Reading: Philemon 1:1-7
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers… Philemon 1:4 NIV
Paul is such a tender-hearted bloke towards his children in the Lord. I've never noticed it before, but in the majority of his letters, once formal greetings are out of the way, he just can't help himself from telling them how thankful he is — for them, and for what God is doing in their lives. Just listen to him…
Philemon 1:4-5 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus…
Ephesians 1:15-16 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God … as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Paul is just like a proud parent brimming with joy as he sees his children growing in their faith. They're not all perfect, of course. The “foolish Galatians” are not doing so well when Paul writes (see Galatians 1:6). Nonetheless they are all in his thoughts and prayers.
I suspect too that Paul is feeling that same excitement that a gardener feels when the seed he has planted sprouts up through the soil and begins to grow. He is intensely interested and concerned for that seed. But although he did the planting, he knows it is God who brings the growth. Which is perhaps why Paul feels so much delight when he sees growth happening.
And who shares that delight with him? All of heaven. Together, heaven and earth celebrate in the wonder of new life.
This week, I had the privilege of helping someone invite Jesus into their life — someone I had been praying for. It was such a wonderful occasion, and I was so thankful! I couldn't stop myself from thanking God over and over. Since then, I have had the double joy of seeing the same thankfulness welling up in the man who was saved.
I can so relate to Paul when he says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers…” It just wells up. I feel as though the great celebration that happens in heaven for every soul saved has somehow spilled out of heaven and enveloped me, and I want more of it!
Thank you so much Lord for the privilege of this experience — to be able to bring someone into your family. I offer myself to you as a planter of seeds, a tiller of soil, and nurturer of new life. I want to be your agent of blessing, bringing many more into your kingdom. May I? Holy Spirit, just give me the word!
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
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 NIV
I love these scriptures. God has plans and purposes for every stage of my life, beginning, middle and end. And although I don't always know in advance what his will is, here in these scriptures are three things I can be certain are God's will for me, three good “buddies” that are always to be with me:
Be joyful always — no matter what the circumstances, I am to embrace joy, and never leave it for a less worthy partner — not fear, or anxiety or anguish. These latter things no longer have my permission to remain in residence!
Pray continually — I am always to be in conversation with God, my constant companion.
Give thanks in all circumstances — God is good, all the time. There is always something to be thankful for.
And then there's this “body guard” called Peace. As I bring all my worries and concerns to God in prayer, and keep an attitude of thankfulness, peace is there guarding my heart and my mind. The knot in my stomach is untied. My troubled thoughts are brought into order. This is what God has secured for me through my relationship with Jesus — Peace. Ah, thank you, Lord. This is something I can enjoy!
These three habits can be my default setting. It's God's will for me, so it must be possible! And whenever I find myself weighed down with worries or tied up in knots, I can simply turn to my three good buddies, Be joyful always, Pray continually, and Give thanks in all circumstances.
I like the following paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-9 from the Message:
“Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
“It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:6-9 MSG
Father, I'm so grateful that your plans for me are good. Help me to trust you with all my cares, and to live in that place of peace — right in the centre of your will.
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth… Joshua 1:8a NIV
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17 NIV
God's Word is made up of words! The Holy Spirit wields those words as I read and invite him to speak into my life.
But I too can wield those words, by speaking them out. They are a sword in my mouth, to attack and defend. They have power to counter the discouragement and lies of the evil one, and to action things in the spiritual realm. Along with my other armour, they allow me to stand firm.
One thing is certain: For the Word of God to become my sword, its words need to get out of the Book and into my mouth! I need to speak them! Out loud! Which means I have to know them. Or at least know of them and be able to find them.
New Christians need a few key Bible verses from Day 1 to establish their faith and deal with the inevitable attack of the enemy.
Those who receive healing, whether emotional or physical, need to be given scriptures they can speak out in order to keep what they have received. The enemy is all too happy to steal our healing back. Let's fend him off!
We all need Scripture in our mouths as we pray, so that we truly pray in the authority God has given us. Let's not be ineffectual in our prayers.
And whenever we read the Word, speaking it out helps us to action it. In good times and in hard times.
I recall a friend telling me of a dark time in her life, when all her foundations seemed to be falling away. During that time, God gave her the 23rd Psalm. It became her lifeline. She read it over and over. It was in her heart and in her mouth, and in time she passed through that dark valley to once again enjoy the light.
God's word can't stay in the Book. It needs to get into our hearts, and out through our mouths. Only then can it truly change our lives, and those of others.
Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Psalm 119:12-16 NIV
For some great ideas about how to get the best from your time in the Bible, you might like to check out The Bible: Where Do I Start? and What is SOAP? Or perhaps you have some great tips yourself you'd like to share. Why not share them on one of these pages!
Reading: Colossians 4:2-18
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 NIV
The word “devote” is full of meaning. To devote something is to “set it apart” or dedicate it to a particular purpose. And what am I to set apart and dedicate? Myself. To prayer.
Just as people or things in old testament times were “consecrated” or set apart for holy purposes, I am to consecrate or set apart myself for this holy pursuit: That I might continually converse with and pursue God.
I like the way the NKJV translates the verse. It says I am to “Continue earnestly in prayer…” The Greek word being translated as “Devote yourself” and “Continue earnestly in” is “proskatereo”:
Proskatereo: To be earnest towards, i.e. (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent, or (to a person) to adhere closely to (as one who serves):–attend (give self) continually (upon), continue (in, with), wait on (continually).
Even as I read this definition, I feel a hunger rising within me to reach out to God in prayer. The word “continually” implies that even in the normal activities of my day, my thoughts can be turned towards God.
But more than that, there is a hunger to spend dedicated time with God – to find a place of solitude and soak in his presence; to escape awhile the distractions of the day and enjoy walking and talking with my God.
This call to pray, and to dedicate myself anew to prayer, is one I can't ignore. God is calling, saying, “Come closer. Reach out to me. Drink in my words and search the depths of my love. Delight in me, and I will satisfy the desires of your heart.”
Lord God, I dedicate myself anew to seeking you in prayer. I am hungry. I want to come closer, and to know you more deeply. I want time with you to be at the centre of my life, not at the periphery. Please draw me closer, and let me commune with you here on earth as Jesus did, that I might enjoy your presence with me forever.
See also one of my favourite SOAPs, Sneaking Off With God.
Reading: Acts 16
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV)
A good thing is not necessarily the right thing to do. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, yet the Holy Spirit kept Paul from preaching the Word in the province of Asia, then later blocked his entry into Bithynia to do the same thing. Finally Paul has a vision from God which clarifies where he is to go to preach the Word. All three options were obeying Jesus, but only one of them was the right one.
Why did God not just show Paul and his friends in the first place where they were to go? Was there something he wanted to teach them on the way? Knowing with certainty what is happening next does bring a feeling of security and of being in control. But what if God takes this certainty away? Then, instead of trusting in our circumstances, all we can do is either worry, or trust in him.
I am sure the latter is what God really wants, and is the reason why he sometimes seems to leave us hanging. He is putting us in that place where all we can do is be patient, trust him for the next step, and rest in his hands knowing that he knows the next part of the road even though we don't.
So long as God is in control, I can relax. Then, rather than waiting for my circumstances to give me certainty, I can find certainty in the knowledge that God is good, and he has everything in hand. When options present themselves, I can pray, asking God for wisdom, and then tentatively step forward, trusting God to close some doors and open others. In the meantime, I need to relax and embrace the freedom of not knowing my next step, but knowing that God does.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example to learn from. Help me to let go, and simply rest in your arms. And when it's time to move, please guide me into things that are not just good, but also within your purpose for me. Holy Spirit, open my ears to clearly hear your voice and help me to keep in step with you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Reading: John 14
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14:10 (NIV)
“Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work”. When Jesus walked on this earth, the relationship he had with his Father was in many ways like the relationship that I can now have with the Father. God (by means of the Holy Spirit) is living in me, and doing his work. That includes both his work in me and his work through me.
In John 5:19-20, Jesus reveals how the “through me” part worked for him: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
When praying for others, I often just begin praying without giving thought to what God might have in mind for the situation. I suspect things would go a lot better if first I stopped to focus my thoughts on God. “Lord, what are you wanting to do here? What would you like me to do?” I could do this at the time, and even before hand. “Father, what jobs do you have for me today?” For upcoming events or opportunities, I may even choose to fast and pray as I seek to know God's plans for the situation.
Although I don't always find it easy to hear clearly from God, making the effort to listen and to “see” what my Father is doing will surely help. Then I will be able to say with Jesus, “I can do nothing by myself, but only what I see my Father doing, because whatever the Father does, I do too.”
Father God, please open my eyes to see what you are doing. I don't want to work on my own, separated from what you are doing. I belong to you, and I offer myself for your work, to do whatsoever you have in mind – for this moment, for this day, and for the times ahead.
See also, Apart From You, I Shall Do Nothing
Recently I read a biography of a wonderful man of faith, George Müller, who lived from 1805 to 1898. His life “mission” was to show the world that God is the same God today that he always was, and that we can trust him for everything. Over the course of his lifetime, he built orphanages that housed over 2000 children at once, not to mention feeding them and providing for all their needs. 121,000 pupils studied at schools that he funded through a society he set up; 281,000 Bibles and 1.4 million New Testaments were printed and distributed; several hundred missionaries were financially supported to varying degrees; and he funded the printing and distribution of 111 million Scriptural books, pamphlets and tracts.
He was able to do all this despite having no formal income. He never had a salary, and never asked anyone for money. He never publicised his needs, and never took up an offering. Instead, he simply prayed in faith and asked God directly for everything he needed. And God answered him. The orphanages themselves were a testimony to his generation that God is alive and that he does indeed supply our needs when we pray in faith, and many were inspired to a more vital and living faith in their God. I too am inspired, having read his story.
Though published in 1898 (the copy I read was 101 years old), this book for me has been a treasure trove of inspiration, and I wanted to share one of the keys which he found so valuable in his relationship with God. Here it is, in his own words:
“Whilst I was staying at Nailsworth (1841) it pleased the Lord to teach me a truth irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know. The point is this – I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I could serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as becomes a child of God in this world, and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, to give myself to prayer after dressing myself in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed, and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon His precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it, not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining good for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that very soon my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication – so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next word or verse, turning all as I go on into prayer for myself and others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.
The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful, if not happy, state of heart.
Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man . . . I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow believers to ponder this matter.”
– George Müller (1805-1898), from the book “George Müller, The Modern Apostle of Faith” by Frederick G. Warne, published 1898.
Reading: Joshua 15-20
In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai—descendants of Anak. Joshua 15:13-14 (NIV)
Joshua: Well, here's your promised inheritance Caleb – Kiriath Arba. The land is yours. Oh, and by the way, it comes with a few Anakites…
Caleb: No worries, Joshua, I'll sort them out.
And so he does. Caleb had been promised this forty five years earlier after spying out the land with eleven others. Only he and Joshua had believed that with God they could take the land. “So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’” Joshua 14:9
Finally the time had arrived to claim that inheritance. “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day,” says Caleb to Joshua. “You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Joshua 14:12
Caleb sure had spirit, even at a young 85. As far as he was concerned, the promise had been made, the land was his, and nothing was going to stand in the way of him claiming it for his own.
It strikes me that the promises of God often seem to come with “Anakites”. I wish that wasn't the case – I don't like big gnarly inconvenient obstacles parked all over my driveway. When I read in Isaiah 61 (for example) of those things that Jesus won for me at the cross, and then look at my actual situation (and those of others), it's clear that there are still a few gnarly old Anakites out there. Some of what has been promised to me through Jesus I have yet to claim. And I see others weighed down with burdens that, with his life, Jesus paid to remove.
Caleb is my teacher today. First and foremost, he took God at his word. Secondly, having spied out the land years earlier, he knew what had been promised to him, and had a clear picture of this in his mind. I too need to become completely familiar with God's promises, and then set about claiming those promises with the same spirit that Caleb had – one of faith and determination.
Thirdly, it's clear that although Caleb didn't focus on the Anakites, he did deal with them. As I deal with the “Anakites” in my life, and help others to deal with theirs, prayer is so vital, along with worship and time in the Word. By myself, I actually can't use these things, but with the ever-present help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they are powerful in my hands. “The Lord helping me, I will drive [the Anakites] out just as he said.”
God my Father, I pray for the faith and courage of Caleb. Help me Lord to truly be a man of prayer, and to take real action as I claim what you have promised me. As I spend time walking and talking with you, as I converse with you during the moments of my day, and as I talk and pray with others, may “your kingdom come, Lord; and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Reading: Jeremiah 23:9 – 35
We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. Jeremiah 35:8-10 (NIV)
Jonadab had commanded his family never to drink wine, and not to settle but instead to live as nomads. “Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.” (Jeremiah 35:7). Since the time that promise was made, “The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab [had continued to carry] out the command their forefather gave them…” (35:16). They believed the promise, held firmly to it, and met the conditions attached to ensure it continued to be fulfilled.
A Promise: A declaration that something will (or will not) be done or given; an express assurance on which expectation is to be based.
God brought this particular family to Jeremiah and held them up as an example of how all the people of the land should have responded to God's promises and the commands that accompanied them.
The promise that comes immediately to mind for me is one that Jesus makes:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
The promise is that I will bear much fruit. But what is the condition? “Remain in me”. The last phrase particularly stands out: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, anything that I do “apart” from Jesus (separately; without involving him; on my own) will be fruitless, and not worth the time or effort spent on it.
The opposite of 'apart from' is 'together with'. In using the example of a branch connected to a vine, Jesus is describing a continuous and unbroken togetherness. This is the relationship he wants with me, and my fruitfulness is conditional upon it. There is no “apartness” in the equation; instead there is a continual conversation of prayer. In 1Thessalonians 5:17, Paul describes it in two words : “Pray continually.”
I resolve, with the Spirit's help, to bring everything to God in prayer: To bring him every need, to thank him for even the smallest blessings, to make every job whether big or small an offering of service to him, to seek his guidance and be always listening and ready to respond to his voice, and to enjoy the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in me.
Jesus, I thank you for this wonderful promise in John 15:5. You say to me, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And so I ask for your grace as I make this declaration: “Apart from you, I shall do nothing.” May this become a motto for me. Please help me to do my part in developing that continuous and unbroken togetherness you seek, and may everything I do be done in your strength and your grace.
See also Walking in “Promise Land”