example of our Lord recorded in Philippians, chapter 2.
To be poor in spirit implies not only that we have a humble opinion of ourselves, but also that we recognize that we are sinners and have no righteousness of our own; that we are willing to be saved only by the grace and mercy of God; that we are willing to serve where God places us, to bear the burdens He allows and to stay in His hands and admit that we deserve no favor from Him.
As commonly interpreted, the word “blessed” means “happy.” You and I are assured of happiness when we are making conscious strides toward humility. All of this becomes possible as we yield to God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
Bible Reading: Matthew 5:17-20
TODAY’S ACTION POINT: With the help of the Holy Spirit I will consciously humble myself, asking Him to enable me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself as an act of humility and as a major factor in achieving the supernatural life.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. John 1:45-46
The literal definition of prejudice is to prejudge. Based on my experience with milkshakes, I can determine beforehand that a Chick-Fil-A peach milkshake will be fresh and refreshing. An okay prejudgment. But when I transfer my prejudgements with an air of snobbish superiority to a group of people, a geographic area or someone’s social status, I have crossed over into sinful prejudice. “Oh, you are not college educated, you must be intellectually inferior.” “You are rich, you must be dishonest and greedy or you are poor you must be ignorant and lazy.” My pride feeds my subtle prejudices. Pride is the patriarch of sins, only dethroned by a humble heart.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in the small farming community of Nazareth. Nathanael did not. He was an honest man, but a man nonetheless oozing in prejudice. His thought pattern might have been, “How can someone significant–the Messiah, come from an insignificant place like Nazareth?” His cavalier comments received a compliment from Jesus, “An Israelite with no deceit.” Jesus’ non-defensive, non-violent approach to being a victim of prejudice caused His offender to confess Him as Lord, “You are the Son of God.” A civil conversation can dissolve competing views into an examination of what Christ values.
Americans will celebrate work today by taking a day off work. What we will do instead: 150 million Americans will eat a hamburger, while 109 million will eat a hot dog. Forty percent of us will eat barbeque chicken; 37 percent will eat steak; 32 percent will eat ribs. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at work again.
In honor of today’s holiday, let’s look at work through the prisms of culture and Scripture. Consider three options:
One: Work for what you get because you work.
For many, work is a means to an end. We put in the hours to pay for what we do after hours. Our labor is purely transactional—work performed for money and benefits received.
Christians can approach work in the same way, serving God so God will serve us. Like the ancient Greeks, we can sacrifice to God to receive what we want in return. The more we do for him on earth, the more he will do for us on earth and in heaven—or so we think.
Two: Work because we are what we do.
A surveyor spoke to hundreds of people at a busy intersection, asking each the question, “Who are you?” Each person responded with what he or she did for a living: “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a pastor.” In our work-centered culture (Americans work almost 25 percent more hours than Europeans), we are measured by what we do and how well we do it.
Christians can view their work in the same way. Many pastors base their self-esteem on the affirmation of their people and numerical success of their church. Christians in any calling can define themselves by that calling.
Three: Partner with God for his glory and our good. (more…)