Unfair Advantage

It seems that some people have an unfair advantage when it comes to certain things in life.  Some people are better looking than others.  Others are bigger and stronger.  Some people are just plain smarter.  King David had an unfair advantage when it came to his battles with the Philistines.  He had a relationship with God and he took advantage of that fact.

When David first became king, the Philistines mobilized their armies to attack David.  What would David do? David inquired of God, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines?  (1 Chronicles 14:10) God responded with a “yes”, David went out to fight, and won. The next time the Philistines showed up. David inquired again of God (1 Chronicles 14:14). God gave David a battle plan, David did what God asked, and the Philistines were once again defeated.

I wonder why I don’t ask God for directions more often.  I’m afraid that sometimes I don’t ask because I’m afraid of God’s answer. The wonderful thing about David is that he asked anyway, and then he did what God asked him to do.  David wrote, The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). God wants us to ask Him for help, but He also wants us to be honest with Him. Just like David, we too face battles in life. An honest, willing heart is the key to our “unfair” advantage.

Thank You

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4)

I know that some of you will want to correct my theology and tell me that since God is omnipresent, we are always in His presence.  Yet I find that His presence is not always immediately recognizable to me in my frail state.  I find in my life that it takes a sort of spiritual discipline to “enter into” His presence. It may not require anything more than simply stopping to think about God to “enter in”.  For one moment, I am clueless about God’s presence, and in the next I find myself before the King.

The issue of the Psalmist is not just getting through the gate into God’s presence, but the importance of the attitude when I’m there.  Have I “entered” into God’s presence to gripe and grumble?  Do I find myself before the King wearing the putrid odor of complaint, or the delightful fragrance of praise?  Can you imagine having to answer the phone at work, and every single call is someone with a new grievance to air?

An attitude of gratitude is not an easy thing to come by.  It takes diligence to cultivate appreciation in your heart. Whatever could you be grateful for? Try these for starters: He is good.  His love is eternal.  He is faithful and won’t give up on you.  If you’re looking for a way to spark your prayer life, start by saying thanks.

Revive Us, O God

MenuDid you get what you asked for? It’s common for people to pray for “revival”. The word sparks all sorts of images in folks.  Some think of wild-eyed people running up and down the aisles of church. Others think of preachers trying to get as much money out of people as possible.  Neither of these pictures is anything close to the truth.

The nation of Israel had experienced the consequences of their sins and spent 70 years in exile in Babylon.  As they came back, the cry to God was for “revival”, or bringing the nation back to life. Psalm 85 is such a cry. What does revival really look like?  The Psalmist defined it when he wrote, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed”. (Psalm 85:10)

We all like the concept of “mercy”, because who doesn’t want or need forgiveness for their sin?  We all want a taste of real “peace”, especially in this anxiety-filled world.  But revival doesn’t consist of just mercy and peace.  Revival takes place when we also live in the light of truth, when we learn to acknowledge things as they really are, and not just what we pretend they are.  Revival is also tied to righteousness, to a life that is learning to live according to God’s standards.  Have you ever ordered something off a menu and found it wasn’t anything like you thought it was?  Pray for revival, but know what you’re asking for.  It actually tastes better than you think.

Cherith

Elijah Cherith“Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. (1 Kings 17:3)

Elijah was a man whose life was characterized by the miraculous.  You might remember him as the guy who called down fire from heaven and won the title of Israel Ninja Prophet.  Or you might recall that he actually raised someone from the dead.  Yet Elijah’s ministry didn’t start with the powerful.

Elisha’s ministry began with the proclamation of a drought.  There’s nothing miraculous in a prophecy like that, not until a lot of time passes and the rain doesn’t come.  It was after this proclamation that God commanded Elijah to settle down by a stream called “Cherith”, which is Hebrew for “cutting”.  Elijah needed to go through a time of cutting before he would see the power. His only food was what the ravens provided.  His only water was a dwindling brook that would eventually dry up.  All Elijah had was God.

Some folks are intrigued by the life of Elijah.  They’re intrigued by the amazing way God worked in his life.  Perhaps you would like to be used by God in a dynamic way as well.  Be careful that you don’t overlook the path Elijah took.  It started with cutting.  God may need to cut some things back in your life.  The greatest usefulness starts with the greatest dependence upon God.

Wishes

GenieTherefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:9)

A man is walking down the beach when he spies an unusual metallic object.  He picks it up and begins to dust off the sand when suddenly a genie appears and grants him three wishes.  Have you heard a joke that starts like that before?  I’ve got a million of them.  We might often fantasize about how we would answer if a powerful being offered us three wishes.  Young King Solomon wasn’t standing before a big blue genie when he was granted his “wish”. He was before God Almighty Himself.

God was quite tickled that Solomon didn’t ask for lots of money or a long life. Instead, he asked for wisdom so he could do a good job of being king over God’s people. It’s interesting to me that Solomon had displayed quite a measure of wisdom in how he had led his people thus far.  And yet he realizes he needs still more wisdom.

Solomon displayed a mature sense of being “self-aware”.  He understood what the real needs were in his life.  Sometimes we get sidetracked by the glitzy baubles we think we need, when the greater need is something quieter, something deeper, maybe something harder.  So what do you wish?  What do you really need?

For His Sake

TakeCrossYet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Psalm 44:22)

Why do we go through difficult times?  The easy, quick answers are not always the correct ones.  Sometimes we jump to the conclusion that we’ve done something wrong to deserve the pain we’ve been experiencing.  Though that may be true from time to time, it’s not always the case.

Occasionally, the trial is aimed at deepening our own faith. The Psalmist pointed out that he had learned to not trust in his own strength, but to trust in God’s help in his life (Ps. 44:6-8).  Difficult times give us the chance to grow deeper. It takes deep roots to draw on the everlasting arms that are beneath us.

Sometimes our trial is really not about us at all, but is for those around us who are watching.  It’s a powerful thing to watch a person not only suffer, but to actually draw closer to God in their suffering.

Paul quotes this verse and reminds us that no matter what we are going through, none of these difficulties can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

The early church faced all kinds of difficulties, and it was their trust in God in those trials that impacted many.  Would you be willing to be uncomfortable if it meant God could do a greater work?

Good Morning

Sunrise 1For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

I am so grateful for the concept of hope.  Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are struggling with a difficult time.  Hope is what makes all your trials worth it.  I think hope is one of the greatest needs of every person.  We all long to know that things will work out in the end.

As a Christian, we have a hope that serves as an anchor to our soul (Heb. 6:19), keeping us on course through the storms of life.  Our ultimate hope is a blessed one, when Jesus returns to take us to heaven (Tit. 2:13). Our hope isn’t a false hope, but is one that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5).

David wrote that the dark times in our lives may indeed be filled with tears, but the night doesn’t last forever.  There will be a morning.  And in the morning, there will be joy.  Sometimes the morning is literally the next day. Sometimes it takes a few days to get to that “morning”. Sometimes the morning is the day we walk into heaven.  But morning is coming, no matter how long the night.

How did David make it through his long, dark night?  He prayed.  He cried out to God (Ps. 30:2,8).  He brought his needs to God.

It may seem darkest before the dawn, but the morning will come.

What’s Inside

Inside the box

It was time for a new king.  God was frustrated and grieved at King Saul.  Saul was more concerned about doing things to please the people rather than doing what pleased God.  So God sent the prophet Samuel to find a new king from the sons of Jesse.  One by one the sons were brought before Samuel.  Jesse’s oldest looked particularly promising. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

When it comes to preparing for a job interview, we’ve all been taught to pay attention to how you dress.  After all, you do want to make a good “first impression”.  There’s an interview I want you to think about that’s bigger than your next job.  What about your interview with God about the plans He has for you? How do you prepare for that interview? God looks right past the outward things that others are impressed by, and straight into your heart.  It’s not the wrapping paper that makes the gift valuable, it’s what’s inside the box. Give time towards cultivating your heart. God promotes and guides based on what’s happening inside you. Even if you don’t get that flashy spot you wanted, if your heart is right, then you’re probably right where you need to be.

Inputs

HeadphonesThe book of Psalms begins with a clue to the inner life of the believer.  It’s a key to getting closer to God and seeing His fruit in your life on a consistent basis.  The key has to do with inputs. What’s playing in your headphones? The “blessed” man is one who reduces the inputs from the world in his life, and… his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

Do you struggle with fear and anxiety in your life?  Do you find yourself motivated by fear? Are you looking for direction in your life?  Do you long to be closer to God?  Then pay attention to the inputs in your life.  What kinds of things do you allow into our heart and your mind? Is your first task in the morning to check Facebook?  Is watching TV the last thing you do in the evening?  Or do you give God time to speak by opening His Word?  I’ve been challenging myself to not just start my day with the Bible, but to end with it as well.

Have you ever wondered why you feel closer to God by the end of a church retreat?  I don’t want to oversimplify it, but part of it has to do with input.  You’ve had a weekend away from the world’s input, and a weekend getting input from God and His word.

Beloved, turn off the world’s input for a few minutes.  Start your day with scripture.  End your day with scripture. Take a few minutes to pray. It doesn’t take much.  And watch what happens.

The Cards

CardsPaul’s enemies had stirred up the crowds in the Temple and would have put Paul to death when the Roman soldiers stepped in. The Romans were about to scourge Paul when Paul pulled out his Roman citizenship “card”.  Roman citizens were not allowed to be tortured.  The Roman commander wondered how Paul was a Roman citizen … And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” (Acts 22:28)

One of the things I appreciate about Paul was his ability to recognize that everything in his life had a purpose.  He recognized the cards he had been dealt.  A Jew educated as a Pharisee gave him an amount of credibility to other Jews. Being born in the Gentile city of Tarsus not only gave him Roman citizenship, it helped him relate to Gentiles. Even Paul’s arrests, beatings, and physical illness gave him the ability to relate to people others couldn’t.

You too have been given a set of “cards” to play with in your life. Those “cards” may involve how you were born or the experiences you’ve had in life. You may think that the cards you’ve been dealt don’t give you any advantage. You are wrong.  There are certain people that only you can relate to. There are bridges that only you can cross because of the cards you are holding in your hand. Nothing is wasted, even the pain.  It all has a purpose in God’s plan.  The bigger challenge is, will you let God use you?