The Same Way of Thinking – as Jesus

1 Peter 4

Monday, October 10, 2022


At the beginning of chapter four Peter says to “arm yourself with the same way of thinking” aligning this directive with Jesus suffering in the flesh. While Jesus’ suffering was likely to exceed what these Christians endured, they were still facing a culture that might ostracize, if not outright persecute or kill them.


Peter points out distinctions in how the gentiles live according to the flesh (perverting many things that God intended for good), and how we as believers are to pursue the will of God – this means among other things giving up things that might feel good or make us feel like we belong.


We’ll home in on what Peter writes in verses 7-11:


“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11 ESV)


Considering the coming kingdom (which is immanent, but we don’t know when it will come): Exert Self-Control! Many times, we see this attribute called for in the life of believers (at least 18 times in the ESV). Looking in the letter of James (which I preached from yesterday), lack of self-control can lead to self-deception. When we allow our thoughts to be clouded by worldly things or self-centered behaviors, we are going to miss what God would have us do. By being sober (or clear) minded we can think critically, and we need to think clearly so that we can be effective in our prayers. Jesus gave us a model by which to structure our prayers, but our prayers are not meant to be mindless or rote… We need to be looking at things through the lens of God’s spirit, which allows us to see things that our physical eyes cannot see. Think back to 1 Peter 3 where it says a man should live with his wife in an understanding way as not to have his prayers hindered – the way that we think, live, and act has a direct impact on how we pray and the effectiveness of our prayers.


We’re instructed to love one another earnestly, because love covers a multitude of sins. (Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13). “…in the face of extreme social hostility, love will be necessary for spiritual survival. For Peter the primacy of love is accompanied by a qualification, and this qualification is a partial citation of Proverbs 10:12 similar to James 5:20—’love covers over a multitude of sins,’ rather than magnifying the faults of others. After all, love is patient and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5)” (J. Daryl Charles, “1 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, vol. 13 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition).

How does the Church expect to thrive if we let piddly little things (or even larger disagreements) get in the way of caring for each other? How are we to expect to overcome the world through Jesus if we don’t exercise with others the grace that we have been shown (we all kind of stink at times, to put it mildly)?

We need to show hospitality in a world that that is oft inhospitable to Jesus’ way of living. If we’re inhospitable to other believers, they might find hospitality in places that will draw them away from the grace of God. We shouldn’t grumble when we have an opportunity to be hospitable, but rather see it as an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus (Genesis 12 says Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, and through grace and mercy we’ve also been blessed to be a blessing as well).


In everything we do we need to do so viewing ourselves as representatives of God, as ambassadors of the kingdom, and imitators of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-8).

-JJ Fletcher


Reflection Questions

  1. How does my life look like the life of Jesus and how does it look different?
  2. How does hospitality with fellow believers prime me to be hospitable to those who I disagree with?
  3. Am I doing well at being self-controlled? What are my biggest obstacles to living in this way? Who can I ask for help or be accountable to help me in this endeavor?

Formula

James 5

Wednesday, October 6, 2022

The last section of James 5 contains some wisdom about prayer and healing. Like most everything else we’ve encountered in James, it is simple, but not easy.

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14-16 NRSV)

God does heal, and when he does, we rejoice. We proclaim the wonders of how our good and faithful God answers prayer. But what about when the healing doesn’t come? In those times, there doesn’t seem to be much to rejoice about, and it isn’t as easy to truly believe that God is good or that he answers prayer.

When there is no healing, we want to know why. Did we mess something up? Did we not pray hard enough or with enough faith? Should we have gotten the elders to pray and anoint us with oil? Have our unconfessed sins gotten in the way? Were we not righteous enough for our prayers to be effective? Did we do everything right, but forces of evil sabotaged our prayers? Was it just not God’s will to heal? Is it not God’s timing to heal now?

There is no end to the questions we could ask about this, and to make things worse, there is a severe shortage of good answers. But, like in the book of Job, you can find lots of bad answers from people who mean well. I would just add to the bad but well-meaning category if I were to offer my own explanations.

Let’s get out of that rabbit hole for now and try to grasp James’ practical advice. We could zoom out and summarize it in two main pieces: Do your part, and ask God to do his. 

Doing your part might actually mean seeking out the elders to pray over you and anoint you with oil. It could mean confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness. It could mean going to see a doctor and following their advice. Your formula may not look exactly like James’, but the important part may be that you do something, or whatever it is that you are able to.

While we are doing our part, it is important that we ask God to do his part also (remember the importance of asking from James 4?). We’re not going to be able to do everything ourselves, so asking God initiates our cooperation with him. By asking, we’re acknowledging that God has real power in our lives and that we’re receptive to it. It’s not a we-do-everything or a God-does-everything scenario. It’s a cooperation that requires both sides. It is a James kind of faith that is coupled with action.

After doing your part and asking God for his, the way forward may be to wait, or to keep doing and asking, all while hoping for the best.

-Jay Laurent

Questions

1. What does your “formula” for healing look like? Is it anything like James’ formula?

2. How can you do your part for your own healing or for the healing of others?

Standing Firm in the Lord

1 Thessalonians 3

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

When reading this chapter, the joy Paul had stood out to me.  Paul faced challenge after challenge, obstacle after obstacle as he worked to spread the gospel, yet he is still full of joy.


Paul starts the chapter by talking about how he feared that the Thessalonians would be led astray by the temptations and afflictions they would face.  He says that for this reason, he asked someone to report on their faith, hoping that all his work there wouldn’t have been in vain.  But when Timothy returned with a report about the Thessalonians, it became clear that they had stood firm in their faith through all the persecution they faced.


In verse 7, Paul writes that he and his companions were comforted by the news that Timothy brought.  The good news about the Thessalonians was so great that it provided comfort in the midst of affliction!  Paul states that they now really live if the Thessalonians stand firm in their faith.  The Thessalonians provided so much joy to the lives of Paul and his companions that it feels like they just started to really live!  In verse 9, Paul asks what thanks they can give to God for all the joy he has about the Thessalonians.  There is so much joy that he doesn’t even know how to put it into words to thank God.  This joy is so overwhelming that he can’t even start to understand how much thanks he needs to give God.


Are you filling others with as much joy as Paul is full of from the Thessalonians?  Are those who taught you the Bible filled with joy from the way it has changed your life?  Paul’s joy came from seeing that he was able to make this impact on the Thessalonians and that they were able to continue standing firm.  We each need to be like the Thessalonians, providing joy to our teachers and others as we continue to walk in the way of the Lord.


Are you filled with joy like Paul?  God has provided each of us with much more than we ever deserved.  None of us deserve salvation, but God offered it to each one of us.  Our lives should be full of joy because of this great gift.  I can’t even begin to thank God enough for everything that He has given me!


Paul’s response to this joy is shown in verse 10.  He says that he and his companions are earnestly praying that they may see the Thessalonians again and continue to strengthen their faith.  He doesn’t claim that his job is now done, as the Thessalonians were able to stand up to opposition.  Instead, he says that he wants to visit to teach them even more, to make them even stronger, lacking nothing in their faith.


What is your response to being filled with joy?  We need to be constantly giving thanks for all that we have been given, night and day praising God.  Are you asking God that you can continue to do the work which He has prepared for you or are you saying that your job is done?  This joy should cause you to want to do even more, spreading the good news to all those around you so that they too might experience this joy.

-Kaitlyn Hamilton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is the biggest challenge you face in standing firm in the Lord? How can you ask for help from your brothers and sisters in Christ? (If you don’t have a church family yet – make it your first priority to find one!)
  2. Are there brothers and sisters or children in the faith that give you great joy when you see how they are standing firm in the faith even in the midst of trials? Let them know.
  3. Spend an extra ten minutes in prayer today thanking God.

A Super Power Story

Ephesians 3

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Ephesians 3:16 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…

As a fan of superhero movies, I really like understanding the origins of how regular people acquired their superpowers. Whether it was from a spider bite or from the released energy of a crashed light-speed engine, it’s fun to see how their skills develop over time.

In the book of Ephesians, the author, the apostle Paul, is writing to a church of new Gentile believers. The origin story of these Christians most likely includes a history of idol worship and pagan rituals. Learning to believe in one true God was a new concept for them. Not only that, they were being introduced to a Messiah who made it possible to be in a personal relationship with the God of all heaven and Earth. They were learning that this personal relationship with God meant that they had a job to do: to participate in the sharing of the Gospel. And this participation would require them to rely on the power of God to accomplish all that He was calling them to do.

In my imagination, I think that the experiences of these new believers learning to lean into the power of God is a little similar to superheroes learning to use their powers. New discoveries of what might be possible; determining how and when to use these gifts and for whom; and probably failing every now and again. 

For some superheroes, the more that they use their power, the stronger they become. 

As believers in Christ, our faith also grows more powerful the more we exercise it. I sometimes wonder what might be possible if I could get out of my own way, completely, and totally rely on the power of God. I wonder if this happened if I might be more like the original disciples who healed, ministered, and preached to hundreds and thousands. 

I know that with each passing year my faith in God grows as new and different circumstances require me to lean into the power He offers. I think that is why this particular prayer that Paul prays for the Ephesians is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In Ephesians chapter 3, verses 16 through 21, I read one of the most encouraging prayers that is offered up to believers. When I read this portion, I am strengthened in my faith and my desire to serve God grows. I want to see what God can do in and through me. I want to put on my super suit and get to work.

So how about it? Will you join me in the adventure of a lifetime?

-Bethany Ligon

Application Questions

  1. How would you tell the story of how you got your power? Where does it come from? How did you get it? What do you do with it? What could you do with it?
  2. Re-read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. Does this sound like your prayer list for your church, your family and yourself? What do you like best about Paul’s prayer? What could you add to your prayers?

Faith in God

Mark 11

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Chapter 11 of Mark is so saturated in beautiful parables and stories that it can be difficult to draw one single lesson from each separate part. The chapter contains Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt, him cursing a fig tree, driving heretics out of the temple, and providing a puzzling dilemma to those who wish to destroy him. From this, however, we’ll try to draw something coherent.

The story begins with Jesus and the disciples entering the city of Jerusalem. Like the confusing things Jesus asked the disciples to do that we were discussing yesterday, He asks several of the disciples to go into town and mysteriously grab a tied-up colt. What could the meaning of this possibly be? Why would Jesus have them specifically say that the Lord needs it, and it will be back shortly? My best assumption is that this was partially meant to draw the attention of the townspeople that the Christ was coming. Additionally, simply because he called for it to happen, it was so. This is a very similar archetype to what Jesus does with a fig tree the next morning. But just keep in mind, Jesus said for it to be so, and it was.

The next morning “Jesus was hungry” (Mark 11:12) and went to find figs on a fig tree he had seen. As it wasn’t the season for the fruit to bear, there were no figs. Because of this, Jesus curses the tree itself: “[May] no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Mark 11:14. This made me audibly laugh out loud when I read it because it seemed so out of place and random for Jesus to get mad that he was hungry and then curse a tree. It is not explained at first but keep this in the back of your mind for later; it’s foreshadowing.

Jesus then entered the temple and saw that people were committing heathenish and blasphemous acts in the temple of God. “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17. This is one of the few instances that makes me believe that anger as an emotion is not a sin, but unrightfully acting upon your anger trespasses into the bounds of sin. It has been referenced as ‘righteous anger.’ In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes “In your anger do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26. In this circumstance, Jesus became rightfully angry at the desecration of his Father’s home and rightfully drove the sinners out who were blaspheming the house of God.

After doing this, as they were leaving the city, they saw that the fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before had wilted and effectively died. They were astonished by this, and Jesus replied, “Have faith in God, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24. I’m sure it would be hard to believe at first when Jesus cursed the tree that anything would happen so suddenly, but because Jesus said so in total belief and had patience, the tree wilted as He commanded. When you are praying for something that God would ordain to happen, do you believe in your heart without doubt that it will be given to you? If not, you have not the faith that is required for any reward to be manifested. Have faith that God wants the best for you and be ready to see the answer that God gives you.

Just as Jesus had faith in what he ordered and committed himself to an effort to do what is right (protect the house of God), he was rewarded. It is our goal to emulate this pattern of faith, prayer, and work to glorify God in the belief that He will reward us for our good efforts.

-Mason Kiel

Application Questions

  1. As Jesus entered Jerusalem what did the people expect? The disciples? Jesus? Have you ever misunderstood God’s plan or Jesus’ purpose? What were you focusing on? What is Jesus focused on?
  2. Have you ever been angry enough about sin and unrighteousness to do something about it? Did you sin while doing it? How do we ensure that in our anger we do not sin?
  3. Not having enough faith is indeed one reason your prayers may not be answered. How would you go about boosting your faith? What are other Biblical reasons for prayer not being answered?

Dedicated to Prayer

Mark 1

Saturday, July 23, 2022

As usual, there are many areas we could focus on in today’s devotion.  I’d like to start with a very quick recap of Mark 1.

Mark 1 starts out with John the Baptists preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) to prepare the way for Jesus.  Compared with the Old Testament sacrifices, this was revolutionary – introducing a new and better way to reconcile with God.  Confess sins, turn away from those sins, and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins.

Mark 1 continues with Jesus’ baptism, when God declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.”  After which Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by Satan for 40 days.

After that, as Jesus performed miracles, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (1:28)  After sunset one evening, Mark 1:33 says, “The whole town gathered at the door”, because Jesus was healing many who had various diseases and casting out demons.

Mark 1:35 gives some insight into Jesus’ prayer life, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.”  He was interrupted by his disciples, who said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  But Jesus left to go preach elsewhere because that was why he was sent.

Then, Mark 1:40-42 tells us, “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, If you are willing, you can make me clean.  Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  I am willing, he said.  Be clean!  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”  As a result of his healing, this man told everyone what Jesus had done.  Mark 1:45 tells us, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

The three things that stand out to me in Mark 1 are:

  1. Jesus’ dedication to prayer.
  2. Jesus’ compassion.
  3. Jesus’ popularity – because people couldn’t stop themselves from telling all that Jesus had done.

After staying up very late at night healing people who started to arrive after sunset, Jesus got up very early in the morning while it was still dark to go to a solitary place to pray.  Obviously, prayer was more important to Jesus than sleep.  I think there is a correlation between Jesus’ prayer life and his successful ministry.  How’s your prayer life?

Jesus healed so many people because he had compassion for them, and wanted to relieve their suffering.  I’m especially touched by his reaction to the man with leprosy who came to Jesus, begging to be healed.  Remember that leprosy made a person unclean.  According to the Old Testament law, such a person was an outcast, who had to stay away from people, wear a covering over their mouth, and yell “unclean”.  By coming to Jesus, this guy was breaking the law.  But he knew he likely had a terminal illness, and Jesus was his only possibility of a cure.  

And instead of shrinking back from this man, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  This man had probably not felt another human touch for years.  And Jesus deliberately touched him and healed him.

Do you recognize that your sins are a terminal illness?  Will you come to Jesus, and beg him on your knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”?  If you do, Jesus is still compassionate and will forgive your sins.

Finally, after Jesus healed people, and changed their lives, they couldn’t help but tell everyone what Jesus had done for them.  I can just imagine one of them saying something like, “You know this horrible problem I had?  Well, Jesus completely healed me and gave me a new lease on life.  I know you have some issues too, and I think you should go to Jesus to be healed like I was.  It will change your life too.”  – And as a result, Jesus’ fame and popularity exploded.  Because people couldn’t stop talking about what Jesus had done for them.

What has Jesus done for you?  How are you doing telling everyone you know?

In closing, I’d like to challenge you in a few areas.  First, step up your prayer life.  Give it a test.  Deliberately dedicate time early in the morning to pray, and seek God.  After a week, see what a difference it has made in your life.  If you see a great change, continue the practice.

Second, take all of your problems to Jesus (in prayer).  Your sins, your suffering, your concerns.  Jesus is still compassionate.  Sometimes, he grants physical healing, more often spiritual healing.  Give it a try.

Finally, once Jesus has done something for you, tell everyone you know how He has changed your life.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions –

Today’s questions came from the devotion – go ahead and give some more time thinking about, and acting on, them.

  1. How’s your prayer life? What could you give up to make more time for prayer? Try the prayer test this week.
  2. Do you recognize that your sins are a terminal illness?  Will you come to Jesus, and beg him on your knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”?  What will spiritual healing look like?
  3. What has Jesus done for you?  How are you doing telling everyone you know?

You Don’t Have to Pretend with God

Psalm 77

Monday, July 11, 2022

            I remember as a kid we had about a 30 minute drive to Church every Sunday.  Now, you put 2 adults and 3 kids in a car for a half hour and there’s bound to be some excitement, maybe even some conflict.  Somebody is going to say or do something to annoy someone else and that kind of stuff is contagious so that by the time we get to Church everyone’s cross with each other and in a bad mood.  But it always amazed me that when we got out of the car and walked into church people smile and we smiled back, how are you?  I’m fine, how are you.  It was like someone flipped a switch and we instantly turned off all of the bad feelings.  Was it really that easy?  Of course not.  We just stuffed the bad feelings back inside and pretended it was okay. 

            Human beings learn to do that a lot.  We hide our pain and gloss it over with fake smiles and civility.  Now, there’s a certain amount of this that is necessary.  If you work at Chick Fil A and you had a fight with your boyfriend before your shift started, the Jones family doesn’t want to buy your drama along with their chicken sandwich so you learn to tough it out, smile and at the end of the order respond, “My pleasure.”  But you can’t hide those bad feelings forever.  Everyone needs someone that they can go to and share their hurt and sadness and tears.  Ideally, church should be a place where we can do that, where we can find grace even on our worst days.  I realize that not all churches feel like safe spaces to share our painful emotions so some keep on pretending.

            The Bible reminds us over and over again that we don’t have to pretend with God.  The Psalms are an example of how open God is to receiving all of our feelings.  There are Psalms of joy and thanksgiving, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”!  There are also songs of complaint, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”  The Bible says that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  God wouldn’t ask us to do something that He is not willing to do.  God is willing to share both our joyful moments and painful experiences.  God wants us to feel freedom to bring everything to him.  When you pray God wants you to bring your whole self to him, the parts that love and celebrate, and the parts that hurt and complain.  In fact, there is one type of prayer that is specifically about bringing our pain to God.  It’s called a prayer or a psalm of lament.

            Psalm 77 is a psalm of lament.  Take a minute to read Psalm 77 if you haven’t already.  There’s no warm up here- there’s no “Dear Lord, you are holy, great and glorious.  Dear Lord, on this day we thank thee for all they bountiful gifts and we ask thee to bless us…. Etc…”   Instead he jumps right in with essentially “God my life sucks right now and I keep telling you about it and I’m not getting anywhere.  Have you forgotten me God?”  That’s a prayer of lament.  There’s no pretense here.  God, things are terrible, I feel awful and it doesn’t feel like you even care.” 

            As you read Psalm 77 you might notice that the whole first half of the Psalm is just full of complaining.  It’s like the prayer brings all of these painful feels to God and gives a big emotion dump.  And then between vs. 9 and 10 I feel there’s kind of a pause… we got all of the pain and anger out on the table.

            Just as an aside, did you know that the practice of writing down a painful or traumatic memory can aid in the process of healing that trauma?  Something about the practice of writing actually moves the trauma from a part of your brain that has trouble letting go, to another part that is more able to deal with it.  Could it be that the very process of writing down his prayer of lament to God helped his brain begin the process of healing?

            In the second half of the Psalm he is able to think and remember differently.  He is able to recall all of the ways in the past that God has done miracles and healing and turned sadness into joy and darkness into light and death into life.  It’s a totally different feeling from the first half of the prayer.  The complaints have given way to praises.  The despair  has given way to hope.  The painful and traumatic memories have fallen away and revealed a powerful and compassionate God who can and will make all things right if we continue to trust and pour out our hearts to him.

            So next time you’re carrying a lot of pain and hurt, you might have to suck it up and sell someone their chicken sandwich and smile about it, but then when you have the space and the time, bring that pain to God in prayer and allow him to heal and transform your heart.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  When you are hurting and need to tell someone how you are really feeling, who is your go-to person?
  2. When  was the last time you brought a painful feeling to God in a prayer of lament? 
  3. If you’ve never felt safe or comfortable bringing pain or complaint to God, bring that fear to God and ask God to help you explore what might be keeping you from feeling free to be open and honest with all of your feelings.

Who Do You Talk to First?

Nehemiah 2

March 25

When the main character starts the story in tears and depression, you typically know you are not reading a comedy. And Nehemiah is not one for sure. Today’s reading (Nehemiah 2) starts with Nehemiah despondent, having been in tears the chapter before when he learned the news that Jerusalem’s wall and gates had been destroyed and the remnant of Jews who had survived the exile were in disgrace. Approximately 150 years prior to Nehemiah, King Nebuchadnezzar had violently charged through Jerusalem destroying the city, its walls, and countless Jewish lives, leaving it the heap of rubble and ruin Jeremiah had warned Judah about. Those still there were in affliction.

Sometimes we can mask our pain and sorrow. Sometimes we blast it on social media. And sometimes it is just too raw to hide from those closest to us. In this case, Nehemiah was at work and he was not himself. Many of us have had those days. He was working as cupbearer to the king which was the interesting career of being an entrusted, royal official charged with serving the wine, protecting it from those wanting to poison the king, at times tasting it first to ensure it was safe. And in this story,  the king, who was close enough to him to recognize a broken spirit, asked what was wrong. Nehemiah explained,

 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)

And then the king asks what he wants of him. All in all, it seems like the king was acting like a pretty good boss on this occasion. I’ve had the privilege of working for some wonderful bosses over the years, and it is so nice when they do recognize when things aren’t okay, listen to you, and ask how to help. Same with teachers, family, and friends. I was struck with Nehemiah’s response being a little different than I had remembered though.  For some reason what had stuck with me from different sermons and lessons on Nehemiah over the years was how Nehemiah had been willing to ask for specific things, and how he was bold yet humble, and how he rebuilt walls. All of those things are true and noteworthy in Nehemiah. But, what I forgot were the incredibly important few little words tucked away at the end of verse 4.

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king,

I personally don’t think it matters as much what Nehemiah said after that or how he said it, but rather what he did prior to making the request. He prayed to the God of heaven. Before expressing his own highly emotionally-charged thoughts on the subject, he prayed to God.  And in the chapter prior, when he learned of the state of Jerusalem, he wept and prayed to God.  Nehemiah is remembered for rebuilding walls, and our chapter today is the start of his journey to rebuild and restore. But, Nehemiah knows it wasn’t possible because he put on the just-right-amount-of-depression-and-attention-seeking face and earned the king’s sympathy, nor was it because he was very concrete in his request and willing to ask for just what he wanted. Nehemiah gets it. 

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests” (v.8).

How different the world could be if we each prayerfully considered our words, our requests, and our actions. If we trusted God most and sought God first. If we went to God with our concerns and problems before others, prayed before answering others, and lived a life consistently casting our cares on Him rather than casting judgment or personal opinions so flippantly.

Nehemiah was a rebuilder, a cupbearer, and he did ask for something specific in a humble way. But, let’s also remember that he was a man of prayer.  As was our Messiah.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of a time (or two) when you didn’t stop to think – and more importantly – pray before speaking and your words caused problems or weren’t received as you had hoped. How could pausing a quick moment to pray have changed what you said, how you said it or the response you received? How can you remember to pray next time?
  2. What do you generally do when you are in pain and sorrow? What helps? What does not?
  3. How can you be more aware of those around you who are hurting? What do you have that you can share with those in pain and sorrow (both material -a cup of coffee and a spot on my couch – and spiritual encouragement and support)?
  4. Would others know you to be a person of prayer? Does God consider you a person of prayer like Nehemiah? Any changes you want to make? How?

If My People

2 Chronicles 7

March 21

Today we are continuing along in Chronicles, jumping into the second book, II Chronicles 7. This one is a pretty packed-full chapter starting out with God showing up in a consuming fire, His glory filling the newly dedicated temple, and ending with a stern warning to Israel regarding rejection of Him and the resultant consequences.

Pausing, at verse 14, I’ll tell you that I have had a song stuck in my head ever since reading this one.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”

If you can’t guess the song, I am assuming you have not heard the song  “If My People”, and would encourage you to check it out if you are not familiar. While it stresses the old vocal cords (at least the version in the trusty brown hymnal) unless you are a canary, it is beautiful both in music and message in my opinion.  Though at times I think this verse is misused and tossed around out of context with various patriotic images, it provides such beautiful reminders taken in context. We are called by God. Called to humility, prayer, and seeking of His will and ways. Called to repentance when we fall and returning to our Father when we’ve strayed. We can always repent, call on His name, turn back to Him, and we are given Israel as an example time and time again.

This chapter also reminds us of the very important covenant God made with David. A ruler in Israel. A royal throne to be continued. And despite the years of mistakes and consequences to come after God’s reminders to Solomon, He did not forget his covenant. And this is what makes the Old Testament so essential to understand the way God works and the New Testament stories. Jesus didn’t just show up one day and claim he was God’s son.  Years of history, promises, and prophecies such as the ones in this chapter lead up to the gift of the Messiah and the promise of an eternal kingdom without pain, sin, or tears.

“As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, to do according to everything that I have commanded you, and keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to be ruler in Israel.” (2 Chronicles 7:17-18)

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What four attitudes and actions are God’s people to do for God to hear, forgive and heal their land? (2 Chronicles 7:14). Why each of the four? What grade would you receive in each of the four? How can you improve in each?
  2. And on the flip side, what options are available for the people (verse 19)? If the people act in this way, what will God do (verses 20-22)? Those were rather specific consequences, which indeed came to pass centuries later. What consequences might God consider for these actions in our day?
  3. How would you describe true repentance? When have you experienced this in the past? Is there anything you currently need to repent of? If you aren’t sure, ask God to show you, then repent.
  4. How can you help the people of God remember the important lessons of this chapter?

God Over All the Kingdoms of the Earth

2 Kings 19

March 18

A good leader, a bad leader, a boasting field commander, mourning, praying for those left, searching for a word from the Lord, reports of fighting here and there, a large impressive bully nation, a pleading king. It’s almost enough to make me look for a time and date stamp to check what century I am reading of. Am I reading the headlines of the newspaper today, or from 2 Kings 19, an account of when the small country of Judah and her king Hezekiah were being bullied and intimidated by Sennacherib the king of Assyria?

For a better understanding, we might need to back up a couple hundred years from where we are reading in 2 Kings. It is tricky fitting the whole wealth of Old Testament history and beauty and lessons into 105 days, as our Bible reading schedule this year dictates, but let’s catch up on a couple hundred years here. The end of last week we were reading of the son of King David, King Solomon – the third king of Israel. His reign over Israel was blessed by God and Israel prospered. However, after King Solomon the kingdom divides into the 10 northern tribes of Israel (which rejected the rule of the line of David and created their own system of worship since they no longer held Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple) and the 2 southern tribes then called the nation of Judah.

Israel would have one bad king after another. But still God was active and at work in their nation, as we saw with the powerful ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in our readings earlier this week. But it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the nation that had chosen to reject God. Israel would be overtaken by the bully nation Assyria (see 2 Kings 17). This was God’s judgment on a country that had rebelled against Him.

And now, Assyria was coming after the nation of Judah. Hezekiah, the 12th king of Judah and from the line of David, had been king 6 years when Israel had fallen to Assyria, within the next 8 years Assyria had attacked and captured all of the fortified cities of Judah, except the capital city of Jerusalem. Scared Hezekiah, feeling desperate to save his nation, had even tried paying tribute to Sennacherib king of Assyria – striping the temple and palace of all its gold and silver. But still, Assyria advanced and now they were at the gates of Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s field commander, had just delivered an intimidating speech to the occupants of Jerusalem – promising protection and life if they surrendered and destruction and death if they did not. He tried convincing the people saying, “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (2 Kings 18:32b-33). And, that is where we are when we read 2 Kings 19.

The king, the leaders and the people are scared. Assyria has already conquered so many, including Israel and the fortified cities of Judah. It seems perhaps this will be the end of Jerusalem and all Judah as well. Hezekiah sends his advisers to the prophet Isaiah asking for prayer for the people. Isaiah replies – Don’t be afraid. God heard the boasting blasphemous words of the field commander – and God is preparing a surprise for them.

Sennacherib sends a written intimidating message to Hezekiah. I love what Hezekiah does with the letter. He takes it to the temple, spreads it out before the Lord and prays:

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

(2 Kings 19:15-19)

What a beautiful prayer that lays it all out before God. First, acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done – no small matters. Go back and read it again to hear the awe and reverence in Hezekiah’s voice. He knew he was speaking to the creator of heaven and earth! How awesome is that? Then, bringing before God what was on his heart. What do we want Him to look upon, and listen to? Yes, God already has heard it and seen it all. Hezekiah wasn’t surprising God or giving Him new information. But He was asking God to act on what Hezekiah was seeing and hearing, what was important to Him. And, believing that God could do it, he asked for deliverance, not just to save their own hides – but “so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” (2 Kings 19:19).

God did answer this prayer in such a way that all those kingdoms knew that He alone with God. That night, the angel of the Lord visited the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000. Sennacherib and the rest went running home. Sennacherib survived, for a short time, only to be assassinated by two of his sons. Hezekiah lives to have more prayers answered in the next chapter.

But here we are today, surrounded by more conflict, and more bully leaders, and more scared leaders and still One TRUE God over them all. Perhaps now is a good time for more heartfelt prayers to God. We know more righteous judgment from God is on its way – both now and ultimately at the end of this age when His son Jesus returns to earth. We so look forward to a time when the faithful from all nations and kingdoms are gathered before the throne – no longer waving national flags, if now their allegiance is to the Lamb of God.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Hezekiah’s strongest weapon was not his armies or alliances or his gold and silver – but his heartfelt prayer to God. How can we better use prayer in our own time of desperate need? How can we better use prayer for the nations in conflict today? What do you want to make sure God hears and sees? Tell Him about it, even though He already knows.
  2. Hezekiah praised God for His creation. I wonder if, or how much, Mr Darwin and the theory of evolution has blocked the prayers of “believers”. What do we truly believe in today? When we strip God of His power and His creation, do we also strip Him of His power or desire to act on our behalf? What are other ways we fail to recognize God’s greatness and power? What do you believe God can do and will do and has done?
  3. Do a little word study on nations or kingdoms – how do they show up in Scripture? What about in Revelation?

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