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?

A Love Poem

Song of Solomon 2

Friday, July 22, 2022

Song of Solomon contains poetry written by Solomon.  Some people try to spiritualize it, suggesting it describes the relationship between God and a follower of God.  Those who think that have obviously not read it.  Song of Solomon describes the intimate relationship between a husband and a wife, sometimes a little graphically.  If you’ve never read the Bible before, the Song of Solomon just might pique your interest.  I’ll share a few verses from chapter 2.

SoS 2:2 says, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.”  Husbands and future husbands take note.  Highlight what you appreciate about your wife, and make sure she knows it well and often. But the praise must be sincere.  And if it’s appropriate and if she would appreciate it, make sure you extend this praise publicly.  But don’t just stop with praise.  Treat her like she is precious because she is.

SoS 2:4 contains part of the wife’s response, “His banner over me is love.”  All by itself, this sounds pretty weird.  I think this is saying that her husband is publicly proclaiming his love for her – sort of like writing it on a flag, and waving it around for everyone to see.  He is not ashamed to acknowledge her publicly.  Again, husbands take note.

In SoS 2:6, the wife goes on to say, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.”  I’ll leave it to your imagination to consider their position and presumed activity.  Husband’s again take note.  If you shower your wife with love.  If you make her a priority, and she knows it.  If she knows you’re never ashamed of having her at your side.  Things will go a lot better with your love life.

She goes on to say in SoS 2:7, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”  I would say that differently.  I would say “save sex for marriage” – and then, it is a wonderful blessing from God for both husband and wife to enjoy to the fullest together.

In his reply, in SoS 2:15, the husband says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom”.  I think the idea here is that there are always little things that can attack the relationship, and these things need to be caught and stopped.  Some examples may include selfishness, pride, never admitting that you are wrong, finding fault, unforgiveness, mistrust, etc.  All of these have to be dealt with and removed in order for the love to blossom and flourish.

In SoS 2:16-17, the wife says, “My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.  Until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  She is talking about how exclusive the marriage relationship must be.  (Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t do very well in this regard.  Maybe she should have said, “my lover is mine, and I am his and a thousand other women are his.”  Can you imagine how that would make your wife feel – if this wasn’t an exclusive relationship?  Husbands, again take note.

And you have to love that part in verse 17 where she says, “until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  It sounds like she is talking about being intimate all night long.  So, husbands, if you want verse 17, you have to have to practice verses 2 and 4 and 7 and 15.  In other words, if you want a great sex life in your marriage, adore your wife.  Let that show in everything you do and in every way you treat her, and you will see results.

Oh yeah, and do the same with your relationship with God, and you’ll see great results there too – both now and forever.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. If you aren’t married yet – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  2. If you are married – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  3. Why do you think God included Song of Solomon in the Bible?

What to do with the Difficult Times

Ecclesiastes 3

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Whether you know it or not, you’re probably familiar with the first few verses of Ecclesiastes 3:

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3  a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4  a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6  a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7  a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8  a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I like about half the things listed, and would rather not have the other half, but life just doesn’t work that way.  We have to take the bad with the good.

I was at a funeral last Saturday when these verses were read.  It seems like this passage is mostly referenced during difficult times – because we don’t need to be reminded about these things during happy times.  When someone is born, we don’t want to be reminded that they will eventually die.  But when someone dies, we need to be reminded that this world has both good and bad, and we can’t just pick and choose what happens in life.

Verse 11 goes on to say, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…”.  

Does this mean that death is beautiful?; that cancer is beautiful?; that problems are beautiful?  No, not in themselves.  But the rest of the verse goes on to say that God has set eternity in the hearts of men.  I think that means these experiences make us long for the time when these problems will be a thing of the past.  When there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain – in the Kingdom of God. 

We mentioned Romans 8:22-23 a couple of days ago, which says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

In addition to pain and suffering being consequences of the Curse (Genesis 3) as a result of sin, I believe God uses these to help us long for His coming kingdom.  This longing helps us refocus our lives on following Him.  It also helps us not place too much importance on the temporary things this world has to offer.

James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I believe this points out that difficulties we face in life can produce perseverance, helping us mature in our Christian walk, and helping us become more persistent in living for the Lord.  And if we finish strong – living our lives for the Lord – we will be in His kingdom, experiencing delight for eternity.  

So because difficulties can draw us closer to God, which will cause us to live more dedicated lives for Him, with the ultimate result of being in His kingdom, in this sense, everything works together for our ultimate good, and is therefore beautiful.  Even though it might seem like something stinks at the time, it can be beautiful – but only if it makes you long for the Kingdom of God and then live your life devoted to following Him.

If difficult times make us resent that God permitted these times, and if we reject God as a result of this, then we can look forward to Ecclesiastes 3:17 which says, “…God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked…”

I’d like to challenge you to let the difficult times draw you closer to God.  But it’s entirely up to you how you respond.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What difficult times have you been through? What good times have you enjoyed?
  2. What can be learned through the good times? What can be learned through the difficult days (and seasons)?
  3. Looking back on your own life (or the example of someone else) can you see times when the trials and hardships have prompted spiritual growth and perseverance and a re-focusing on what truly matters, including of course eternal life with God and Jesus in the coming Kingdom of God?

Chasing after the Wind

Ecclesiastes 1

Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived (see 1 Kings 3:10-12). He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to probe the meaning of life.  It’s widely believed that he wrote this toward the end of his life, after he had experienced much of what life had to offer.

Let’s look at some of the treasures of wisdom Solomon wrote down:

  • Ecc 1:2, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher.  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”
  • Ecc 1:11, “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.”
  • Ecc 1:14, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:17, “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this too is a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

We’re only covering chapter 1 here, but chapter 2 goes on to point out the uselessness of pursuing wealth or pleasure or accomplishing great things.

What’s going on here?  Does life just stink?  

Solomon is pointing out the futility of living this mortal life to the fullest – apart from God.  If all we have to look forward to is death, life is indeed meaningless.  It doesn’t matter how much we pursue pleasure, wealth, or anything else that our hearts desire – our life will be unfulfilled, without satisfaction, without joy, without purpose, and without hope.

When my wife was dying after a four-year battle with cancer, we could both take comfort in the fact that we have the hope of the resurrection, and eternal life to look forward to.  Even in death, we have hope of future joy.  Living a life for God gives us hope.  Our life can be fulfilling, with satisfaction, purpose, and joy.

It takes a lot of people a very long time to figure this out.  My challenge to you is to carefully consider the meaning of your life today.  Choose a life of submission and service to God, and your life won’t be meaningless.  Or go your own way, and identify with Solomon’s Ecclesiastes.

–Steve Mattison

Question Application

  1. What do you spend a lot of time (effort, or money) on that Solomon, or God, might consider “Meaningless”?
  2. Have you found anything that gives life satisfaction, purpose and joy? Where would you look?
  3. What will last?

Which Will You Be?

Proverbs 10

Monday, July 18, 2022

In Proverbs 10, we see several contrasts between a person with Godly wisdom who lives a Godly life versus someone who doesn’t.  I thought it might be nice to summarize those contrasts here.

A person with Godly wisdom and who lives a Godly life:

  • Brings joy to their father (v1)
  • God doesn’t let this person go hungry (v3)
  • Hard-working (v4, 5)
  • The memory of this person will be a blessing (v7)
  • Accepts commands (v8)
  • Their mouth is a fountain of life (v11)
  • Love covers wrongs (v12)
  • Wise and discerning (v13)
  • Receives life (v16)
  • Holds their tongue (v19)
  • Delights in wisdom (v23)
  • Desires will be granted (v24)
  • Stand firm forever (v25)
  • Adds length of life (v27)
  • Has joy (v28)
  • Will not be uprooted (v30)
  • Mouth brings forth wisdom (v31)
  • Knows what is fitting (v32)

A person who doesn’t:

  • Brings grief to their mother (v1)
  • God thwarts this person’s cravings (v3)
  • Lazy (v4, 5)
  • Violent (v6, 11)
  • Name will be cursed (v7)
  • Fool comes to ruin (v8)
  • Hatred stirs up dissension (v12)
  • Punished (v13, 16)
  • Conceals hatred (v18)
  • Spreads slander (v18)
  • Their heart is of little value (v20)
  • Finds pleasure in evil conduct (v23)
  • What they dread will overtake them (v24)
  • Swept away (v25)
  • Their life is cut short (v27)
  • Hopes come to nothing (v28)
  • Will not remain in the land (v30)
  • Only knows what is perverse (v32)

Which list would you like to describe you? If you see some attributes in the second list that may be used to describe you, you can change.

Hebrews 3:8 says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”.  If something here got your attention, take action.  Don’t let this moment pass.

2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Now is the time to act.

James 4:4-10 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  … That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. … purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

You can be a friend of the world, and fall into the second list, or be a friend of God and fall into the first list.  But in order to be a friend of God, you first must submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God.  You must humble yourself before God, only then He will lift you up.  Only then will the first list fully describe you.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What 2-3 points do you find most appealing from the first list for the Godly life?
  2. What 2-3 points do you find most distasteful or disturbing from the second list?
  3. Both lists include some actions/attitudes as well as consequences. How do your choices now determine your future? How often do you remember this?
  4. If you choose to humble yourself before God and submit to Him, what will that look like for you today? How will you work to remove something from the second list to replace it with something from the first?

Trust

Proverbs 3

Sunday, July 17, 2022

There are so many great nuggets in Proverbs 3, each of which could have a devotion centered on it.  Some of these include:

  • Proverbs 3:3, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you…”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  • Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.”
  • Proverbs 3:11-12, “.. do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
  • Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.”
  • Proverbs 3:33, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

Today, I’d like to focus on Proverbs 3:5-6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

It’s easy to praise and thank God when things are going well.  And when life is sailing along smoothly, its hard to even think about having to trust in (rely on) God.  But when times get rough, that’s when the rubber meets the road for our faith.

So what does it mean to trust in God when you face financial hardships?  When you’ve lost a loved one?   When you face serious health problems?  When life seems to just stink? When you’re dying?

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I know from personal experience that it is easy to, “Cast my anxiety on Him” by crying out to God, telling him all my problems, asking Him to solve them, and asking Him to give me peace.  I also know it’s hard to not pick up those problems again and try to shoulder them myself.

In other words, this passage is easy to acknowledge as right, but very hard to really put into practice.

Jesus passed along some wisdom about how to accomplish this in Matthew 6:24-34.  This section starts with Jesus telling us not to worry about our lives, what we’re going to eat, or wear, or anything else.  And the reason he gave was:  God knows what you need, and will take care of you.  Instead, Jesus gave us something else to focus on in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

So the trick to not focusing on our problems is to instead focus on God’s promises.  In Revelation 21:4, we’re told that in the Kingdom of God, God himself ‘… will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Think about the Kingdom of God and the conditions there.  Obsess over it.  Long for it.  Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and then live your life in such a way as to be in God’s kingdom.

I have learned from personal experience that the closer we draw to God during our tough times, the more he seems to lift us up and help us through – in situations where it seems we couldn’t have gotten through on our own.

And while we’re talking about problems, have you ever thought that God may allow problems in our lives to help us focus more on Him and his kingdom?  Romans 8:22-23 says,” We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

So, while you’re experiencing loss and pain, focus on God and on his kingdom.  Long for it.  Draw close to God.  In doing this, you will learn to trust in the Lord with all your heart.  And then He will direct your life.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. How has God shown Himself to be trustworthy so far – in the Bible? In the lives of people you know? In your own life?
  2. How does remembering God’s promises help get you through tough times?
  3. What does it mean to you to not have to rely on your own understanding?
  4. Would you like to be known as a person who puts their trust in God? How can you work towards increasing your trust in God?

Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2

March 15

Today’s reading starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind…” And to think, some people say reading the Bible is too boring.  Sorry, I can’t agree.

Elijah and Elisha did a lot of walking that day.  They started at Gilgal, walked to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River.  Each time they moved on, Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha would not be separated.  When he promised to follow Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:20, he meant to follow him to the end, and he was going to.  Elisha was dedicated.

They walked through areas of spiritual significance.  It had been at Gilgal that the Israelites first camped when they had entered the promised land, and it was there they were circumcised, and officially became “sons of the covenant” (Joshua 4:2-9).  Bethel had been the place Jacob had a dream with a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down; and where God had promised to be with him wherever he went (Genesis 28:11-19).  Jericho had been the site of Joshua’s amazing victory as a result of just obeying God by walking around the city – no matter how ridiculous that seemed (Joshua 5-6).  And the Jordan River was where the river parted before Joshua and the Isrealites on their way into the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha walked down memory lane together.

In their travels, they visited two schools of the prophets (Bible Colleges), where the students told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away from him that day.  It seemed like everybody knew what was about to happen, and it broke Elisha’s heart.  

When they got to the Jordan River, Elijah hit the water with his cloak, the water divided, and they walked across on dry land.  It was then that Elijah asked Elisha if there was a parting gift Elijah could leave to Elisha.  Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”  Interesting.  The thing Elisha wanted most in this world was to be closer to God than even Elijah had been.  Elisha had his priorities right.

Elijah told Elisha that if he saw Elijah being taken away, he would receive his wish.

2 Kings 2:11-12 then says, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out …” 

Now Elisha couldn’t rely on Elijah’s help anymore.  He was alone…  or was he?  God was still on His throne.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak.  I think this is significant in that he was picking up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry.  But now Elisha was stranded on the East side of the Jordan River.  How was he going to get across?  You guessed it. Elisha struck the river with Elijah’s cloak, the water separated, and he walked across on dry ground.  God was with Elisha!  And the 50 Bible College students that were watching knew that Elisha was now the new head prophet.

Elijah then went on to Jericho, where he healed the water and land around Jericho (which Joshua had cursed in Joshua 6:26).  

The final miracle in this chapter is a little gruesome.  Elisha went to Bethel, where a bunch of punks mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you baldhead!” repeatedly.  Presumably, they were saying that Elijah had been caught up to heaven and they were rid of him, now they wanted to get rid of Elisha’s godly influence (and condemnation) too.  Elisha called a curse down on them, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them.  We’re not told that they were killed, so I assume they were scarred and maybe disfigured for the rest of their lives as a living testimony to what may happen when someone rebels against God.

After that, Elisha went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah had initiated the “god contest” that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  Then, Elisha started his own ministry.

So how can we apply stories from this chapter to our own lives today?

Elisha was committed to spending as much time as possible with Elijah – to learn as much as possible from him – as long as he had the opportunity.  I think it is important for less mature Christians to learn as much as they can from more mature Christians, while they have the chance.  I also think more mature Christians need to seek out those they can mentor in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).  And while we’re on the topic, I also have to wonder if Elijah intentionally visited those Bible Colleges to encourage those students one last time before he was taken away.  What are you doing to learn from those more mature and to share with those less mature?

Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?

Elisha’s greatest desire was to be even more godly than Elijah had been.  And it was granted.  (By my count, God performed 8 miracles at Elijah’s request, and 16 at Elisha’s request.)  What is your greatest desire?

Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you?

And how often do you grumble against your preacher?  Remember those 42 mauled hoodlums. 

Elisha revisited places where he had treasured memories of Elijah, then struck out on his own to start his own ministry.  We can’t live in the past either (although I personally would prefer to).  We need to be looking forward to what God still has for us to do, and we need to take action.  How are you doing on that front?

Finally, while we can’t expect to be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah was, we do have this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”  But this only applies to the righteous.  When Christ returns, will you rise to meet the Lord in the air?  I hope to. I hope you do, too.

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are you doing to learn from those more mature in the Christian faith and to share with those less mature? Why is each important?
  2. Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?
  3. What is your greatest desire? What else gets in the way? How can you be more devoted to your greatest desire?
  4. Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you? What do you think God still wants you to do for Him?
  5. Do you grumble against or put-down the leaders God has put in place?

Because He Followed God Wholeheartedly

1 Kings 18

March 14

As we mentioned yesterday, Elijah did what God told him to do, and did it when God told him to do it.  So in I Kings 18, when God told Elijah to “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” Elijah went to find Ahab – even though Elijah was a wanted man.  And Elijah knew that God was going to finally send rain – after a 3.5 year drought.

When they met, Elijah proposed a “God contest” to Ahab.  He told Ahab to gather at Mount Carmel the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, along with representatives from throughout all of Israel. (The 400 prophets of Asherah declined the invitation.)  Once everyone was assembled, Elijah made a speech in front of all of the representatives saying (1 Kings 18:21),  “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 

Then Elijah proposed a challenge.  Give a bull to the 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah would get a bull.  They would build an altar, and he would build an altar.  They would pray to Baal, and he would pray to Jehovah.  The god that answered by fire from heaven would be the real god.  All the people replied, “What you say is good.”

So the 450 prophets of Baal got to go first.  They chose their bull, and built their altar. They prayed from morning until noon, but nothing happened.  At noon, Elijah started taunting them, “Shout louder!  Surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  So they shouted louder, and started slashing themselves with swords and spears – but there was still no response.

Then Elijah got his turn.  He rebuilt the altar of God, cut up the bull, and put it on top of his altar.  He then dug a trench around the altar, and had the people pour 12 large jars of water over the offering and the wood.  (Remember there had been a drought for 3.5 years, so water was very precious, and this had to have seemed like a huge waste of water.)  The water completely filled the trench – Elijah was giving himself a handicap.  Then Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

Did you notice Elijah’s reason for asking God to send fire from heaven?  Was it to make Elijah look good?  No.  It was to show the people that Jehovah is the only true God, and to show the people that Elijah obeyed God.  And ultimately, it was so the people would turn back to God.

Anyway, Elijah prayed, then *poof* fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and even the water.  When the people saw this, they fell face-down on the ground and said, “The Lord – He is God.  The Lord – He is God.”

Once the 450 prophets of Baal were slaughtered, Elijah told Ahab to go eat and drink before the rain started.  Then Elijah knelt to the ground and prayed for rain.  He sent his servant to look out over the Mediterranean Sea to see if he saw any clouds.  There were none.  This was repeated.  After the seventh prayer, the servant said he saw a small cloud forming.  Elijah told Ahab to jump in his chariot and escape to Jezreel before the rain stopped him, so Ahab rode off.  “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”  – 17 miles.

In addition to Elijah’s obedience mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, in this story we see examples of his incredible faith.  Would you have had the guts to confront Ahab, even though Ahab had put a bounty on your head?  Elijah did.  Would you have been bold enough to challenge the pagan priests to a contest to call fire from heaven to declare which god was real?  Elijah did. Would you have been so bold as to tell Ahab to eat before the rain stopped him – even though the sky was still clear.  Elijah did.

How could Elijah have such profound faith in God?  It was because he was doing what God had told him to do.  And since he was obeying God, he had complete faith that God had things under control, even when things seemed impossible.  And then as icing on the cake, God gave him supernatural strength and endurance to outrun a horse and chariot for 17 miles to stay ahead of the rain.

The incredible faith, answers to prayer, and incredible endurance that Elijah experienced were all because he followed God wholeheartedly.  

Wouldn’t you love to have incredible faith, amazing answers to prayer, and other incredible things happen to you too?  You can – if you too choose to follow God wholeheartedly, and obey him in every way.  Or are you stuck “wavering between two opinions?”  If so, I’m reminded of Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Make up your mind.  Completely commit to one side or the other.  I’m choosing Elijah’s side – God’s side.  Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Imagine you were an observer on Mount Carmel. What sights, sounds, smells, and emotions would you experience? What would you tell others about this experience?
  2. What other false gods and idols have taken the place of Baal today?
  3. Can you be on God’s side – just a little bit? What will happen?
  4. How are you doing at following God wholeheartedly? What would God suggest you change in order to follow Him better?

Elijah – the Lord Jehovah is my God

1 Kings 17

March 13

1 Kings 17 has so much in it, it’s almost impossible to cover it all in one devotion.  It starts with Elijah standing before King Ahab and declaring that there wouldn’t be rain for the next few years, except at Elijah’s command.  We need a little context for this.  King Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a foreigner, who worshiped Baal.  Baal was the Phoenician fertility god that supposedly sent rain.  Jezebel was actively trying to cause Israel to worship Baal, and was trying to eliminate the worship of Jehovah, the one true God.

God had made promises to Moses long before in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, “If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine, and oil.”  In Deuteronomy 28, we find the curses for turning away from God.  In verses 23-24, we find, “the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.  The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.”

Remember that God always keeps his word, whether it is the promise of blessing for obedience, or of cursing for disobedience.  And in Israel, at that time, the country had already been worshiping the two calf idols that Jeroboam had made many generations before.  Now, the Israelites were increasing their rebellion by completely turning away from God, so God sent Elijah to Ahab to punish the country, and to set up a showdown three and a half years later to prove once and for all who was the real God.

Once Elijah had delivered his message, God sent him to a ravine, where ravens brought him food twice a day, and he drank from a brook – until it dried up.

Then, God sent Elijah to a poor widow in a foreign country.  Elijah asked her for some water and food.  The widow told him (1 Kings 17:12), “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.  I’m gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, so that we may eat it – and die.”

Elijah told her that if she baked that bread for him, after that, she could bake some for herself and for her son – because God would cause the flour and oil not to run out until the famine was over.  If you were that widow, would you have given your last meal to a stranger?  She did, and as a result of her faith and God’s blessing, her flour and oil did not run out – just like Elijah had said.

Eventually, the widow’s son got sick and died.  Elijah prayed, “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”  And in verse 22, we read, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.”  Incredible!

I see several applications in this chapter to us today.  

Elijah was a godly man.  His name meant “the Lord (Jehovah) is my God”, and his name fits.  And this was at a time when virtually everyone else had forsaken God.  It’s only because Elijah was a godly man that his prayers were so powerfully answered, and that God protected him.  We too need to be godly if we want good things from God.

Elijah went where God told him to go, and when God told him to go there.  Presumably, God sent Elijah to Ahab.  We know that God sent him to the Kerith Ravine – and because of his obedience, God provided for him.  Then, after the brook dried up, Elijah didn’t go anywhere until God told him to go to Zarephath and meet up with the widow God had arranged.  Again Elijah obeyed, and God provided.  We need to be willing to do what God says, when he says it, if we expect God to provide for us.

Elijah experienced hardship, even though he was obviously doing God’s will.  He certainly didn’t have a life of ease, but God did provide for his needs.  We can expect the same.

Elijah could pray!  He prayed that there would be a drought, and it happened.  He prayed that the boy would be resurrected, and he was.  We’re told in James 5:17-18, “Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  Yes, these were incredible miracles, but God did the miracles, not Elijah.  Elijah was a person just like us, but he was close to God, and God answered his prayers.  If we want our prayers to be answered, we too need to be close to God.

Everything Elijah was able to do was because of his obedience to God.  How do you compare?  

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. God has a way of creatively providing for those who obey Him. How did God provide for Elijah’s needs? How have you experienced God’s providence?
  2. What was the widow asked to do to help provide for the man of God? Why do you think she did it? How can God use you to help provide for His faithful people in hard times? What are you willing to sacrifice to be used by God in this way? What do you think would have happened to her if she had declined helping and fed herself and her son first? What would have happened to Elijah?
  3. What do you think of Elijah’s prayer life? What do you think of yours? What do you think contributed to Elijah’s prayer life? If you want to see your prayer life deepen and expand, what steps should you take? How serious are you about it?

Be Careful that You Don’t Fall

2 Samuel 11

March 11

The story of David and Bathsheba is probably familiar to most of us.  King David, described elsewhere as a “man after God’s own heart”, had a little too much time on his hands while his army was away fighting.  One evening, he got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace; and from his roof, he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath.  I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

You might be tempted to stop right there and ask what this beautiful woman was doing taking a bath in public. Wasn’t she inviting unwanted attention? Presumably, she was in her own fenced backyard, and nobody could see her unless someone was on the roof of the palace next door – and who would be walking around on a roof?  Regardless, she isn’t the real topic of the story, David is.

The fact remains that David took a long look at her.  David lusted after her.  David violated one of the 10 commandments: “Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife…”.   Lust is a trap, especially for men – even for a “man after God’s own heart”.  David should have stopped right there, confessed, and asked God for forgiveness.  Instead, he asked one of his servants who she was.  He was definitely showing too much interest.

Once he found out that she was the wife of Uriah, one of his bodyguards, and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his chief advisor, he certainly should have walked away.  But she was gorgeous, so instead, he invited her over and slept with her.  David violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t commit adultery” – and the punishment for this one was supposed to be death.

When David found out that Bathsheba was pregnant, he recalled her husband from the battle so he could go home – to try to hide the fact that David was the father.  But Uriah didn’t cooperate; he didn’t go home.  Ultimately, David then schemed to have Uriah put on the front line of the battle, and have everyone else withdraw, so Uriah was killed.  And so he violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t kill”.

David seemed to successfully hide all of this until after the son was born.  But God sent Nathan, the prophet, to confront David.  Nathan told David that God was going to discipline David, according to his sins.  

David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba.  In this psalm, we find in verse 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.”  In verses 11-12, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your Salvation…”  David’s heart was broken, he confessed, and was reconciled to God.

The discipline came a little later.  During Absalom’s rebellion, Absalom slept with 10 of David’s concubines in public;  David’s daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother Amnon; four of David’s sons died: this baby, Amnon, Absolam, and Adonijah; and David had problems for the rest of his life.  God forgave David’s sins, but David still had to live with the consequences of his sins.

God’s discipline isn’t punishment handed out by an angry God bent on vengeance, it’s difficulty allowed by a loving Father who wants to see his children develop godly character.  Otherwise, it would be too easy to just accept and live with sin, and God loves us too much to let that happen without a fight.

This brings us to our application for us today.

Do you consider yourself to be Godly?  If so, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  If you don’t consider yourself to be Godly, what do you think your long-term future (eternity) looks like?  Isn’t today the best time to solve that problem?

Look at the progression in David’s life.  A glance, lust, adultery, then murder.  Are there places in your own life where you are at that “glance” stage?  The “lust” stage?  Further down the path (to destruction)?  Wherever you find yourself, don’t continue down the path of sin.  Turn around.

Was David’s wild fling worth it?  Absolutely not!  Is the pleasure of your sins worth it?  It never is!  I’m reminded of Hebrews 11:25-26, where we’re told that Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time… because he was looking ahead to his reward.”  Are you strong enough to forgo “the pleasures of sin for a short time” and instead look ahead to your reward?  If not, ask God to help you.

And when you do sin, don’t just try to hide it.  Remember 1 John 1:9, where God promises, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  It was only after David’s confession that he was reconciled with God.  The same is true for us.

You may be tempted in similar ways as David, or you may be tempted in other ways, but you will be tempted.  1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In your own experience, have you ever observed (or are currently in) the downward spiral of sin where one sin leads to another? Where would have been the best place to stop? How? How do you turn around now – look at David’s example (Psalm 51 is a beautiful place to start).
  2. To avoid the painful and long lasting consequences of sin in your own life how can you build your resolve to forego the “pleasures of sin” which last a short time? What can you do now to help yourself stand strong when you are tempted? What can you do when you are right in the the middle of a strong temptation? How can you help others stand firm against their temptations?
  3. Like David, sometimes we need our sin pointed out to us before we reach a point of confession. Read 2 Samuel 12. Have you ever needed a Nathan to help you see your own sin? Pray to see your own sin clearly. Then confess it. Have you thanked those who have helped you see your sin. Then, as David said in Psalm 51 – with a pure heart he could, “Then…teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”

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