The Limits of Wise Counsel

We must be careful to hear godly counsel while recognizing that even godly counsel is not infallible. Ultimately, we are responsible to obey God.

Today’s reading

Psalms 31-33; Acts 21:15-40

Selected Verses

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!    Psalm 31:14-15

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.  Acts 21:15

Reflections

Paul had heard from several wise fellow believers that he would suffer arrest and adversity in Jerusalem. He also heard them urge him not to go. They loved him, and they did not want him to suffer and possibly die. Paul was not foolhardy. There were certainly several instances when Paul avoided danger (e.g. Acts 9:23-25; 29-30; 13:50,51; 14:19-20; 17:13-14). Indeed, Luke comments that Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against [Antioch in Pisidia] and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51) following the policy Jesus had given to His disciples when He sent them out to preach to unresponsive people (Matthew 10:14).

Paul probably remembered the words of Psalm 31 quoted above. His trust was in the Lord. He knew that he had been given a purpose and a ministry to complete. He believed it included going into the lions’ den of Jerusalem where some believers had questions about him and where unbelieving Jews were out to get the former persecutor of the Church. Paul trusted God who had his times in His hands.

So he did not follow the advice of his many well-meaning friends. He got ready and went to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us how Paul was so sure he needed to do this. He just went. As prophesied, he did begin to suffer almost immediately, but he would remain faithful and use that platform of suffering to glorify God and proclaim the gospel in some very unusual settings.

Think about it

God does not guarantee that His path for us will be easy and pleasant or even “sensible” at all times. Be ready for anything, so that someday you can say:

 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Psalm 31:21-22

The Prayer that Never Fails

Do you know the prayer that never fails?  Paul knew it.  David knew it.  Jesus knew it.  It is a prayer that God always answers.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 28-30; Acts 21:1-14

Selected Verses

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!  Psalm 29:10-11

When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  Acts 21:12-14

Reflections

The prayer that never fails, according to the fictional Father Tim of novelist Jan Karon’s Mitford series, is “Thy will be done.” This phrase was part of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples–the same words He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. Here in Acts, Paul’s friends prayed it also.  [See Matthew 6:10; 26:39-42].

In Tyre, concerned believers understood that Paul would suffer if he went to Jerusalem.  Luke tells us that “Through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (vs. 4). Agabus, a prophet, foretold Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem. Others in Phoenicia urged him not to go. It was hard for Paul to hear this, and it hurt him because it was going to hurt them. Nevertheless, he was determined to go to Jerusalem though it cost him his life. He had settled that matter. He believed it was what God wanted him to do. They resigned themselves with the words, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

But the Lord whose will they sought is One who presides over the chaos and turmoil of human life on planet Earth (not to mention the entire universe). As the Psalmist says, He sits enthroned over the flood. His reign never ends. His will is always done. He is the One who gives strength to His people so they may endure the trials He sends. He grants peace so that even in the face of sure suffering His servants know quietness as they pray the prayer that never fails.

Think about it

Must you see bright skies every day in order to have peace? Do you frantically seek to avoid any discomforting situations, much less, life-threatening ones? Make it your aim to be content as long as His will is done.

Ready to Die; Ready to Live

As a young Christian, I was told, “A man is not ready to live until he has something he will die for.” [1]  Here we meet two men who were ready to live.

Today’s reading

Psalms 25-27; Acts 20:17-38

Selected Verses

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.   Acts 20:24

Reflections

David knew adversity and he knew how to turn to God for safety and refuge. But he also sought to know the Lord even more deeply, to be in His presence at all times not merely when he was facing danger. David loved the Lord. He found Him beautiful and wanted to gaze upon Him. He wanted to learn from Him in His temple. These desires did not indicate that David sought to escape the responsibilities of daily life and retreat into some monastery. He goes on to plead: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies” Psalm 27:11.

He wanted to know God so he could walk in His ways in the midst of all the pressures of everyday life.

Paul understood that “imprisonments and afflictions” awaited him, but he resolved that his life was only valuable as he was able to finish the course God had set out for him and to fulfill the ministry the Lord Jesus Christ had assigned to him. Indeed, Paul would face years of imprisonment and, according to tradition, a martyr’s death.

Think about it

Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). Have you settled this? Are you ready to die so you are ready to live? As Joshua told the Israelites, “Choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Be ready to die, so you are ready to live.

[1] This seems to be a variation on a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Click here.

God’s Delight in Your Prayer

God’s children have special access to Him in prayer.  But do you know that He delights in those who are His and who come to Him with their requests?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 17-18; Acts 19:1-20

Selected Verses

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.  Psalm 18:18-19

And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.  Acts 19:17

Reflections

The Psalms are filled with exclamations of praise to God for His power and goodness to His needy people. Psalm 18 lists many ways in which the Lord delivered David. Appropriate praise is offered, but then we see this curious line, “he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” David grasped something about God that is often overlooked. God is not annoyed with us when we come to Him seeking help, strength, wisdom, deliverance, etc. God is not merely putting up with us. David understood that the Lord delighted in him.  The Almighty is not bothered that one of His children should come incessantly asking for things. God delivered David because He “delighted” in him.

By contrast, there are several incidents in the book of Acts in which unscrupulous opponents of the gospel attempt to obtain the Holy Spirit for money or to invoke the name of Jesus for personal gain. In Ephesus, the seven sons of Sceva attempt to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name.  They fail as the demon overcomes and possesses them. The incident brought a wave of fear to the population. They realized that they may not trifle with the name of Jesus. God does not delight to hear the prayers of those who are not His.

Think about it

You know that God is all-powerful, omnipotent, and sovereign. He controls all things. You probably believe He can do whatever He wishes to do. You don’t doubt that there is no problem too big for Him. Like the people of Ephesus, you grasp the sanctity and power of the name of Jesus. But do you believe that He delights to hear your prayer and rescue you? How confident are you in His loving kindness, His tender care, His infinite love, and His pleasure in responding to your requests? Think about God delighting in you the next time you ask Him for something you desperately need.

 

The Importance of Seeking God

God, who knows the hearts of all, is near to those who seek Him, even when His will for them may include trials and suffering.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 7-9; Acts 17:1-15

Selected Verses

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.  Psalm 9:9-10

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.  Acts 17:11-12

Reflections

David knew suffering and difficulties throughout his life, but he also had learned to count on God no matter what came his way.  He knew how to take refuge in God (Psalm 7:1).  He knew that God would never abandon him or anyone else who was seeking Him.  God was his rock and stronghold no matter whether circumstances were good or bad.

As Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued on their missionary journey through the towns of Asia Minor, they preached about Jesus to the Jews and those Gentiles who adhered to Judaism.  The response was mixed, not everyone believed and some became hostile, but they saw faith everywhere they went, too.  The Jews in Berea who heard Paul were especially diligent in studying the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was really true.  These were people who, no doubt, had been seeking God in His word.  God would not forsake them and He sent them none other than the Apostle Paul to proclaim to them the truth of Christ.

Think about it

How does your daily life reflect a seeking after God?  Are you dependent on success in your activities and business in order to remain confident in the Lord or are you spiritually stable no matter what storm you are in?  Seek the Lord through His word and prayer.  Be alert to His providence in your circumstances.   Let Him be your stronghold.  This was the way of David, the Bereans, Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  Seek Him for He will never forsake those who seek Him.

 

Holy Desires Amidst Trying Times

The faithful Christian desires to please God and to glorify Him. We have examples of two men under pressure. One succeeded.  The other failed.

Today’s Reading

Job 31-32; Acts 13:1-23

Selected Verses

For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.  Job 31:23

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. Acts 13:13-14

Reflections

Job recited his claims to a righteous life. He lists many sins but swears before God that he is innocent of them. What motivated him to live such an upright life? He was in awe of God. He thought of the majesty of God and what it would be like to be in His glorious presence. Job still has much to learn about God, but on this point he is right. God deserves all obedience and reverence.

When Saul (now Paul) and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch as missionaries they invited John, also called Mark or John Mark, to assist them. John saw how God had led in the decision to send these men out to preach. He had been on Cyprus when Paul confronted an evil magician named Elymas whom God had struck blind. John had been there when the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, had sought to hear the word of God and had been transformed by it. Despite all this, John quit the mission midway and went home to Jerusalem.

Why did he do this? We are not told, but certainly Paul and Barnabas must have known something about John’s decision-making process. The two missionaries later disagreed so sharply about taking John on another missionary journey that they parted ways (Acts 15:37-39). John had failed them. Barnabas, known for compassion, wanted to restore John. Paul did not. John may have demonstrated a lack of fear of displeasing God or passion to glorify Him. There was no doubt about his failure to follow through. The question was whether or not to give him a second chance.

Think about it

A desire to please God and a longing to glorify Him will keep us steady and faithful when our service for Him leads through times of trials. Job had it.  John did not, although he would later show he matured over time (2 Timothy 4:11). You will not perform perfectly, but in the final analysis you will stand before God’s majesty accepted, not for your performance, but for Christ’s on your behalf.

Obedience by Faith

Queen Esther risked her life to obey God.  So did the apostles.  We applaud them now, but at the time they had to practice obedience by faith.

Today’s Reading

Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

Selected Verses

Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.  Esther 4:16

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”  Acts 5:17-20

Reflections

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king received her and heard her plea. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the high priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “must obey God rather than men.”

Think about it

There really is no downside to obedience by faith to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome.  If you are persecuted for your obedience,  you may go straight to glory.  But, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Praying to a Big God for Big Things

How a person prays reflects much about his or her faith in and knowledge of God. Today we get a look at the prayer lives of three great men of God.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 12-13; Acts 4:23-37

Selected Verses

Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. Nehemiah 13:22

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  Acts 4:23-24

Reflections

A notable feature of the book of Nehemiah is his prayer life.  On a number of occasions, he asks God to “remember him” (Nehemiah 5:19; 13:14, 22, 31).  It appears that Nehemiah is comfortable turning to God in the midst of his writing.  He shows recognition of God’s holiness and his own need for forgiveness despite his many works of obedience.  At times, it seems like he is offering his works as a basis for his acceptance before God, but we should probably not judge him too severely if he did not grasp as fully as we can the grace of God through the atonement for sin made by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Certainly, in the verse quoted above, he shows an awareness of and dependence on the love of God.

In Acts, Peter and John have been released from arrest by the chief priests after being warned not to preach in the name of Christ.  What do they do?  They look for their friends, their fellow believers, they make a report as to what had occurred, and then they begin to pray.  How do they address God?  They address Him as the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  But notice what they do not request.  Do they ask for safety? No!  Nor do they pray for the destruction of their enemies.  They pray for boldness to keep speaking God’s Word.  And God hears their prayer, fills them with His Holy Spirit, and gives them continued boldness.

Think about it

What can you learn from the examples of prayer in the lives of Nehemiah, Peter, and John?  Be sure you remember who God is and what He wants of us.  Pray to a big God. Pray for big things–things that you know He wants.  After all, He is the Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, isn’t He?

Following Christ without Distraction

God calls people to avoid distractions and focus on following Christ through careful study and applying of His Word. But when we fail is there any hope?

Today’s Reading

Ezra 6-8; John 21

Selected Verses

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.  Ezra 7:10

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  John 21:21-22

Reflections

Peter was by nature an impulsive and fickle person. This is obvious from the various stories we read about him in the gospels. Remember his nervous response to the transfiguration of Jesus? On another occasion, He confessed Jesus as the Son of God, but moments later Jesus rebuked him for contradicting the Lord’s  prophecy about His death and resurrection.  Peter promised to be loyal to Jesus to death, if necessary, and followed that up with multiple denials that he knew Him.

Now Jesus speaks to him personally giving him the opportunity to confess three times his love for Christ. Jesus charges Peter three times: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” Jesus then makes a reference to Peter’s future martyrdom and says, “Follow me.” But Peter, true to form, notices another disciple nearby (John) and asks what will come of him. Jesus gently tells him it’s none of his business and repeats His earlier command, “You follow me.”

Peter needed to take a lesson from Ezra, who “set his heart” to study, do, and teach the Law of God. Ezra focused on what God had given him to do and would not be distracted from it. Peter did indeed learn this lesson as we can tell from accounts of his later life in the New Testament about his service for Christ in the gospel.

Think about it

How about you? Have you set your heart to study, do, and teach God’s word? Are you single-mindedly following Christ? We can all improve in this. But the same Lord who was gracious, merciful, and patient with the Apostle Peter is the same toward us who struggle to be faithful to Him. Pray that you will be undistracted in your devotion to the Lord and His word.

 

Free to Lead like Jesus

Today we see the stark contrast between the godly leader and the selfish, insecure leader.  We are called to follow the One who leads us to glory.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 11-13; John 9:1-23

Selected Verses

In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord your God said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.”  1 Chronicles 11:2

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess that Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  John 9:22

Reflections

Godly leaders seek to do His will, and therefore are free to act with courage and give clear direction to their followers.

Saul, the first king of Israel, failed on many levels in his leadership. He failed to encourage faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to the Law of God. Worship of God seems to have been neglected under Saul  (1 Chronicles 13:3).  Even while Saul was the king, it was David who gave real leadership to the nation.

Although David was loyal to him, Saul did not trust David and wasted much of his time and energy trying to assassinate him. In the end, David became king in a joyous coronation that reunited the kingdom of Israel (1 Chronicles 12:38-40).

In Jesus’ day, the Jews showed some of the same leadership weaknesses as Saul. Jesus’ power and popularity threatened them. They adamantly resisted the mounting evidence that pointed to His identity as the Messiah. These leaders used their authority to squelch discussion and intimidate the citizenry.  They ruled that “if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” Just as Saul demanded that everyone side with him against David, so the Jewish authorities also drew a line insisting that the people choose between them and Jesus.

Think about it

Godly leaders encourage those they lead to seek the Lord, to know His Word, and to follow Christ. A godly leader, like King David, knows that God is the real King of His people. They recognize that human leaders never exceed the position of princes. Are you free from the slavery of pleasing people or the jealousy of holding on to your position?  Are you able to use whatever leadership authority you have to encourage faithfulness to God? Consider how you can facilitate godliness in those the Lord has allowed you to lead.