When You Despair over the Lost

What believer has not felt some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones? What can we do?  Scripture gives us some positive steps to take.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 85-87; Romans 9

Selected Verses

Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?

 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.  Psalm 85:6-7

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.  Romans 9:2-3

Reflections

The Psalmist calls out to God for Israel to again experience His blessing.  He remembers past days when they knew the Lord’s forgiveness and enjoyed His favor in the land.   Now, that favor has been withdrawn.  God is indignant with them.  What can be done?  The writer calls on the Lord for restoration.  Only He can bring revival to the people.  The Psalmist calls on God and he is confident in Him.  He recognizes their foolishness, but he knows that God’s love and faithfulness are greater than the waywardness of His people.

Paul also agonizes over Israel.  He sees them foolishly ignoring all that God had given them.  Look at the list of blessings they have uniquely received:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.  Romans 9:4-5

What had they done with what they received?  They wasted it.  They turned away from their Messiah, who is God.  Indeed, they crucified Him!  Paul’s anguish is palpable.  So much so that he even states that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring them to Christ.  Of course, it would not, but we get the picture of the depth of his despair about the Jews.

Think about it

What believer has not felt at least some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones?   What can we do?  Paul prayed for Israel.  Psalm 85 gives us the right approach in our prayer.  Remember God’s blessings in the past.  Confess any sins that need confessing in the present.  Ask God for mercy and to give life to those who are dead in their sins.  Trust God to do what is right in His time.  Praise Him for His righteousness.  Wait on Him.  Repeat daily, as needed.

 

Praise and Faith When All Seems Lost

Praise of God and growth in faith build on each other. Praise builds faith and faith fuels praise even when all seems lost.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 70-72; Romans 4

Selected Verses

My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.  Psalm 71:23

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:20-22

Reflections

Much of the content of the Psalms is praise to God. But this praise is not isolated from the realities of life, the struggles, and the seemingly hopeless dilemmas that can come to the believer. In the midst of it all, the Psalmist frequently lifts up his voice in praise for deliverance experienced or expected.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, shows that the greatest dilemma of all is the problem of our sin before a holy God. No one is righteous. Not one. [Romans 1:18-3:20]. Yet, God manifested His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ who shed His blood for the redemption of all who believe in Him.

Paul anticipates a question about the role of Abraham in all of this and carefully lays out the case showing that Abraham himself was justified by faith not by the law of circumcision or any other law. Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promises to make him the father of many nations despite his and Sarah’s advanced age, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness. In what might be considered an aside, Paul says, Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”

Think about it

How can you cultivate faith especially in what appears to be a hopeless situation? Learn the lesson from Abraham. Try giving glory to God. Give glory to Him for what He has done in the past. Praise Him for what He is doing now. Give glory to Him for His wisdom in answering prayers according to His purposes and timing. Perhaps you will see the fulfillment of your prayers, but, if not, God will be glorified and your focus will be where it should be, on Him not on your problem.

Sunless Days and Starless Nights

How can you tell your faith is unshaken in a storm with sunless days and starless nights?  Today’s reading gives a means to test the quality of your faith.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 50-52; Acts 27:1-25

Selected Verses

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:14-15

For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.  Acts  27:23-25

Reflections

The Psalmist makes a powerful statement about God.  He is the rightful owner of all people and all things, so we belong to Him and He deserves our thankful worship no matter how bleak our circumstances. God needs nothing from us.  He lacks nothing because all things are already His. Humans may insult Him with their puny offerings given in an attitude of pride or duty.  What does God want?  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” says the Scripture.

Paul in his eventful voyage on a prison ship to Rome becomes the real leader despite his lowly status as a prisoner.  His initial advice to winter over at Fair Havens was unheeded but was later proven to have been wise.  As the ship is driven by a storm, the angel of God appears to Paul giving him a promise of deliverance.  Paul identifies God as the One to whom he belongs and the One whom he worships. In the midst of a storm, which blocked out the sun and the stars day after day, Paul was clear on who God is and who he was before Him. “I belong to Him and I worship Him,” Paul says.

Nothing that happened to Paul could diminish his convictions about the reality of God’s existence and of His personal care for him. When trials increased his praise and thanksgiving did too.

Think about it

How can you tell your faith is unshaken in the storm?  Check the level of your thanksgiving.  Be sure your praise of God is on the rise.  God is pleased with a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Nothing is more glorifying to Him than genuine praise and thanks especially on sunless days and starless nights.  Besides that, it also proves your faith is firm.

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.

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.

 

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?

Prayer in the Face of Injustice

Injustice abounds in this world, but God gives His people prayer so that they may call upon Him rather than to lose heart.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 1-3; Luke 18:1-17

Selected Verses

And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!” II Samuel 3:38-39

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Luke 18:7-8

Reflections

David gradually gained power to rule all Israel.  He welcomed his repentant former enemy, Abner, but Joab, David’s military commander, soon assassinated him.  David showed mercy; Joab took revenge.  The unity of the kingdom under David was jeopardized by Joab’s action.  David mourned for Abner and the people recognized that Joab had committed an injustice.

Jesus taught His disciples a parable so that they would pray rather than lose heart.  It seems that they were in danger of getting discouraged about the injustice they saw in the world.  They were about to see the greatest injustice ever perpetrated in human history, the arrest, trial, sentencing, and crucifixion of the Son of God.   Jesus told them that even an irreverent, hard-hearted judge would not be able to resist the constant pleading of a widow.

But God is much more gracious to His elect than the judge was to the insistent widow.  He will respond and bring swift justice to those who call on Him.  Jesus was telling them, “Pray.  Don’t lose heart.”

Think about it

Certainly, injustice abounds in human governments and societies.  The powerful impose their wills on the weak.  Shrewd and unprincipled people take advantage of the ignorant and trusting. Of course, it can be disheartening.  Yet Jesus tells His disciples not to lose heart. Instead pray.  He promises that God will give justice to His elect who cry to Him day and night.

Why do we not see more justice from God?  The fault is in our lack of faith evidenced by lack of prayer.  Do we cry to God or merely wring our hands and worry?  Do we cry to Him in faith day and night, or merely send up an occasional perfunctory prayer and go back to whining about all the evils in the world?  Think about that.  Better yet, pray now that He may give justice to His elect.

The Ugliness of Ingratitude

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Today we meet two ungrateful men. If we have softened hearts, we can learn a lesson from them about being thankful for God’s mercy.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 19-21; Luke 15:11-32

Selected Verses

And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.”  I Samuel 19:4

And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”  Luke 15:31,32

Reflections

Ingratitude brings irrational behavior and hatefulness toward others.

Saul was so blinded by jealousy and fear of David that he could not see that the man he wanted to kill was his most loyal and beneficial ally.  Saul was king of Israel, but the history of his reign is overshadowed by his senseless rivalry with a man who (as we shall see in subsequent readings) would not hurt him even when he could have easily assassinated him.  Jonathan attempted to reason with his father and to point out how David had brought success to Saul but he could not keep this perspective clearly in mind.  Saul would momentarily relent but then renew his pursuit of the man he feared. Instead of thanking God for David, Saul spent most of his energy trying to destroy David.

A similar attitude can be seen in the parable of the prodigal son whose older brother resisted attending the welcome home party.  The father begged him to join in the feast, but he was offended by the graciousness and mercy of his father toward his returned son.  He complained about not getting such glorious treatment himself. He resented the father’s generosity because he felt entitled to more than his brother.

Think about it

Jesus does not tell us how the story ends.  We leave them with the party going on. The father and older brother are standing outside discussing whether or not he will join the celebration.  Does the brother continue to mope and pout, or does he enter into the food and festivities?  We aren’t told.

How would you respond?  Would you rejoice in the goodness and grace of the father or would you feel short-changed, deserving of much more?  Are you grateful for God’s mercy or resentful that others who have sinned greatly have been blessed with forgiveness?  Ingratitude is ugly, but, worse than that, it reveals a hardened, lost heart.  If you are standing outside of the celebration, pray for a humble and grateful heart to enter in.

Crisis and Failure is Not Hopeless

Today’s reading

Genesis 25-26; Matthew 9:1-17

Selected verses

 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.”  Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”  Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.  Genesis 25:31-34

But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”    Matthew 9:12, 13

Reflections

How do you face a crisis? How do you handle failure, sin, and guilt?

Isaac faced a crisis, a famine, to be precise. He considered immigrating to Egypt, but God appeared to him and reassured him of His presence and provision. Isaac rested upon God’s promises and stayed in the land. Isaac’s faith honored God and kept him from a bad decision.

Esau faced a crisis or two. He came home starved from his hunting trip. He gave in to his hunger and sold his birthright for Jacob’s delicious stew. Later, Esau wanted a wife. He married a local pagan woman rather than follow the family tradition of marrying within their clan. Esau could not tolerate any delay in the gratification of his physical needs in order to make wise and godly decisions. In both of these cases, his choices had devastating consequences for him and his family.

I admire Isaac’s faith and am repulsed by Esau’s undisciplined appetites, but it is easier for me to be like Esau than like Isaac. Do I consistently resist temptation and sin? No. I do not always choose to trust God and to endure whatever difficulty may come without complaining or choosing the path of least resistance

Yet Jesus gives me hope. He was observed eating with tax collectors and sinners, the low life of society. When questioned about this, He replied: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Think about it

We fail. We sin. But Jesus Christ came for sinners like us. He came to call us to repentance.  He came to heal us.  How do you deal with a crisis or the failure to deal with it well? Don’t be like Esau who failed to obtain the grace of God (Hebrews 12:14-17).  Seek to face a crisis with faith. When you fail, and you sometimes will, repent, confess sin, and find forgiveness from Christ. Get up, press on.

Does Prayer Matter?

Are you convinced that your prayer for others is a vital and essential means through which God blesses and helps them?  See how Paul would answer that question in today’s reading.

Today’s reading:  1 Corinthians 15:12-2 Corinthians 1:11

My selection:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.  2 Corinthians 1:11

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.