When God says “No”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

Were Paul’s prayers for his thorn in the flesh prayed in faith? Yes.

Did those prayers come from a heart that was pure before God? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers for this physical agony fervent, genuine and persistent? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers specific? Yes.

Was Paul’s motive for this prayer selfish and self-centered? No. Just because it was about himself doesn’t make it selfish. Jesus did the same, right?

But with all of this, God still said “No” to Paul’s request. That is just hard to swallow. When God says “No” to our prayers, it can be a great challenge to our faith. Why pray at all? What does it matter? Is prayer just an exercise in futility?

If you are challenged by me even bringing this up, then that’s good. Read the Psalms. Look at those who are looking up into heaven and asking “Where are you God?”, or “How long will it be before You hear us?”

Remember the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2, ESV)

These feelings are real. Sometimes when fellow Christians bring up these feelings and questions they get dismissed or invalidated by others who give their default “churchy” answers without thinking. If Jesus Himself wondered why God had forsaken Him and whether God wasn’t listening at all, is it okay for me to wonder that once in awhile, too?

Yes, yes it is.

Here are some thoughts I see from Scripture that help me when I go through that process of wondering where God is.

God IS listening. The Lord responded to Paul’s prayers. The prayer was heard, and the prayer was answered. “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached His ears” (Psalm 18:6, ESV).

God answered the prayers of many people in Scripture and gave them their requests. Gideon, Joshua, Moses, Samuel, Abraham, Hannah, Esther, Mordecai, Elijah, Hezekiah are just a few of the faithful to whom God granted their petitions. Prayer is not an exercise in futility. It most certainly works.

God’s grace is sufficient. When God says “No,” or “Wait awhile,” or “Yes, but in a different way,” then you can be assured that He has a very good reason. It may be very difficult at times to accept that, but His grace is sufficient.

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s “No” answers will work for His glory so that His strength, not ours, is exalted.

I will glory and boast in my infirmities. We may want the “testimony” and “witness” to others that we prayed for something and God gave a definite and mighty “Yes” to our requests. But the testimony we may give is like that of Paul, in that we glorify God in the weaknesses, trials and setbacks of life. Paul’s “testimony” was that he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke 18:1, ESV)

God sends a brother

A brother recently was struggling at work with his attitude. It is a second job, and it is physically demanding on top of dealing with ornery customers. He was really having a hard time with his attitude the other night, so he told his manager he needed to take his 10-minute break. He sat in the break room by himself and prayed hard for God to change his attitude. He went back to work, and within minutes another brother in Christ showed up at his workplace just to say hello and to see how he was doing.

Instant attitude change. Instant smile. Instant prayer of “Thank you, God!” for answering prayer.

Coincidence?

What did God promise?

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:19)

God will supply our needs richly! Sometimes that just may mean a person shows up to encourage and refresh us.

Here are a few verses for us to meditate upon today about how God filled that need in the days of the early church. May we be instruments of God’s encouragement today for others. And remember, God will answer your prayers for encouragement.

Another part of the story is that the brother who stopped by the workplace of the other brother also needed some encouragement. He was down and struggling with his own attitude and decided to look for his good friend. They both greatly benefited that night, didn’t they?

Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
(2 Corinthians 7:6-7)

I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:17-18)

…and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
(1 Thessalonians 3:2)

The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day–and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.
(2 Timothy 1:16-18)

In the World, But Not of the World

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
(John 17:9-19)

Today, please take time to meditate upon this section of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. Specifically note the word “world” in this prayer.

The word “world” is used around 80 times in the book of John. This is also a good study to look at how Jesus used this term and what we learn from His teaching about “the world.”

Jesus, the night before being slaughtered for our sins, prayed for His disciples that they would be kept from the world. In Jesus’ mind, He was “no longer” in the world, because His eyes were fixed on the hope of glory (Hebrews 12:2). But for His disciples, He knew they would be left “in the world.” This clearly was a huge concern for Jesus.

His prayer to the Father was that they would be in the world, but not of the world, which is really what it means to be “sanctified” or “set apart.” Jesus prayed for them to be set apart from the world while still living in it.

How was that to happen, according to Jesus? Truth. There is such a thing. In this “world” many claim there is no such thing as truth. Jesus said there is truth and it is only found in the Word of God. In order to be in the world, and yet not of the world, we have to commit our hearts to the truth found within the pages of Scripture. Men’s philosophy and our own feelings are not truth.

As we are in the world, we set ourselves apart from the world by our relationship to the Word. The fruit will bear itself out in our lives, in our words, in our behavior, and in our choices.

Be in the world, but don’t be of the world.

Strong Enough to be Her Man

Are you “strong enough to be her man?”  No matter who the “her” is…whether it is mother, sister, daughter, wife…you are strong enough to be her man with God as your foundation and His blessings filling your heart.  His grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, hope will produce peace that will be just what is needed in the best and worst of times in our relationships with women.

Peace is not the absence of war, trials or tribulations.  Having peace does not mean that the women we love are not going to disappoint us, hurt us or lose their way.  Peace does not mean that our women are not going to be hurt, have challenges, or be without distractions.  Peace is not circumstantial but rather a state of being.  Peace is the presence of God; the tranquility and serenity within the individual who is in a right relationship with God.

Read Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Find peace with God who is the source of peace.  Take a moment and read Colossians 3:12-17 with a focus on verse 15.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

 Draw near and Abide in Christ Jesus through whom God’s peace comes.  Jesus calls us to Abide in Him (John 15) because He has already taken care of what we need and God the good gardener will continue to lift us up, prune away the dead parts and provide us with the fresh air and sunshine needed to grow and prosper.  Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Rom. 5:1)

Have peace with self.  Take courage in Jesus’ words.  Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1)

We can then have a calmness and tranquility of mind knowing that God is on our side (Romans 8:23, 31).  He WILL NOT forsake you.  No matter how much someone else disappoints you, hurts you, or gets off track.  God will not forsake you and you will be cared for here and retain your final reward and home in heaven.  Allow this to build you up with a peaceful heart so that you can endure and be strong for others.

No matter how turbulent the times get, how loud the argument, how far the distance, how confused the situation…you have a voice!  Take it all to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).

Then, as much as possible, have peace with your women.  (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14).

God is our peace.  He will reassure us.  He will strengthen us.  He will fill us with His wisdom and discernment.  He will give us patience and endurance.  He will pour into us His grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope in such a way we can project that into the lives of our women and reflect for them the peace and eternal perspective God has called us to have in good times and bad.

You are strong enough to be her man…when you have the peace that comes from above.

Strong Foundation

I hope you enjoy these thoughts as we start the week.  I received this from Jason Cicero, one of my best friends and most importantly a brother in Christ.  Consider your foundation this morning and take some time in meditation and prayer about how much God has loved you and how willingly and freely He blesses you so that you might be filled up with His blessings and be a blessing to others in whatever role or situation you find yourself in.  Have a great week!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

A foundation is a strong, stable base on which a life is built.  A blessing is a gift from God.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17; NKJV).  In Christ there are “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26; NKJV).  Of all the blessings God has given us it seems to me that there are five that we can fall back on as we make our journey from Earth to Heaven.

Five Foundational Blessings.  Grace is God’s kindness to the guilty and undeserving.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.  Mercy is God withholding from us what we do deserve.  Love is God’s active good will toward us.  Forgiveness of sins is the release from the debt, guilt, and punishment for our transgressions.  Hope is the confident expectation He fills us after we receive forgiveness.

Why I don’t deserve them.  I do not deserve these five foundational blessings because I have sinned.  By definition I do not deserve grace.  I am guilty and undeserving.  He is well within His holy nature to give me what I deserve.  He loves me despite my sins.  He longs to forgive me.  He fills me with a living hope even though I have let Him down again and again.  

Why I’ve been given them.  I have been given these five foundational blessings to the praise of His glory!  We have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” for the purpose of glorifying His name (Ephesians 1:3).  He gives me grace, mercy, love, forgiveness of my sins, and hope that I would praise His name!  Receive these blessings “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 2:7; 3:20-21).

My response to them.  Because of these five foundational blessings I will rejoice always!  I will pray without ceasing!  I will give thanks in everything!  Because of these five foundational blessings I have a relationship to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that will sustain me no matter what happens.  Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39; NKJV).  In this I rejoice and praise His name!

How Long Nehemiah Prayed

I’m listening to some sermons on Nehemiah and this fellow made a wonderful observation that I want to share with you today.

When Nehemiah, cup-bearer for the king of Persia, heard that his ancestral city of Jerusalem was lying in rubble and his fellow Jews were in distress, he prayed fervently. Between chapters 1 and 2 there is a period of 3-4 months. Nehemiah prayed for 90-120 days before God gave him the first opportunity to petition his boss, Artaxerxes the King of Persia, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild.

When the people of Israel began to rebuild the walls under his leadership, it took the Jews 52 days to build the wall (Nehemiah 6:15).

Do the math. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took them to build the wall.

Don’t we have this reversed sometimes? We work twice as long, beating our heads against the wall, because we did not spend enough time inviting God into our lives and our planning. Not enough time was spent seeking God’s advice, God’s will, His wisdom and His plans, and as a result we make our lives and work all the more difficult.

It’s something to think about. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took him to actually do the project.

 

An old Anglican prayer

Today I want to share with you an old Anglican prayer that I heard someone pray yesterday. Meditate upon these simple words:

What we know not, teach us

What we have not, give us

What we are not, make us

Here are some prayers in Scripture that go along with each of the above statements

What we know not, teach us

  • Teach Me your way, O Lord (Psalm 86:11). In Psalm 119, David repeatedly asked God to “teach” him.
  • Samson’s parents prayed for wisdom and instruction on how to raise their son (Judges 13:8).
  • Paul’s prayers for what he wanted the brethren to learn and understand (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:15-19).

What we have not, give us

  • Wisdom (James 1:5).
  • You have not because you ask not (James 4:2).
  • Boldness to speak the gospel clearly (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4).
  • Earthly blessings of this life (1 Chronicles 4:10).
  • Longer life, physical healing (2 Kings 20:1-6).
  • Nehemiah, among his many prayers, prayed for success before speaking to the King of Persia (Nehemiah 1:11).

What we are not, make us

  • To stand perfect and complete in the will of God (Colossians 4:12).
  • To be strengthened by God in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
  • You are the potter, Lord; we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8).
  • Prayers for forgiveness would fit within this prayer. If we are not forgiven, please Lord make it so through Your grace (Psalm 51; Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9; Daniel 9).

You could find many other examples. I think this would be a great sermon to preach, or a great devotional study you could lead at someone’s house.

This simple prayer packs a lot of power in it. Pray it today.

Psalm 26 part 2

Yesterday, we considered Psalm 26, and the requests David made of God.

Read it again today and meditate upon it. This time consider David’s desires, heart, hands, feet, voice, etc.

Of David. Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells. Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
(Psalm 26:1-12)

His feet – He walked in his integrity (vs. 1,11), and walked in God’s faithfulness and truth (vs. 3). David wanted to “go” about God’s altar (vs. 6). Because of this, his feet stood on level ground (vs. 12). He was stable in God, standing on a firm foundation.

His hands – David’s hands were washed in innocence (vs. 6). His hands were not like the sinners and bloodthirsty men, in whose hands were blood, evil devices and bribes (vs. 10).

His desires and mind– David trusted in the Lord without wavering (vs. 1). Because of his humility and love for God, he opened his heart and his mind to God’s inspection (vs. 2). He “loved the habitation” of God’s house and fellowship with God’s people (vs. 6-8,12). Where did David want to be? In God’s assembly blessing Him among His people. In contrast, David hated the assembly (fellowship, congregation, association) of evildoers (vs. 4-5,9-10).

His behind – He did not sit with men of falsehood (vs. 4), nor with the wicked (vs. 5). Verse 8 doesn’t say “sit,” but we know from verse 8 where David wanted to sit, in God’s house.

His eyes – God’s steadfast love was before David’s eyes (vs. 3). Think of what that says about the “focus” of David. Where did he choose to fix his eyes? On the lovingkindness of God.

His voice – Vs. 6-7 shows that David would go about the altar of God, “proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all” His wondrous deeds. What did David do with his voice? Vs. 12 says that in the congregations, he blessed the Lord.

So, guys, think about these things. What about our voices; what do they say? What about our behinds, where are they sitting? Where are our feet walking? Upon what are our eyes focused? What are our hands doing? What do we love and what do we hate? Who are my friends? What types of people do I love to hang out with, and whom do I avoid?

Again, this is a great prayer, and we can clearly see here why David was called a man after God’s own heart.

Psalm 26 part 1

Today and tomorrow we will look at Psalm 26. Take time to read it and meditate on it.

Of David. Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells. Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
(Psalm 26:1-12)

Please think about the prayer of David here. Consider the requests he made of God.

Request #1Vindicate me, Lord Lord. David wants the righteous and merciful judge to litigate his case.

Request #2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. This is one of many times that David invites God into his soul to search it, examine it and test it. He wants to be right with God, and he wants anything not found pleasing to God to be taken away.

Request #3Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men. David’s heart and desire is to be in fellowship with God and with His people. He does not want to be associated with the wicked, nor does he want to be swept away in their lifestyle and the consequences of it.

Request #4 Redeem me, and be gracious to me. The thing he wants the most is the mercy, grace and redemption of God.

This is a great prayer. It would be good to consider using this prayer in your time with God, maybe even today.

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will look at David’s heart, desires, hands, eyes, feet, voice, etc. that are discussed in this Psalm.

And the Lord Remembered

And the Lord remembered Hannah (1 Samuel 1:19).

The Lord remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1).

God is worthy of praise because He “remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalms 136:23).

The above verses are so comforting. “And the Lord remembered…” God loves His children. He remembers His promises. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. That is a fact, but in the midst of pain, look at what God’s people sometimes wonder. Watch as they go through the process of despair to hope. These Holy Spirit-given passages are there for us today to help us go through the same process with God (and to help others do the same).

I will say to God my Rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (Psalms 42:9-11).

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph. I cried out to God with my voice–To God with my voice; and He gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah. And I said, “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid; the depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalms 77:1-20).

Here is one final passage from Isaiah. Notice how God’s people feel, and how God helps them (and us) to see the reality. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:13-16).