14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. 15 And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. — 1 John 5:14, 15 NLT
I believe God has obligated Himself to answer every prayer that a Christian prays. I also believe that He does answer every prayer in one of four ways: Yes, No, Wait or gives a completely different answer than we expected and we don’t recognize the event(s) as the answer. It would be foolish to think that God would give a positive answer to any request that required Him to violate His own Word or to give us something that would not be the best for us. Just as parents, we realize that our kids often ask for things that aren’t good for them and we have to say “no”, how much better does our heavenly Father understand and know what is best for us. His great love for us requires Him to only give us His best. The words we use or the format of the prayer are not the important things. What is important is whether or not we have un-confessed sin in our lives. Sin separates us from God and moves us from His umbrella of protection. How much faith is required? I believe that if we have enough faith to ask God for something, that is enough faith. God has made precious promises to His children and He has never failed in doing exactly what He said He would do. The fulfillment of those promises is based on His faithfulness, not ours.
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? — Romans 8:32 NIV
33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. — Mark 15:33 NLT
3 I dress the skies in darkness, covering them with clothes of mourning.” — Isaiah 50:3 NLT
At noon on Friday, the sun was hidden as nature mourned the approaching death of our Lord and Savior. At three o’clock on Friday afternoon, the Light of the world was extinguished. It was a time of deep darkness and mourning for all of nature and the followers of Jesus. It seemed that satan and his demons had won a great victory. At three o’clock, the natural light reappeared. Could this have been a sign that the Spiritual light would also reappear, that all was not as it seemed to be? A heaviness lay over the people and the land. Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night was a time of grieving and wondering. Could they have been wrong about this man, Jesus? Was He not really the Messiah? A time of fear, could they be the next to die? For a moment, imagine that you are one of the disciples at that very time. Look at the situation through their eyes, not knowing the final outcome of this event. Take the time to imagine the scene on the cross and mourn the death of your teacher and closest friend. His promise that He would always be with them must have seemed pretty hollow about then. Would your faith have carried you through this event? What would your reaction have been? Would you have been able to remember and believe all the promises at this particular point? Would you still beilieve that He would arise after three days? Now, back to the present. Will our faith carry us through what God has in store for us now? When temptation stares us in the face, will we give in? Knowing the whole story, how will we respond to the times of darkness and mourning in our lives? Will we remember that there is hope? Will we remember that “joy comes in the morning”?
23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” 24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. — Mark 8:23-25 NLT
John tells us that if all the miracles that Jesus did were written down, all the books in the world would not be enough to hold them (John 21:25). What we read about is a sampling of the things He accomplished while He walked the earth as one of us. Those samples are given to show us not only His great love and mercy toward us but, also to show us that He uses all kinds of methods and people to demonstrate that love. Sometimes the healings were immediate, sometimes they were a process. Some required only a touch of the hem of His garment, others required a word and others a word and a touch from Him. He has the authority to answer our requests in any way or time frame He chooses. But know this, He always answers. Just because the answer wasn’t what we wanted to hear or did not come in the expected time does not mean that He didn’t hear and answer. Paul prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Paul could have said that God didn’t answer his prayer, but after the third time, Paul accepted “No” as the answer. God’s answers can be compared to a trafiic light, green is “go”, yellow is “go slow” and red is “no”. We always want the green light, but when we have the red light, it gives others the opportunity to move. We must wait our turn. When we see the yellow light, we know that there is danger in proceeding, so we must be careful and prepare to wait, but be prepared to go when God gives us the green light. (Isaiah 40:31) The old saying that hindsight is 20-20 is true. When we look back over our lives, we can see clearly that God’s answer was the correct answer. The times we refused that answer is the times we experienced our troubles and sorrows.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. — Eph. 2:6-9 NIV
This is a familiar passage to most Christians, yet I wonder if we really grasp everything it says to us. It explains to us why God saved us and raised us up. It was not just for our benefit, though that would have been more than enough. He did it so He could show to us and the world the “incomparable riches of His grace”. The greatest expression of that grace was God allowing Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, to die on a cruel cross for our sins. It is that grace that has saved us, through faith. Not our faith, His faith, His gift to us. That is why we can be sure that our salvation is eternal. Thanks be to God that my salvation is not based on my faith, which is not always steadfast. It is based on His faith, which is steadfast and eternal. If it were based on my faith, I could be saved today and lost tomorrow. His faith is everlasting!
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. — Psalm 119:89, 90
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! — 2 Cor. 9:15
3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. — Isaiah 26:3, 4 NIV
The eye of a hurricane is the calmest part of the storm, there is usually no wind and the skies are clear. It is usually true that the stronger the storm the better defined the eye of the hurrciance will be. The eye is surrounded by an eyewall of thunderstorms that contain the most dangerous weather. When a hurricane is at sea, the eye is still calm except at sea level where waves may reach a height of 130 feet. If we can compare the violence of the world around us to a hurricane, we can see that there is a place of peace and calmness in the middle of all that chaos. But we can’t just sit on the surface and wait, we have to prepare for the storm by keeping our eyes on Jesus and not on the world. By trusting completely in Him, we can rise above the waves and live in peace in the midst of the storm. When the storm starts to dissipate, the eyewall will start to break down and we will experience some winds but they will not be strong enough to harm us. There will be some rain but only enough to water us and make us grow, not enough to wash us away. God never allows more than we can bear. If we choose to focus on the world and its carnality, we will find ourselves in the eyewall of the storm. But if we repent and pray Peter’s short prayer. “Lord, save me”, He will stretch out His hand and pull us to safety. We can’t stop the hate and violence in the world, but God has provided a place of peace and safety for His children. The choice is ours. We can choose to stay focused on Jesus and live in the peace that He gives us or stay where we are and live in the chaos.
10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. — Isaiah 54:10 NIV
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. — Luke 2:36-38 NIV
What faithfulness and perserverance was shown by Anna. We don’t know how many years she was at the temple, but if she married at the normal age for that time, it could have been sixty years or more. She “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying”. Anna had given up everything to fast, pray and worship God Her faithfulness led to her being allowed to speak to the parents and others telling them that Jesus was the long awaited Redeemer of Israel. It also led to her being one of the first few people to see Jesus and to her becoming one of the characters in the story of the greatest birth ever recorded. What a reward for her faithfulness. These three verses are probably the least known of the verses in the story in Luke, yet, they announce the fulfillment of the prophecy that a Redeemer would come to Israel and His name would be Emmanuel. Anna’s words became part of the basis for one of the most well-known Advent carols ever written. This short passage is a great encouragement for us to remain faithful to God through the good times and the bad times. God is always faithful and He always rewards faithfulness.
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” — Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV
Let us use these two passages of scripture to remind us to be faithful throughout the year, through the good times and the rough times. In the fullness of time, our Redeemer will come again to ransom us and our reward will be an eternity spent with Him.
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called,because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. — 1 Peter 2:19-21 NIV
As we look back and honestly assess the hard times in our lives, we can attribute most of them to bad decisions that we have made. Those decisions may have involved unkind words that we spoke causing ill feelings and anger between us and others. The decisions may have been based on our fleshly desires and caused us to commit acts that we should not have committed. The decisions could have been bad financial decisions we made because we did not want to wait until we were able to afford certain things. We get no credit or praise for enduring those times that were brought on by our own wrong doing. I cannot recall one time in my life when I had to suffer because of a good deed that I had done. I read the horror stories of our brothers and sisters being abused and persecuted for the good deeds they have done and are doing and I pray for them. Those events seem so far away and foreign to me. And I wonder what my reaction to that kind of treatment would be. Would I stay faithful to God and endure the pain? We are called to and warned to be ready for such acts. We have the examples of those in the Bible and in our daily news of those who do endure. They are the ones who make up the “cloud of witnesses” that surround us. I shed tears of grief as I listen to their stories and I feel so small and unworthy knowing that the tears they are shedding as they tell their stories are tears of joy, the joy of sharing in suffering with our Savior.
It should break our hearts to think about what pain Mary felt as she gazed upon the cross and saw her Son in such agony. What anguish she must have felt as she remembered that this was the little baby that she had held in her lap on the first Christmas day! It must have been hard for her to believe that it took that kind of suffering to redeem a fallen world. As we celebrate the season this year and every year. let us remember that there is no gift that can match the one He gave on the cross. He gave His all for us, so let us commit to living lifestyles that reflect His love for us. Let us rejoice because the cross is empty! Let us sing with gladness of heart, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come” and He has risen in our hearts!
6 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
As Thanksgiving approaches, let us prepare our hearts and minds to give thanks to God for all the wonderful, marvelous ways He has blessed us. We don’t want our prayers to become ritualistic but we can learn from the example of the Jewish celebration of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. This celebration begins after all the harvest is in and lasts seven days. During this time those observing the feast build a sukkah (a temporary structure or hut) and eat most of their meals there, God instructed them to do this in remembrance of all the things He had brought them through during their 40 years in the desert. The huts were reminders that they had wandered through the desert without a permanent home. From this, we can learn to set aside a few minutes each day to remember the things God has brought us through. If we are faithful to do this all week perhaps it will become a habit and instead of a season of Thanksgiving, we will continually thank God for His goodness every day. Thanksgiving will become a part of our daily lifestyle.
12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 13 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, — 2 Peter 1:12, 13 NIV
“A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” ~ John Bunyan
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. — 2 Cor. 12:19-21
Paul’s words here are a strong indictment of the church at Corinth. Their lifestyles reflect little or nothing of the example Jesus and Paul had set for them and for us. It sounds as though Paul is describing the worldly lifestyle and not the lifestyle that would lead us to believe that anyone there was a true follower of Christ. These are Paul’s spiritual children. So, if Paul finds these charges to be true when he arrives, he will be grieved and humbled. Humbled because his children have become an embarrassment to the family of God, Grieved because they have not repented and changed their lifestyles. Instead of repenting, they are rebelling against Paul’s teaching. When the guilty are confronted, it is a normal human reaction to try to place the blame back on the person bringing the accusation. Paul has been speaking the truth so he has no reason to defend himself. Do Paul’s words to the Corinthians describe the church of today? More importantly, which of the sins listed are we committing in our daily lifestyle? If I am truly honest with my evaluation (and I might as well be honest, since God already knows), maybe just a little of each. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and your forgiveness.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. — 1 John 1:8-10
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. — Hebrews 11:39, 40 NIV
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as “The Hall of Faith”. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit the writer of Hebrews gives us a long list of people from the Bible who were faithful. They were jeered, flogged and persecuted in many ways, but they remained faithful, many of them even unto death. As we read through the chapter (which we need to do quite often) we are probably thinking that these people received some great earthly rewards for their obedience in the face of all this adversity. But, we find that verse 39 makes a surprising statement; “none of them received what had been promised”. So, had God lied to them? No, of course not. What they understood and what we need to understand is that our rewards are in heaven, not here on earth. They fully believed God and carried inside themselves an eternal hope. The same eternal hope that you and I have inside of us. Earthly blessings are nice but they are nothing compared to what is in store for those faithful ones from the past, for us and for those who will come after us. The blessings we receive here will pass away and so will our natural bodies. But the “promise” will be fulfilled with an eternal reward and an eternity in heaven. We need to stay focused on Jesus and remain faithful and obedient to God and His Word. We must remain confident of what we believe and persevere just as our Savior and our ancestors did.
35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.— Hebrews 10:35, 36