Monthly Archives: November 2012
Reading: Psalm 106-111
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. Psalm 111:10 (NIV)
From the moment I submit myself to God, he begins to renew and restore me. I begin to change! I start to understand things the way that God understands them. I start to think the way that God thinks. Wrong thinking makes way for truth as my mind is renewed, and my character becomes Christ-like. I'm not becoming more intelligent – I'm becoming wise.
In many ways, wisdom is akin to righteousness. It is thinking and behaving just as God intends. It's an inner condition that brings outer harmony. When wisdom and righteousness abound, everything works as designed and things are as they should be. There is wholeness and there is holiness. But wisdom isn't complete in me the moment I commit my life to God – the fear of the Lord is just “the beginning of wisdom”. Rather, it's the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in my life that brings about this wonderful transformation.
The more open communication there can be between God and me, the more opportunity there will be for my heart and mind to be transformed and for wisdom to grow. I can seek an audience with God! I can open my heart to God, inviting him to instruct me and counsel me (see Psalm 32:8). Though it seems unbelievable, I can even ask God to open his heart to me, that I might see and understand his thoughts and his ways.
Intimacy = “into me see”. I need to seek this intimacy with God not just as I read his Word, or spend focused time in prayer or worship, but also in the midst of every day, in all the goings-on of my life – a never ending conversation of love and transformation.
Thank you Father that your good pleasure is to pour out your love and grace upon me. I welcome you, and ask that as you perfect holiness in me, you will adorn me not just with holiness but also with wisdom.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:1-6 (NIV)
For a wonderful read about the pursuit of wisdom, see Job 28.
See also, The Bible: Where Do I Start?
Reading: Mark 10:1-16
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16 (NIV)
Something about the way children come to Jesus delights him. Clearly it's not their spiritual maturity, nor their wisdom or knowledge, as these things are yet to develop. It surely wouldn't be their good behaviour, nor the selfless way they consider others before themselves, given that children are more naturally self-centred.
Children react with delight to anything that is fun and makes them feel happy. They often squeal and laugh and become playful. They are not limited by what they see around them. Instead their imaginations enable them to explore and enjoy all sorts of possibilities.
The kingdom of this world may constrain me in all sorts of ways, but the kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of possibilities. If I can just let go the handbrake of my own limited thinking, and instead let my imagine run wild, I would be free! I have walked through the door into a rich and exciting land, but have spent far to long camped just inside the door. The Kingdom is for explorers, and it's time for me to explore!
Jesus, I get the distinct feeling that there is a LOT more to living in your Kingdom than I currently know. Will you be my guide? I really want to explore and know more of what it truly means to be in the Kingdom. Please open my eyes, increase my understanding, and release me into the possibilities that you have for me and your children.
See also Supernatural Encounters with God.
Reading: Jeremiah 17:19 – 23:8
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9-10 (NIV)
Poor Jeremiah. No doubt he's smiling now, but you really have to read “Jeremiah's Complaint” in Jeremiah 20:7-18 to appreciate how miserable he was. Yes, he was on fire, but everyone just wanted to put him out.
The people of God had lost their first love. “Yes yes, Lord,” they said, but their hearts were far away, worshiping other gods and letting justice fall by the wayside. And so it fell to Jeremiah to bring God's dire warnings to the people. They, however, appreciated neither the message nor the messenger, and had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks.
It's hardly surprising then that Jeremiah found himself feeling angry and depressed, and apparently reluctant at times to share what God gave him. Had the people listened and accepted God's message, it would have been a completely different story. How satisfying that would have been for Jeremiah, how rewarding to see the nation turning back to God. But instead, he was shunned, just as God was – the servant like his master.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah was no Jonah. He couldn't run away because he simply couldn't hold God's message in. It was like fire in his bones, and no matter how much he was mocked and ridiculed, no one could put the fire out, not even himself.
It's reassuring to see that even some of God's “major prophets” struggled. As I get to know Jeremiah from his writings (Jeremiah and Lamentations), I find myself liking him very much. I would like to have been around to encourage him and stand with him. Even in the midst of loneliness and difficulty, his passion for God was unquenchable.
But in the midst of his anguish, I see that Jeremiah did two things: He committed his cause to God, and he took his complaints to God. I can do the same. There is simply no point in running away, or in seeking solace elsewhere. God is the only one worth running to, and the only one who can truly meet me at my point of need.
Thank you Lord for Jeremiah. (I'd like to meet him one day!) As I walk this earth, please help me to never let go of you, and to always seek you first when I'm troubled. Hold me fast in that day so that like Jeremiah, I might finish the race, and finish it well.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:21-25 (NIV)
Reading: Philippians 2
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place… Philippians 2:5-9a (NIV)
In the curious “upside-down, back to front” economy of the kingdom of God, greatness is to be found in humility. Choosing to put others before myself and to be like a servant is not actually choosing second best. On the contrary, it is a noble endeavour, and finds me living with the very same attitude that Jesus had. Rather than it being a humiliating waste of my time, serving is a way that I can embrace the very purposes of God for my life and achieve more quickly one of my life goals, to become more like Christ.
Somehow, viewing servanthood as a noble endeavour makes an enormous difference to the way I feel about it. It begins to feel like a privilege. It somehow brings to me a degree of personal dignity that I could never experience if I was always the one being served. And, of course, it can bring dignity to those being served, especially those not otherwise esteemed in the world's way of thinking.
When servitude is forced on a person, they are belittled and deprived of dignity. But when serving is a choice, everybody wins – the served and the server. Of course, nothing worthwhile comes without cost, and serving can certainly cost. But even if my efforts are not acknowledged or appreciated by those I serve, God is always watching, and his reward will surely follow.
Thank you God that you are working in me, “to will and to act according to [your] good purpose.” (Phil 2:13). I offer up to you my attitude about serving. Please make it pure, and work humility and generosity into the fabric of my heart. Help me to put selfishness aside, as well as the temptation to grumble and complain, and instead, create in me a pure heart, that I might have the same attitude as the one Jesus had, and still has – the noble attitude of a servant.
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Reading: Jeremiah 2-3:5
“ ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 2:2-4 (NIV)
Israel was once enamoured by God, but their love had grown cold. This same accusation is made by Jesus in Revelation 2 to the Church of the Ephesians: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
Even worse, Israel had taken up with other gods, gods of stone and wood who could not help them. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). In losing their first love, something else had taken its place, something that could not possibly satisfy.
I need to hold fast to God. As in a marriage relationship, feelings of affection sometimes well up in what we call 'love'. Often, however, love consists of actions purposefully carried out as the outward expression of a commitment made. To make decisions that line up with this internal commitment, even when my feelings betray me – that is love.
Consistently choosing to act in ways that protect and value my commitment to God and my relationship with Him is my outward expression of love and my true worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) So love and worship go hand in hand.
Thank you Father for reaching out to me, not as a distant and inaccessible God, but as one who is close and intimate. Help me to always act in accordance with my commitment to you, and may my love for you never grow cold, but forever burn bright and clear.
For more on this topic, you might like to read my previous post Jesus – My First Love. Same theme – completely different part of the Bible!
Reading: Revelation 1-2:7
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)
God is interested in my love ('agape' in the Greek). Yes, my good works, my obedience, my perseverance under hardship – all these are important, if not vital. But my affection toward him is the number one thing. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30).
My love for God is what energises my relationship. It determines how I relate to God, what I do, how I think, how I respond to things, how I spend my time. Take the love away and it becomes just a set of practices.
The love Jesus describes is not just a feeling. “Repent,” he says, “and do the things you did at first.” To repent is to “think differently i.e. reconsider, or change your mind.” To do the things you did at first implies that my love needs to be out-worked, revealing itself in my actions.
It is possible for me to let my relationship with God slip, so that instead of the passionate all-consuming fervour and hunger that I once felt, it becomes just a set of religious practices, making me not much different than a Rotarian or a volunteer with an aid organisation.
What should absolutely define me is my love for God – expressed in the way I seek him, and make time with him my number one priority; expressed in my worship of him, and the conversation I have with him. And of course, expressed in my obedience to him, placing everything that I have into his hands. Love is like a fire that I need to regularly feed so that it burns strong and hot!
Thank you Lord Jesus that not only do you know me, but you love me, and you actually value my love for you. What an incredible privilege! I choose to delight in you. Help me to draw close to you, and I pray that you would reveal yourself to me, that I might truly know you and love you.
See also: First Things First
Reading: Jeremiah 1
“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:17-19
When young Jeremiah looked at himself in the mirror that evening, after having received the above calling from God, what did he see? A fortified city? An iron pillar? A bronze wall? I suspect that rather, he saw a stunned young man, one who was more than just a little afraid, and who would gladly have run away from this terrifying assignment.
But fortified cities don't run away. Iron pillars and bronze walls don't quietly sneak off to hide. And today, God had said it himself: “I have made you a fortified city…” It seems Jeremiah was given no choice, no chance to think about it, and no opportunity to wait until he was a bit older and wiser. It would be Jeremiah and God vs everyone else, starting now.
God isn't afraid of throwing me in the deep end, because nothing is too deep for him. So long as he is with me, it doesn't matter if the whole world would seem to be against me. It doesn't matter how daunting the task before me seems. Nothing is daunting to God. If God appoints me, mine is simply to trust and obey.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Thank you for the opportunities that lie before me, Lord. I choose to trust you, and when the time comes that I find myself out of my depth (no doubt that feeling will come again!), help me to trust you then too, and to find my strength in you. I ask for wisdom to know your will, and that you would open my ears, so that like Jeremiah, I might hear your voice clearly.