Hearing God on the good days
Jeremiah 22: I spoke to you when everything was going your way. You said, “I’m not interested.”
Here’s a spiritual principle that ought to resonate in our hearts. How hard is it for the Lord to get a hearing in my life when everything’s going well? Troubles and trials drive me to prayer and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. How, though, about blessings? At one level, I need to remember to thank God for all he does for me. A beautiful sunrise ought to cause me to praise God for his handiwork. Big blessings and little ones should bring forth genuine gratitude from my heart. At another level, though, is my ability to hear and respond to the in-flight corrections the Lord has for me. Can I learn to listen for them and respond to them even when all is well? Does the Lord have to allow some unexpected trial into my life to get my attention? Generally speaking, I think the Lord wants us to live wonderfully blessed lives. Could it be possible that some trials would never come if I’d simply pay more attention to the Lord’s voice during the days of sunshine? I’m not sure how this fits into my broader theology of how God works in my life, but its food for thought today.
Take Away: Our problems drive us to prayer and so should our blessings.
God takes being ignored personally
Jeremiah 5: Why don’t you honor me?
God’s question to Judah resonates: “Why don’t you honor me?” He’s blessed them, forgiven them, and protected them yet they refuse to look his way. Jeremiah says that the Lord wonders why they don’t look at all of it and ask, “How can we honor our God with our lives?” However, that doesn’t happen. Instead, we see God-insulting sin and rebellion. It’s no wonder the Lord’s sick of them! After all he’s done for them they’ve turned their backs on him and walked away. God’s response is to do the same. He’ll be the one walking away and they’ll pay a terrible price for their insulting attitude toward him. Frankly, this passage troubles me. It would be easier to skip ahead to more sunshine and bypass this gloom and doom. That, though, is the problem. I’d better listen to Jeremiah. God takes being ignored personally. He blesses us in many wonderful ways but he expects us to respond to that blessing by honoring him in our lives. I may not be able to influence the larger culture but I’d better take this stuff to heart. Beyond that, I need to use what influence I do have to remind people that God expects us to respond to his blessings and never take him, or them, for granted.
Take Away: The Lord takes being ignored personally.
Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!
The people with the blessing
Isaiah 61: I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
As Jesus begins his public ministry he picks this portion of Isaiah’s writings as his text. Our Lord’s ministry will heal heartbroken people and pardon those held captive by sin. Jesus doesn’t read the entire “year of the Lord’s favor” sermon from Isaiah, but in that sermon Isaiah continues proclaiming all the good things God is about to do for his people. God is turning toward them in favor and there will be blessing upon blessing. They’ll be the recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham and with David and the whole world will know them as the people with the blessing. At this point in the message Isaiah becomes so excited about what God’s about to do that he declares that he’s exploding in praise from deep in his soul. Since Jesus picks these words to describe his ministry to the world we who follow him read this sermon of promises, not from only a historical point of view, but as though it’s directed to us, personally. In our lives we’re set free from the dominion of sin and enjoy “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of life, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from being a people God has blessed. Even as Isaiah is moved to explosive praise by this promise of the Lord, we too are filled to overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, and is doing, in us.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be a people God has blessed.
The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.
Reason to expect an answer to prayer
Isaiah 26: God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us.
What an interesting prayer this is. I love the request for a “peaceful and whole life.” When all is said and done, this is about as insightful a request as a person can make for their own life. Isaiah lives in turbulent times and, in the face of so much uncertainty, this prayer makes a lot of sense. However, he isn’t the only one who has lived in such days. We do too. Again, I like this simple prayer. The second half of this sentence though, is the reason the person praying thinks the first half will be granted. Isaiah says, “We’re following your directions Lord, only doing what you’d have us do, operating under your power and authority.” You see, it makes no sense to plead with the Lord for peace and life if I’m ignoring his intentions for my life. The only way this prayer makes sense is when I pray it in the context of absolute obedience and trust. It’s only when I can say, “Everything I have done and am doing is what God is doing in me” that I can pray with an expectation of God’s blessing on my life.
Take Away: The Lord’s blessings often depend on my obedience.
Delight in the light
Ecclesiastes 11: Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
A light reading of Ecclesiastes (if such a thing is really possible) leaves me with the feeling that the writer is a hardened pessimist who’s concluded that everything is “vanity.” While there are plenty of statements about how worthless things are, there’s also a positive, yet realistic theme here. He advises me to cherish every day. Some days, he says, are going to be dark, but there’s also plenty of light and I’m to “delight in the light.” I don’t want to be one of those people who only focuses on all that is going (or can go) wrong. God has blessed me with so much! I don’t want to take any of it for granted. True to form, the wise man adds, “most of what comes your way is smoke.” That is, most things in life are temporary, and a high percentage of those things aren’t all that important anyway. On one hand then, I don’t want to get so focused on the problems of life that I lose sight of the blessings. Those problems are pretty much “smoke” anyway and are temporary. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the little blessings while I have them. They too are smoke and will be gone before I know it and I don’t want to take them for granted.
Take Away: Cherish every day.
God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.
Good people and good things
Ecclesiastes 8: I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God…and that the evil person will not experience the “good” life.
The conventional wisdom of Solomon’s day (and it is often still conventional wisdom today) is that bad people have bad things happen to them and good people have good things happen to them. In his wisdom Solomon sees considerable evidence that this approach isn’t true. He sees wicked people live pretty nice lives and he even attends some funerals in which it appears that the person “got away with it” — living an evil life yet having everything a person could ask for right to the very end. He has plenty of evidence that the common belief of “bad gets bad and good gets good” doesn’t really work. Still, though, he can’t quite give up on it. While he can’t prove that it’s true, he can’t shake the belief that there’s some truth in this philosophy. He reports, “I’m still convinced….” Today, I think Solomon is right to hang on to this belief. It doesn’t play out as he thought it would but I agree with him that serving God has great advantages. It isn’t that those who trust God have more money and better health but in the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people. There’s wealth in going to sleep at night knowing that no matter what tomorrow brings things will be okay. There’s wealth in being at peace with God and there’s wealth in knowing one is a child of the King. I believe the conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. It’s right in its belief that good things happen to good people. It’s wrong in having such a narrow and material view of just what those good things are.
Take Away: In the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people.
I did it God’s way
Proverbs 10: God’s blessing makes life rich; nothing we can do can improve on God.
The greater part of the book of Proverbs is made up of wise “one-liners.” Well, they’re actually “two-liners” that follow the format “This does this, but that does that.” One of the many wonderful strengths of “The Message” is how beautifully Peterson handles the parables, giving them new life for his readers. Today, I’m reminded that all the good things in life come from the Lord. He’s the “Blesser” giving us so much to enjoy. One of the lies of the Garden of Eden is that people can pull themselves up to God’s level and thus “bless themselves” in doing things their own way. The truth is that nothing I do on my own to create a satisfied, happy life equals what God can do for me. Getting my own way won’t give me a rich life. Instead, I’ll have spent my assets on a bag of worthless rocks. It’s only when I realize that God is the only One who can make my life worth living and that he desires to do just that that I have a hope of living the “rich life.” Sometimes, I have to simply accept God’s blessings in a sincere spirit of thanksgiving and not try to do it my own way.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses me the proper response is to say “thank you” and then go about enjoying the blessing.