Tag Archives: religion

God’s Purpose for Adversity

 

Have you ever wondered why the Lord allows tragedy, sickness, and other suffering in our lives? Part of the answer lies in the fact that we inhabit a fallen world; the sin of Adam and Eve altered God’s original creation. However, the good news is that God uses adversity to show us our profound need for Him.

The Old Testament saint Jacob experienced something that forever changed how he related to God. The Lord weakened him physically to strengthen him spiritually. In a similar way, God wants to use adversity in our lives to draw us into a closer relationship with Him.

Jacob’s Journey

Read Genesis 32:1-32.

As Jacob traveled to the land of his parents, what troublesome news came to him (Gen 32:6-8)?

Why would Jacob expect the worst from his brother? (See Genesis 27:30-42 if necessary.)

On a practical level, how did Jacob prepare to meet his brother (Gen. 32:4-8, Gen. 32:13-20)?

Jacob also turned to the Lord in prayer. Summarize each section of his petition (vv. 9-12).

Example: v. 9—Jacob reminded God of His promise to prosper him.

v. 10

v. 11

v. 12

From Jacob’s prayer, what can you learn about how to approach God regarding your own problems?

After Jacob sent his family away (v. 23), he wrestled with a mysterious man. At first, he may have thought he was fighting one of Esau’s men, but later, he says he saw God (v. 30). In a similar way, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing how the Lord is at work in adversity. That can happen when we are busy blaming other people, ourselves, or the Devil.

What difficulty are you facing right now?

Who or what do you have a tendency to blame for your problems?

What purpose might God have for your hardship?

As the fight continued, the man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. This may have alerted Jacob to the fact that he was wrestling with a supernatural being. He determined to hold on until he received a blessing (v. 26).

When we are facing adversity, we may need to wrestle with God—that is, stay at the throne of grace and mercy until we have what we need from Him (Heb. 4:14-16).

In your time alone with God, do you tend to wait until you hear from Him or sense His comforting presence?  Why or why not?

Many scholars believe the man Jacob wrestled was the pre-incarnate Christ (Jesus before He was born as a baby). Others think Jacob fought an angel. Either way, this supernatural being changed the patriarch’s name.  Jacob literally means “heel catcher,” an idiomatic expression that meant “trickster” or “supplanter.” Israel means “he struggles with God” or perhaps “a prince with God.”

Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Why do you think it was important for him to have a new name?

After this incident, Jacob walked with a limp (Gen. 32:31). With a dislocated hip, he would have found it almost impossible to defend himself against Esau. Jacob was forced to depend completely on God’s ability to protect him.

What does Esau’s greeting show about his feelings toward Jacob (Gen. 33:4)?

Jacob learned that he could rely on God more completely when he was weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The apostle wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

Give an example of a time when your weakness provided an opportunity to rely successfully on The Lord’s power.

How could your present adversity help you lean more fully on God?

As we depend on the Lord, we learn more about who He is. After God spoke to Job, revealing His character and incredible power, Job said, “I have heard of You . . . but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).

What new insight has hardship given to you about God or the Christian life?

Adversity shows us how much we lack spiritually. Give an example of a time when difficulty revealed your weaknesses and need for God.

Apart from the Father’s help, we can never handle all our problems, consistently resist temptation, or avoid bitterness. In fact, when we attempt to wage spiritual battles on our own, not only do we wander away from God, but we ultimately fail.

Jude 1:24 says that God “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.” According to this study, what is a believer’s role in handling problems, temptations, and suffering?

Prayer: Father, thank You for being willing to carry me through the challenges of life. Teach me to rely more on Your power rather than on my own strategies and coping abilities. Show me how You want to use the difficulties I face to draw me into a more intimate relationship with You. Amen.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “To preach deliverance to the captives.” / Luke 4:18

None but Jesus can give deliverance to captives. Real liberty cometh from him

only. It is a liberty righteously bestowed; for the Son, who is Heir of all

things, has a right to make men free. The saints honour the justice of God,

which now secures their salvation. It is a liberty which has been dearly

purchased. Christ speaks it by his power, but he bought it by his blood. He

makes thee free, but it is by his own bonds. Thou goest clear, because he bare

thy burden for thee: thou art set at liberty, because he has suffered in thy

stead. But, though dearly purchased, he freely gives it. Jesus asks nothing of

us as a preparation for this liberty. He finds us sitting in sackcloth and

ashes, and bids us put on the beautiful array of freedom; he saves us just as

we are, and all without our help or merit. When Jesus sets free, the liberty

is perpetually entailed; no chains can bind again. Let the Master say to me,

“Captive, I have delivered thee,” and it is done forever. Satan may plot to

enslave us, but if the Lord be on our side, whom shall we fear? The world,

with its temptations, may seek to ensnare us, but mightier is he who is for us

than all they who be against us. The machinations of our own deceitful hearts

may harass and annoy us, but he who hath begun the good work in us will carry

it on and perfect it to the end. The foes of God and the enemies of man may

gather their hosts together, and come with concentrated fury against us, but

if God acquitteth, who is he that condemneth? Not more free is the eagle which

mounts to his rocky eyrie, and afterwards outsoars the clouds, than the soul

which Christ hath delivered. If we are no more under the law, but free from

its curse, let our liberty be practically exhibited in our serving God with

gratitude and delight. “I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou

hast loosed my bonds.” “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”

 

Evening  “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I

will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” / Romans 9:15

In these words the Lord in the plainest manner claims the right to give or to

withhold his mercy according to his own sovereign will. As the prerogative of

life and death is vested in the monarch, so the Judge of all the earth has a

right to spare or condemn the guilty, as may seem best in his sight. Men by

their sins have forfeited all claim upon God; they deserve to perish for their

sins–and if they all do so, they have no ground for complaint. If the Lord

steps in to save any, he may do so if the ends of justice are not thwarted;

but if he judges it best to leave the condemned to suffer the righteous

sentence, none may arraign him at their bar. Foolish and impudent are all

those discourses about the rights of men to be all placed on the same footing;

ignorant, if not worse, are those contentions against discriminating grace,

which are but the rebellions of proud human nature against the crown and

sceptre of Jehovah. When we are brought to see our own utter ruin and ill

desert, and the justice of the divine verdict against sin, we no longer cavil

at the truth that the Lord is not bound to save us; we do not murmur if he

chooses to save others, as though he were doing us an injury, but feel that if

he deigns to look upon us, it will be his own free act of undeserved goodness,

for which we shall forever bless his name.

How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the

grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually

excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human

merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine

in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and,

consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but

adoringly rejoice in it.

Accepting God’s Plan

 

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23).

It has been wisely said that trying to improve on God’s plan is more pretentious than trying to improve the Mona Lisa with an ink pen. All you’d do is ruin the masterpiece.

The story of Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, is about two people who refused to ruin the masterpiece. They trusted God implicitly and did everything possible to see His plan for their son come to fruition.

Because of the number and might of the Hebrew people in Egypt, the pharaoh enslaved them and ordered that all male Hebrew babies be put to death. In direct defiance of that wicked edict, Moses’ parents hid their baby for three months, then placed him in a waterproofed basket along the banks of the Nile River near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. One can only imagine the faith it took for them to risk their own lives, as well as the life of their baby, by placing him into that basket and introducing him into the very household of the one who wanted all male Hebrew babies slain.

By God’s providence, Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby, took pity on him, and adopted him into her family. More than that, the Lord used Moses’ quick-thinking sister, Miriam, to arrange for Jochebed to nurse and care for her own son! That gave Moses’ family the opportunity to teach him of God’s promises for Israel to inherit the Promised Land, become a mighty nation, and be a blessing to all nations. They helped instill within Moses the faith in God that would later characterize his life.

You may never be called on to make the kind of sacrifice that Moses’ parents made, but no matter what the risks, remember God always honors your obedience.

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His plan for your life. Seek wisdom and grace to live accordingly.

For Further Study:  Read of Israel’s oppression and Moses’ birth in Exodus 1:1–2:10.

Seek the Lord

 

Psalm 27:4-8

My life was radically influenced by the example of my grandfather, who wholeheartedly sought the Lord. I wanted the same kind of relationship that he had with God, and I knew the only way this would happen was if I, too, earnestly sought Him. All these years later, I can truthfully say that the most exciting aspect of my life is getting on my face before God in intimate fellowship.

This kind of relationship won’t happen accidentally. It requires a deliberate decision to reset your priorities in order to make room for the pursuit of God. Intimacy with Him is not something that can be achieved in an inspiring weekend conference, nor can it be accomplished by reading a chapter or two in the Bible and praying for ten minutes a day. Seeking God is a persevering lifetime commitment–day by day, decade by decade.

Too many believers are satisfied to have a shallow relationship with the Lord. They’ll seek answers to prayer or relief in times of suffering but are unwilling to sit quietly for an extended period of time just getting to know Him through prayer and His Word. Yet the most important pursuit in a believer’s life is building a relationship with God. To forfeit this great blessing is a tragedy.

God doesn’t need anything from you, but He desires your loving devotion and intimate fellowship. Is that what you want too? If so, are you willing to make the necessary commitment? Seeking the Lord cannot be hurried. It will cost you time and effort, but the rewards are worth any sacrifice.

The Fountain of Youth?

 

It Starts with Caring

When he reached the age of 70, historian Will Durant said, “To live forever would be the greatest curse imaginable.”

Will we live forever? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Will our bodies live forever? No. Will our bodies cease to exist at one point? Absolutely. But the soul is immortal. Each one of us has a soul. It is the soul that gives each of us uniqueness and personality. . .and that part of us that will live forever.

Today, many people are searching for immortality, that elusive fountain of youth. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to accept the fact that life is passing and death is approaching. One day, you will wake up and realize you have more life behind you than you have in front of you. But the question we should be asking is not, “Can I find immortality?” Rather, it should be, “Where will I spend my immortality?”

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and have asked Him to forgive you of your sin, the Bible teaches that you will go immediately into the presence of God in heaven when you die. That is God’s promise to you.

But God not only promises life beyond the grave. He also promises life during life, not just an existence, but a life that’s worth living. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 NLT).

In Romans 5:17, the apostle Paul declares: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (NIV).

Reign in life! No matter what our circumstances, we are sons and daughters of the great King. He will watch over us through our days on earth, and take us home to be with Him when this brief life is over. That’s the hope and promise for all Christians. And that’s why the believer does not have to be afraid to die. . .or afraid to live.

WEEKEND BIBLE READING: Matthew 20-22; Matthew 23-25

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning   “The glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams.” /

Isaiah 33:21

Broad rivers and streams produce fertility, and abundance in the land. Places

near broad rivers are remarkable for the variety of their plants and their

plentiful harvests. God is all this to his Church. Having God she has

abundance. What can she ask for that he will not give her? What want can she

mention which he will not supply? “In this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts

make unto all people a feast of fat things.” Want ye the bread of life? It

drops like manna from the sky. Want ye refreshing streams? The rock follows

you, and that Rock is Christ. If you suffer any want it is your own fault; if

you are straitened you are not straitened in him, but in your own bowels.

Broad rivers and streams also point to commerce. Our glorious Lord is to us a

place of heavenly merchandise. Through our Redeemer we have commerce with the

past; the wealth of Calvary, the treasures of the covenant, the riches of the

ancient days of election, the stores of eternity, all come to us down the

broad stream of our gracious Lord. We have commerce, too, with the future.

What galleys, laden to the water’s edge, come to us from the millennium! What

visions we have of the days of heaven upon earth! Through our glorious Lord we

have commerce with angels; communion with the bright spirits washed in blood,

who sing before the throne; nay, better still, we have fellowship with the

Infinite One. Broad rivers and streams are specially intended to set forth the

idea of security. Rivers were of old a defence. Oh! beloved, what a defence is

God to his Church! The devil cannot cross this broad river of God. How he

wishes he could turn the current, but fear not, for God abideth immutably the

same. Satan may worry, but he cannot destroy us; no galley with oars shall

invade our river, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.

 

Evening   “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed

man.” / Proverbs 24:33-34

The worst of sluggards only ask for a little slumber; they would be indignant

if they were accused of thorough idleness. A little folding of the hands to

sleep is all they crave, and they have a crowd of reasons to show that this

indulgence is a very proper one. Yet by these littles the day ebbs out, and

the time for labour is all gone, and the field is grown over with thorns. It

is by little procrastinations that men ruin their souls. They have no

intention to delay for years–a few months will bring the more convenient

season–to-morrow if you will, they will attend to serious things; but the

present hour is so occupied and altogether so unsuitable, that they beg to be

excused. Like sands from an hour-glass, time passes, life is wasted by

driblets, and seasons of grace lost by little slumbers. Oh, to be wise, to

catch the flying hour, to use the moments on the wing! May the Lord teach us

this sacred wisdom, for otherwise a poverty of the worst sort awaits us,

eternal poverty which shall want even a drop of water, and beg for it in vain.

Like a traveller steadily pursuing his journey, poverty overtakes the

slothful, and ruin overthrows the undecided: each hour brings the dreaded

pursuer nearer; he pauses not by the way, for he is on his master’s business

and must not tarry. As an armed man enters with authority and power, so shall

want come to the idle, and death to the impenitent, and there will be no

escape. O that men were wise be-times, and would seek diligently unto the Lord

Jesus, or ere the solemn day shall dawn when it will be too late to plough and

to sow, too late to repent and believe. In harvest, it is vain to lament that

the seed time was neglected. As yet, faith and holy decision are timely. May

we obtain them this night.

Acknowledging God’s Sovereingty

 

“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:22).

God uses your present circumstances to accomplish His future purposes.

Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph was an heir to the covenant promises of God. His hope was firmly fixed on God, and he knew that some day his people would be at home in the Promised Land.

Although he spent all his adult life in Egypt, never seeing the Promised Land for himself, Joseph’s faith never wavered. At the end of his life, he instructed his brothers to remove his bones from Egypt and bury them in their future homeland (Gen. 50:25). That request was fulfilled in the Exodus (Ex. 13:19).

But Joseph’s faith wasn’t in the promises of future events only, for his life was marked by exceptional trust in God and personal integrity. His understanding of God’s sovereignty was unique among the patriarchs. Even though he suffered greatly at the hands of evildoers (including his own brothers, who sold him into slavery), Joseph recognized God’s hand in every event of his life and submitted to His will.

Joseph said to his brothers, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life . . . and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:5, 7-8). Later, after their father’s death, he reassured them again: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to . . . preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:19- 20).

The genius of Joseph’s faith was understanding the role that present circumstances play in fulfilling future promises. He accepted blessing and adversity alike because he knew God would use both to accomplish greater things in the future.

Joseph is the classic Old Testament example of the truth that God works all things together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). That’s a promise you can rely on too.

Suggestions for Prayer:   Reaffirm your trust in God’s sovereign work in your life.

For Further Study:  Read of Joseph’s life in Genesis 37-50.

The Key to the Good Things in Life

 

Ezra 8:22

The title of today’s devotion sounds like a self-help book that promises fame, wealth, and prestige if you’ll follow its ten easy steps. But God defines the good things in life quite differently, and they are achieved only by seeking Him. When we make Him the top priority in our lives, we can expect His blessings of:

An intimate love relationship. Those who earnestly seek God learn to know Him deeply and experience an amazing sense of oneness with Him. Then He’s no longer a distant deity but a close friend. As your commitment grows, you’ll experience a love that transcends any human relationship.

Satisfaction. The empty place in every heart can be filled only by the Lord. All earthly pursuits of pleasure or purpose fade in comparison to the satisfaction found in His presence.

Joy. When seeking the Lord is your priority, you’ll find a new joy that circumstances cannot steal, since it’s based in your relationship with Christ. Suffering and difficulties won’t devastate you, because you’ll trust Him and see the situation from His perspective.

God’s help. As today’s verse explains, the Lord’s hand of favor is upon those who seek Him. In fact, He delights in coming to their aid and providing for their needs.

Are these the kind of good things you’re experiencing, or have worldly values sidetracked you? Your thoughts reveal your true priorities. If you can go all day without thinking of the Lord, you’re not earnestly seeking Him. But when He’s the delight of your life, you won’t be able to forget Him.

When Theology Becomes Doxology

More than six hundred years ago, a young Italian laywoman sent into a dark world a quiet but reverberating voice. Catherine of Siena lived within a century marked by insecurity and fear, war and economic distress, terrorizing disease, and corruption within the Church. Yet, her short life was one marked by a passion for the truth, intense care for humanity, and a fervent life of prayer. Whether administering care at the bedsides of plague victims or writing letters to feuding church leaders, she emphatically declared in word and deed: “The way has been made. It is the doctrine of Christ crucified. Whoever walks along this way…reaches the most perfect light.”(1) Catherine prayed with a similar intensity: “O eternal God, I have nothing to give except what you have given me, so take my heart and squeeze it out over the face of the Bride.”(2) In the frailty of her own life, which was racked with great illness and sorrow, Catherine’s severe desire was that God would take her life as an offering, using her in whatever way to mend the brokenness she saw all around her.

Reading through a book of her collected prayers and letters recently, I was struck by a phrase the editor used to describe her. In Catherine’s prayers, the editor notes, “her theology becomes doxology.”(3) Namely, what Catherine professed to be true about God became in her prayers—and arguably in her life—an expression of praise to God. But shouldn’t all theology naturally lead us to doxology?

Throughout Christian story and verse we find lives touched by God’s goodness, moved by God’s mercy, transformed by God’s mighty presence. In these men and women, we find a profound correlation between profession and praise. This was certainly true of the young peasant girl who was used by God to bring into the world a child who would be named Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke we witness the thoughts of Mary erupt into song. She praises God for the things she knew to be true, for the promises that have touched her life, and the very character of the one to whom she sings:

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty One has done great things for me–
holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm…

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers (Luke 1:46-55).

Mary’s theology is intertwined in her doxology: God is a God who has acted in history and is present today. God is one who keeps promises and has indeed promised great things. Holy is his name.

When we come to know the God of heaven, when we see the Father’s character, when we glimpse the goodness of the Son or his merciful hand in our lives by the gift of the Spirit, there becomes within us a need to share it in word and deed. There becomes within us a need to praise God for all that we see and all that we know.

What do you know about God? What have you seen of the God’s character and known of God’s goodness? May this become your song. In your knowledge of God and in your knowing of Christ, may you find in word and deed, in prayer and song, your life a doxology to the truth of God’s holy name.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Mary O’Driscoll, Ed., Catherine of Siena (New City Press: Hype Park, NY, 1993), 13.
(2) Ibid., 11.
(3) Ibid., ii.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Fellowship with him.” / 1 John 1:6

When we were united by faith to Christ, we were brought into such complete

fellowship with him, that we were made one with him, and his interests and

ours became mutual and identical. We have fellowship with Christ in his love.

What he loves we love. He loves the saints–so do we. He loves sinners–so do

we. He loves the poor perishing race of man, and pants to see earth’s deserts

transformed into the garden of the Lord–so do we. We have fellowship with him

in his desires. He desires the glory of God–we also labour for the same. He

desires that the saints may be with him where he is–we desire to be with him

there too. He desires to drive out sin–behold we fight under his banner. He

desires that his Father’s name may be loved and adored by all his

creatures–we pray daily, “Let thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth,

even as it is in heaven.” We have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. We

are not nailed to the cross, nor do we die a cruel death, but when he is

reproached, we are reproached; and a very sweet thing it is to be blamed for

his sake, to be despised for following the Master, to have the world against

us. The disciple should not be above his Lord. In our measure we commune with

him in his labours, ministering to men by the word of truth and by deeds of

love. Our meat and our drink, like his, is to do the will of him who hath sent

us and to finish his work. We have also fellowship with Christ in his joys. We

are happy in his happiness, we rejoice in his exaltation. Have you ever tasted

that joy, believer? There is no purer or more thrilling delight to be known

this side heaven than that of having Christ’s joy fulfilled in us, that our

joy may be full. His glory awaits us to complete our fellowship, for his

Church shall sit with him upon his throne, as his well-beloved bride and

queen.

 

Evening “Get thee up into the high mountain.” / Isaiah 40:9

Each believer should be thirsting for God, for the living God, and longing to

climb the hill of the Lord, and see him face to face. We ought not to rest

content in the mists of the valley when the summit of Tabor awaits us. My soul

thirsteth to drink deep of the cup which is reserved for those who reach the

mountain’s brow, and bathe their brows in heaven. How pure are the dews of the

hills, how fresh is the mountain air, how rich the fare of the dwellers aloft,

whose windows look into the New Jerusalem! Many saints are content to live

like men in coal mines, who see not the sun; they eat dust like the serpent

when they might taste the ambrosial meat of angels; they are content to wear

the miner’s garb when they might put on king’s robes; tears mar their faces

when they might anoint them with celestial oil. Satisfied I am that many a

believer pines in a dungeon when he might walk on the palace roof, and view

the goodly land and Lebanon. Rouse thee, O believer, from thy low condition!

Cast away thy sloth, thy lethargy, thy coldness, or whatever interferes with

thy chaste and pure love to Christ, thy soul’s Husband. Make him the source,

the centre, and the circumference of all thy soul’s range of delight. What

enchants thee into such folly as to remain in a pit when thou mayst sit on a

throne? Live not in the lowlands of bondage now that mountain liberty is

conferred upon thee. Rest no longer satisfied with thy dwarfish attainments,

but press forward to things more sublime and heavenly. Aspire to a higher, a

nobler, a fuller life. Upward to heaven! Nearer to God!

“When wilt thou come unto me, Lord?

Oh come, my Lord most dear!

Come near, come nearer, nearer still,

I’m blest when thou art near.”

From Jacob to Israel

 

“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped” (Heb. 11:21).

Jacob’s life can be outlined in three phases: A stolen blessing, a conditional commitment, and a sincere supplication.

From the very beginning it was God’s intention to bless Jacob in a special way. But Jacob, whose name means “trickster,” “supplanter,” or “usurper,” tricked his father into blessing him instead of his older brother, Esau (Gen. 27:1-29). As a result, Jacob had to flee from Esau and spend fourteen years herding flocks for his Uncle Laban.

As Jacob traveled toward Laban’s house, God appeared to him in a dream (Gen. 28:10-22) and made him the recipient of the covenant promises first made to his grandfather, Abraham, then to his father, Isaac.

Jacob’s response is revealing, for he “made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God'” (vv. 20-21, emphasis added). Jacob’s conditional vow said in effect, “God, if you’ll give me what I want, I’ll be your man.”

Despite Jacob’s selfish motives, God did bless him, but He humbled him too. By the time he left Laban’s house, Jacob was ready to yield to God’s will unreservedly. Note his change of heart in Genesis 32:10: “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to [me].”

Then the Lord appeared in the form of a man and wrestled with Jacob all night (v. 24). Jacob refused to let Him go until he received a blessing. That wasn’t a selfish request, but one that came from a heart devoted to being all God wanted him to be. That’s when the Lord changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means “he fights or persists with God.”

Like Abraham and Isaac before him, Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Yet on his spiritual journey from Jacob to Israel, from selfishness to submission, he learned to trust God and await His perfect timing.

Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for grace to consistently pursue God’s will, and patience to wait on His perfect timing.

For Further Study: Read Jacob’s story in Genesis 27-35.

It Is Good to Give Thanks to God

Psalm 92:1-5

Have you ever wondered why the Bible repeatedly tells us to give thanks to the Lord? The main reason is because He deserves it. Everything you are and have comes from Him. He created you and is the One who keeps your heart beating. To claim your life as your own and to do as you please is the ultimate ingratitude. God created you to love Him and sacrificed enormously to deliver you from your sin and make you His child. Expressing thanksgiving to the Lord is a way of honoring Him by acknowledging all that He has done.

Most of us would probably have to admit that our prayers tend to be rather self-centered. We come with our list of requests, but how much time do we spend thanking God for what He has already accomplished? The psalmist advises us to begin each day by focusing on His lovingkindness as we look forward, trusting Him with all our concerns. Then in the evening, we should thank Him for His faithfulness and take note of all the ways He provided for our needs and guided our way.

Even if the day has brought pain or difficulty, we can still thank God for His presence as He carried us through, and for His promise to work everything out to our benefit (Rom. 8:28).

This week, take time to remember what the Lord has done for you, and express your thanks to Him. Be creative and think of all the ways you can show gratitude–then sing, praise, and joyfully worship Him. By keeping your focus on God, you can have an attitude of gratitude all day long.

The Indignity of Giving Thanks

 

The spirit of thanksgiving runs against the temptation we face as human beings to assert our self-sufficiency. Few of us enjoy the feeling of indebtedness; a fact easily demonstrated by our oft-unsolicited readiness to return a favor once someone has expressed kindness to us. I owe you one, I will return the favor, and I am in your debt are some of the ways in which we express this attitude. Such responses, together with the more modest one, please let me know what I can do for you, allow us to express gratitude without acknowledging the chronic shadow of dependence that so rudely dogs our entire threescore and ten.

Not only does this inability to express gratitude without our own autonomy stealing the show sometimes rob of us of the joy of affirming the contribution of others to our wellbeing, it also shrivels up our desire to worship God. An unexamined sense of self-sufficiency instills in us a subtle but false attitude of entitlement, thus making it difficult for us to accept the sense of vulnerability that is part of true gratitude. Ever since the tempter said to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “You will be like God,” human beings have never given up the temptation to either elevate ourselves to the level of God or pull God down to our level, so we can deal with God as equals. We are always looking for a chance to say to God, “I can take it from here.”

Such an attitude of entitlement, I believe, occupies a central role in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17.  While all ten are healed by Jesus, only one of them returns to express gratitude. In his editorial comment, Luke informs us that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan, and Jesus refers to him as a foreigner. Undoubtedly, this implies that the other nine were Jews. Could it be that the Jewish lepers felt entitled to the services of this Jewish prophet and their God? If God were to begin to right wrongs in the world, wouldn’t the most logical place to begin be among his own chosen people? Judging by Jesus’s expression of surprise in the passage, it seems the only words one would have expected from the mouths of the nine lepers would have been, “It’s about time!” Without a clear sense of how little we are entitled to, we cannot really come to terms with the need for gratitude—for an attitude of entitlement is an effective impediment to gratitude.

But everything we know about ourselves and our world speaks loudly against this tendency to self-sufficiency. As human babies, we all begin our lives at the highest level of dependence, and none of us really outgrows all degrees of dependence. We depend on parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and others to open doors for us in life. Even in places where commitment to personal autonomy is likely to produce more martyrs than religious conviction, dependence on others is still a living reality whose attempted concealment is gradually unveiled by the onset of old age. From the inventions that give us comfort in this world to the young soldiers who give their lives in the battlefields to protect our livelihoods, an unobstructed view of our lives reveals the fact that we all owe debts that we can never repay. We will never begin to worship God until we recognize that we are bankrupt debtors, for an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship.

Like skilled gourmet chefs spicing up their delicacies, Scripture writers sprinkle their words with admonitions and exaltations regarding gratitude, frequently tying it together with worship. For example, in the midst of a dark catalogue of humanity’s journey away from God, the apostle Paul lays the blame on our unwillingness to glorify God or give thanks to God. Similarly, the author of Hebrews grounds our worship of God in gratitude. He writes, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). It is impossible to worship God without gratitude, and it is impossible to be grateful while clinging to self-sufficiency and entitlement at the same time. Yes, there is some vulnerability in gratitude sincerely expressed, but that is because we are relational beings whose deepest needs can only be met in partnership with others and ultimately with God. While an attitude of entitlement is an impediment to gratitude, an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship. Show me a person whose life is characterized by gratitude, and I will show you a person whose soul is poised to worship God.

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” / Hosea 12:12

Jacob, while expostulating with Laban, thus describes his own toil, “This

twenty years have I been with thee. That which was torn of beasts I brought

not unto thee: I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it,

whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought

consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.”

Even more toilsome than this was the life of our Saviour here below. He

watched over all his sheep till he gave in as his last account, “Of all those

whom thou hast given me I have lost none.” His hair was wet with dew, and his

locks with the drops of the night. Sleep departed from his eyes, for all night

he was in prayer wrestling for his people. One night Peter must be pleaded

for; anon, another claims his tearful intercession. No shepherd sitting

beneath the cold skies, looking up to the stars, could ever utter such

complaints because of the hardness of his toil as Jesus Christ might have

brought, if he had chosen to do so, because of the sternness of his service in

order to procure his spouse–

“Cold mountains and the midnight air,

Witnessed the fervour of his prayer;

The desert his temptations knew,

His conflict and his victory too.”

It is sweet to dwell upon the spiritual parallel of Laban having required all

the sheep at Jacob’s hand. If they were torn of beasts, Jacob must make it

good; if any of them died, he must stand as surety for the whole. Was not the

toil of Jesus for his Church the toil of one who was under suretiship

obligations to bring every believing one safe to the hand of him who had

committed them to his charge? Look upon toiling Jacob, and you see a

representation of him of whom we read, “He shall feed his flock like a

shepherd.”

 

Evening  “The power of his resurrection.” / Philippians 3:10

The doctrine of a risen Saviour is exceedingly precious. The resurrection is

the corner-stone of the entire building of Christianity. It is the key-stone

of the arch of our salvation. It would take a volume to set forth all the

streams of living water which flow from this one sacred source, the

resurrection of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; but to know that he

has risen, and to have fellowship with him as such–communing with the risen

Saviour by possessing a risen life–seeing him leave the tomb by leaving the

tomb of worldliness ourselves, this is even still more precious. The doctrine

is the basis of the experience, but as the flower is more lovely than the

root, so is the experience of fellowship with the risen Saviour more lovely

than the doctrine itself. I would have you believe that Christ rose from the

dead so as to sing of it, and derive all the consolation which it is possible

for you to extract from this well-ascertained and well-witnessed fact; but I

beseech you, rest not contented even there. Though you cannot, like the

disciples, see him visibly, yet I bid you aspire to see Christ Jesus by the

eye of faith; and though, like Mary Magdalene, you may not “touch” him, yet

may you be privileged to converse with him, and to know that he is risen, you

yourselves being risen in him to newness of life. To know a crucified Saviour

as having crucified all my sins, is a high degree of knowledge; but to know a

risen Saviour as having justified me, and to realize that he has bestowed upon

me new life, having given me to be a new creature through his own newness of

life, this is a noble style of experience: short of it, none ought to rest

satisfied. May you both “know him, and the power of his resurrection.” Why

should souls who are quickened with Jesus, wear the grave-clothes of

worldliness and unbelief? Rise, for the Lord is risen.

The Reluctant Patriarch

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come” (Heb. 11:20).

Isaac is a fascinating Old Testament character. He was Abraham’s long-awaited son, the covenant child, the child of promise. Yet aside from that, he was rather ordinary, passive, and quiet. Just over two chapters of Genesis center on him, whereas the other patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph) command about twelve chapters each.

In the final analysis, Isaac believed God and submitted to His will. But overall, his spiritual character seems more reluctant than resolute.

After a famine prompted Isaac to move his family to Gerar (a Philistine city on the border between Palestine and Egypt), he received a vision from the Lord. In it God passed on to Isaac the covenant promises He had made to Abraham: “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:3-4).

You would think such promises would infuse Isaac with boldness and confidence, yet no sooner had he received them, then he lied to the men of Gerar about his wife, Rebekah, because he feared they might kill him to have her (v. 7).

It was only with great difficulty and prodding that the Lord finally brought Isaac into the Promised Land, where He once again repeated the covenant promises (vv. 23-24).

Later in his life Isaac even sought to bless his son Esau after Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob (25:33). Only after he realized that God’s choice of Jacob was irreversible did Isaac acquiesce.

Isaac is a vivid reminder of how believers can forfeit joy and blessing by disobeying God. But he’s also a reminder of God’s faithfulness–even toward reluctant saints.

Is your obedience reluctant or resolute?

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His unwavering faithfulness to you.

Seek His forgiveness when your obedience is reluctant or withheld altogether.

Ask Him to teach you to love Him in the same unwavering, resolute way He loves you.

For Further Study:  Read of Isaac in Genesis 25:19–26:34.

The Benefits of Gratitude

 

Psalm 105:1-5

Thanking God glorifies and magnifies Him, but did you know doing this also benefits us? The Lord doesn’t need our thanks, but we need to give it so we can become what He wants us to be: unselfish, encouraged, and confident. Giving thanks…

Refocuses our attention: Life is filled with situations and distractions that keep us from seeing all that God has done for us. Instead of getting out of bed with the weight of the world on your shoulders, try refocusing on the Lord by thanking Him for His past provisions, guidance, and faithfulness.

Relieves anxiety: Since our fast-paced society has lots of pressure, expectations, and responsibilities, many people live in constant anxiety. But when we bring our concerns to the Lord with thanksgiving, the burden shifts to Him, and His peace comes to us (Phil. 4:6-7).

Refreshes our relationship: Gratitude keeps us from thinking that the Christian walk is all about us and our needs. Our fellowship with God is enhanced because we’re focused on Him instead of ourselves.

Reinforces our faith: When we thank the Lord for His past faithfulness, our confidence in His present faithfulness soars.

Rejoices our spirit: Thanksgiving is the best way to dig ourselves out of the doldrums of discouragement.

Although gratitude is always beneficial, it’s not always easy. When you’re discouraged or overwhelmed, it’s probably not on your radar to thank God. But I’ve learned from experience that shifting focus and thanking the Lord for all He’s done is the fastest way to change one’s attitude and reenergize.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.” / Ephesians 4:30

All that the believer has must come from Christ, but it comes solely through

the channel of the Spirit of grace. Moreover, as all blessings thus flow to

you through the Holy Spirit, so also no good thing can come out of you in holy

thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation

of the same Spirit. Even if the good seed be sown in you, yet it lies dormant

except he worketh in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure. Do you

desire to speak for Jesus–how can you unless the Holy Ghost touch your

tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas! what dull work it is unless the Spirit

maketh intercession for you! Do you desire to subdue sin? Would you be holy?

Would you imitate your Master? Do you desire to rise to superlative heights of

spirituality? Are you wanting to be made like the angels of God, full of zeal

and ardour for the Master’s cause? You cannot without the Spirit–“Without me

ye can do nothing.” O branch of the vine, thou canst have no fruit without the

sap! O child of God, thou hast no life within thee apart from the life which

God gives thee through his Spirit! Then let us not grieve him or provoke him

to anger by our sin. Let us not quench him in one of his faintest motions in

our soul; let us foster every suggestion, and be ready to obey every

prompting. If the Holy Spirit be indeed so mighty, let us attempt nothing

without him; let us begin no project, and carry on no enterprise, and conclude

no transaction, without imploring his blessing. Let us do him the due homage

of feeling our entire weakness apart from him, and then depending alone upon

him, having this for our prayer, “Open thou my heart and my whole being to

thine incoming, and uphold me with thy free Spirit when I shall have received

that Spirit in my inward parts.”

 

Evening “Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.” / John 12:2

He is to be envied. It was well to be Martha and serve, but better to be

Lazarus and commune. There are times for each purpose, and each is comely in

its season, but none of the trees of the garden yield such clusters as the

vine of fellowship. To sit with Jesus, to hear his words, to mark his acts,

and receive his smiles, was such a favour as must have made Lazarus as happy

as the angels. When it has been our happy lot to feast with our Beloved in his

banqueting-hall, we would not have given half a sigh for all the kingdoms of

the world, if so much breath could have bought them.

He is to be imitated. It would have been a strange thing if Lazarus had not

been at the table where Jesus was, for he had been dead, and Jesus had raised

him. For the risen one to be absent when the Lord who gave him life was at his

house, would have been ungrateful indeed. We too were once dead, yea, and like

Lazarus stinking in the grave of sin; Jesus raised us, and by his life we

live–can we be content to live at a distance from him? Do we omit to remember

him at his table, where he deigns to feast with his brethren? Oh, this is

cruel! It behoves us to repent, and do as he has bidden us, for his least wish

should be law to us. To have lived without constant intercourse with one of

whom the Jews said, “Behold how he loved him,” would have been disgraceful to

Lazarus; is it excusable in us whom Jesus has loved with an everlasting love?

To have been cold to him who wept over his lifeless corpse, would have argued

great brutishness in Lazarus. What does it argue in us over whom the Saviour

has not only wept, but bled? Come, brethren, who read this portion, let us

return unto our heavenly Bridegroom, and ask for his Spirit that we may be on

terms of closer intimacy with him, and henceforth sit at the table with him.

 

Defeating Death

 

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:20-22).

Commentator Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well, to die to the Lord so as to honor Him, by patience, hope and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

God is honored when His people die triumphantly. When we’ve lived a life to His glory, and joyfully left the world behind to enter into His presence for all eternity, He is pleased, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Ps. 116:15).

Many believers who have dreaded facing death have experienced a special measure of God’s grace that made their final hours the sweetest and most precious of their lives.

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are examples of men who faced death with great faith and confidence. Each “died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). They hadn’t seen all God’s promises fulfilled, but by faith they passed them on to their children.

These men didn’t have perfect faith. Joseph was exemplary, but Isaac and Jacob often vacillated in their walk with God. Yet each ended his life triumphantly. That’s the reward of all who trust God and cling to His promises.

Like every believer before you, you haven’t seen the fulfillment of all God’s promises. But certainly you’ve seen far more than Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph did. How much more then should you trust God and encourage those who follow you to do the same?

Suggestions for Prayer:   Thank God for His marvelous grace, which triumphs over sin and death.

For Further Study: Read the final words of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis 48:1–49:33 and 50:22-26.

Obstacles to Obedience

 

2 Kings 5:11-17

Obedience is a powerful action that can unleash God’s glory in ways beyond our imagination. Yet obeying is often difficult because our desires are being put to the test. Sometimes we’re afraid to do what He says, for fear of losing what is important to us. But choosing not to obey may actually cost us the very thing we desire most.

Three obstacles initially kept Naaman from following God’s instructions–and almost kept him from a miraculous healing.

Pride. As a high-ranking official, Naaman feared losing his dignity, were he to obey. Conversely, his servants had the wisdom to see how pride was robbing him of life. How often do we balk at doing what God says, from fear of looking foolish?

Self-centered expectations. Naaman was furious when his very specific expec-tations weren’t met. We, too, often get angry at the Lord when He doesn’t comply with our demands. But if we really want His perfect will, we absolutely must “let Him” do things His way.

Unbelief. Because Naaman’s faith only extended to his vision of how he would be healed, he initially didn’t see how obeying would cure his leprosy. It took the faith of his servants to help him see the truth: that obedience was key to unlocking God’s answer to his greatest need.

The call to obey often uncovers strongholds from which the Lord wants to free us. When we choose to respond in faith, He reveals Himself in a new way to us that strengthens our trust in Him–because ultimately, our greatest need is to know Him better.

Hard Wrought Thanks

 

“In everything give thanks” is an admonition of my faith that often confounds me. Reading the news of the world even as I anticipate a national day of Thanksgiving juxtaposes the overwhelming need of the world with a surreal celebration of abundance. Global unemployment soars. Giving to charity is at its lowest in many sectors. Wars and rumors of wars terrorize so many, and it is a wonder that it is even possible to give thanks for anything. Yet, to hear others giving thanks—particularly from those who struggle in circumstances where we would be stretched to find any reason for praise—always lends itself to beauty and indicates a gratefulness that transcends material bounty and benefit.

For those who lived in ancient Israel, the concept of thanksgiving was explicitly tied to memory. The praises of Israel recalled a history in which God was intimately involved. Indeed, the exhortation to remember the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt was a frequent refrain. The ancient poets and prophets extended the invitation to remember the days of old when the Lord came near to the people even in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness. They remembered a God who “encircled them, cared for them, and guarded them as the pupil of his eye.” The psalmists reminded the people to “remember that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer,” and Job cried out in defiant praise after suffering horrific loss, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”(1)

A spirit of thanksgiving marked the earliest followers of Jesus as well.(2) These early believers were so overjoyed at the Spirit’s work among them that they shared meals, their property and possessions, and were continually praising God. Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians to offer their prayers and supplications “with thanksgiving,” and the endless song around the throne of heaven in Revelation sounds the chorus for “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.” Indeed, the apostle Paul insists that giving thanks in everything is the will of God and the biblical witnesses seem to affirm his insistence.

To have a national day of thanksgiving (of which the United States is far from alone) calls its residents to pay particular attention to offering thanks. And while I am grateful for a day set apart to focus on thanksgiving and a worldview that provides me with one to thank, I am challenged to live into giving thanks in everything every day of the year. Thanksgiving doesn’t always come easily as I wrestle with the difficulties and sorrows of a world with so much need. Yet when I give thanks for the faithfulness of God there is no room for jealousy over what others have; no room for complaining about what I lack.

Even in times of deepest sorrow, there is a joy that rises up within the heart to praise even with tears. Thanksgiving can fill a heart full of gladness, which overflows and spills out into acts of kindness and generosity for others. When we are grateful, we cannot help but share our gratitude. And this sharing is the will of God for our lives. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews sums up: “Through God then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”(3)

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

(1) Deuteronomy 5:15; 32:7-12, Psalm 78:35, and Job 1:21.

(2) Acts 2:42-47, Philippians 4:6, Revelation 7:12.

(3) Hebrews 13:15-16.