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.
Extraordinary favors from God
Isaiah 38: I’ll add fifteen years to your life.
Hezekiah is one of the good guys who trusts in the Lord; a king who has his priorities right. When he gets sick Isaiah visits him and tells Hezekiah that this is it, he needs to prepare to die. Hezekiah prays a simple, trusting prayer that touches the heart of God who grants the king fifteen more years of life. As I read this story I remember that my life is in the hands of God. He has the final say. In Hezekiah’s case, the illness that comes to him is a natural one but God trumps it by granting him a supernatural healing. I know that the Lord doesn’t always do that, even in the lives of people just as good and trusting as Hezekiah. Still, this incident reminds me that I can ask for extraordinary favors from the Lord while trusting him in his wisdom to answer according to his grace.
Take Away: Sometimes, the Lord’s answer is “yes.”
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.
Listening in prayer
Ecclesiastes 5: Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.
Some folks think God wants to hear us pray in the language of the King James Bible: “Almighty God, Thou Who art from everlasting to everlasting….” To them, prayer is a rather formal event that ought to be filled with plenty of pomp and circumstance. Sometimes, as I’m reminded here, I’m better off to pray without words at all and let God be in charge of what happens next. It does make sense. God is always the “first mover.” After all, the Bible doesn’t start off with “In the beginning man…”! So, rather than coming to prayer in what might be called “automatic mode,” in which every prayer is pretty much a copy of the one before, or with a sense of formality, I want to come to him humbly and honestly; not saying what I think he wants to hear, but in a genuine desire to hear from him. If I let him lead the way my prayer time will be more satisfying to both the Lord and to me. Prayer is just as much a matter of listening as it is a matter of talking.
Take Away: Being still before the Lord is a legitimate approach to prayer.
No one way praying allowed
Proverbs 28: God has no use for the prayers of people who won’t listen to him.
I believe in prayer and consider myself to be a prayer learner. I’ve read books about it, talked about it, and practiced it. I’ve learned that there are different ways to pray. For instance, a person can kneel by their bedside or sit in an easy chair with a cup of coffee or write out a prayer or take a “prayer walk.” These and several other approaches are good ways to pray. One deal breaker to prayer is what is stated in this proverb: one way praying. Prayer is intended to be a conversation with God. It isn’t about my airing my list of wants and concerns while God patiently stands by like the waitress in a restaurant taking an order. I’ve found that, generally speaking, it’s my perspective that’s changed in prayer. The wise man of the proverbs reminds me of the conversational nature of prayer. Of course, there’s another aspect of “listening” here. When I spend time in the Presence of God and he does speak I’m to listen to what he says. That is, I’m to take it to heart and move forward in obedience. Often, I’ve found, God intends to use me in answer to my own prayers. He has work for me to do and, no matter how fervently I continue to pray, nothing will come of it until I start listening to what the Lord’s saying to me.
Take Away: Often, the Lord intends to use us in answer to our own prayers
Learning to listen
Proverbs 3: Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go.
We tend to think that hearing from God is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or maybe that it’s something only saints on earth experience. It isn’t true. The Lord created us for fellowship with himself. From the beginning he walked with Adam in the cool of the day. I don’t have to do some extreme thing to hear from God. All I have to do is listen. But that’s a problem isn’t it? Hearing the Voice of God in the ordinary flow of life takes practice. If I want to hear him speak when I’m sitting in the emergency room of a hospital or when a precious friend is pouring his heart out to me seeking spiritual council I have to practice listening for him when I’m not in the pressure cooker of life. I’m certain that God speaks, and that he does so constantly. Sadly, I am also sure that I’m not a very good listener. For this proverb to work for me; for me to listen for God’s voice everywhere I go, I need to practice the presence of God every day. The way to accomplish that is for me to discipline myself to meet God by creating quiet places in life where I can learn to hear his Voice. Then, when I’m out there in the “everywhere you go” part of life, I will have trained my spiritual ear to recognize the Master’s Voice.
Take Away: It takes practice to learn to hear the Voice of God in the noisy situations of life.
Being real with God
Psalm 6: If you love me at all, get me out of here.
When I spend any time in the Psalms at all (getting beyond the 1st Psalm, the 23rd, and the 100th) I find that they aren’t all about praising the Lord for his blessings and protection. In fact, there is a lot of heartfelt pain. In this Psalm David cries out to God, asking the Lord to let up on him. He says he’s black and blue and tired of all this! I find here, not only permission to speak to God frankly, from my heart, but I sense the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding me that, if I do complain to God like that it had better be the real deal. That is, if I’m really hurting and broken and angry, then God wants me to freely express it to him. If I’m just complaining though, I need to stop whining. I need to get on with life; trusting God to see me through. There’s a big difference between my bringing my brokenness to God, honestly expressing my heart to him, and my just being a wimp who complains to God about every little setback in life.
Take Away: I can be real with God, in fact, I’d better be.
Note to my readers:
As most folks know, the Book of Psalms is the longest book of the Bible. It’s also the lynchpin of the Wisdom Literature in Scripture. By their very nature the Psalms are devotional reading. More often than not, as I read the Psalms I don’t need a commentary as much as I need to listen to what’s being said and then find ways to internalize it into my life. Many people do that by reading a Psalm each day as a part of their daily Bible reading. I don’t intend to write a devotional on each Psalm. Instead, I encourage you to spend some time letting the Psalms feed your spirit. Perhaps the devotionals I do write will serve as primer to help you do that.
Chewing on the word of God
Psalm 1: You chew on Scripture day and night.
The book of Psalms is the world’s finest songbook. For centuries the Hebrew people turn to the Psalms and chant them as a part of their worship. Four part harmony hasn’t been invented yet, but they have the themes of worship down pat. Not only are the Psalms worship songs, they’re often prayers too. They’re not always high sounding and polished prayers. Often they’re prayers from the heart and they reflect the entire range of human emotion. If I know a few things about harmony and chord progression that the Psalmists don’t know, I have to admit that the Psalmists know some things about absolute honesty with God that I need to learn. The first Psalm is a simple consideration of the kind of people God likes. Right at the heart of it is the fact that God likes people who “chew on Scripture day and night.” This goes way beyond doing my daily devotions and reading a bit of the Bible. Instead, it reaches down into my life as I take what I’ve read and consider how it applies to what I’m doing throughout the day. Today, I’m reminded that God likes people who like his Word. That’s a fine reason to allow it to permeate my life.
Take Away: God likes people who like his Word.
Not a very pious prayer
Job 11: Should this kind of loose talk be permitted?
When Job finishes responding to Bildad he addresses the Almighty, Himself. His words in chapter 10 are that prayer, but it isn’t a very pious one. Job, in his misery, cries out to God, demanding to know why his life has taken such a terrible turn. He complains that, apparently, he’s accidentally missed some step and is being punished for it even though he has no idea of why. If this is how things are, Job decides, it would be better to never live at all. Zophar, but not God, responds to this prayer of complaint. He’s scandalized; maybe backing away lest the bolt of lightning he’s sure is coming doesn’t hit him too. In his thinking bad things happen to us because we deserve it. This is no time to complain to God, it’s a time to repent and admit wrong doing so God will let up. Listen, Job’s prayer is the right prayer here because it’s his heart’s cry. God doesn’t want to hear us pray little fake prayers that pretend things about ourselves and our relationship with him. He’d rather hear an honest prayer of complaint than a dishonest prayer of contrition. It may be that we Christians have so narrowly defined how prayer should sound that we’ve defused it of much of its power.
Take Away: A dishonest prayer is more posturing than it is praying.
The extended scepter
Esther 5: He was pleased to see her, the king extended the gold scepter in his hand.
The first great hurdle for Esther is getting an audience with King Xerxes. It sounds crazy to us, but in that kingdom Xerxes is treated like a god. Even his own queen can come into his presence only when summoned. If she or anyone else breaks that rule they can be put to death. However, the king, himself, can grant a sort of “instant reprieve” if he wants to simply by extending his scepter to the uninvited person. Xerxes is just a man, and, apparently, a rather insecure one at that, but that’s how it is in his kingdom. Esther tells Mordecai that she hasn’t been summoned by the king for more than a month, and, in light of what happened to the previous queen when she didn’t come when summoned, Esther is taking a real risk here. However, it’s a necessary one. If Xerxes is unworthy of such deference, there is a King who is King of kings who is worthy of all that and more. However, his relationship to me is so much better than that of Xerxes to his subjects. In fact, I have a standing invitation to come into his Presence any time. This King extended the scepter to me and everyone else long ago, declaring his throne room open for all who will come.
Take Away: We have a standing invitation to enter the throne room, let’s take advantage of it.