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.

The Cost of Integrity

Those who stand for truth will find their integrity tested.  The Apostle Paul stood the test at great cost. Will you?

Today’s reading:

Acts 21:37-24:27

My selection:

Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?”  And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” Acts 23:4-5

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.

A Prayer List for the Oppressed

What would you pray for if you were arrested for preaching the gospel?  Find out how the Apostles prayed under severe opposition. It may surprise you.

Today’s reading:

Acts 4:23-6:15

My selection:

  And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,  while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:29-31

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.

Confession of Sin

Today’s reading: Daniel 7:1-9:27

My selection:

“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God,  while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.  He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.  At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”

Daniel 9:20-23 (ESV)

Confession of sin is not morbid introspection

On numerous occasions in the Bible we read of people whose close encounter with God brought them to recognize their unworthiness and sin.   God’s presence shines on the hearts of men and exposing their depravity.  Daniel experienced this, too, and was driven to a thorough confession of his sin and the sin of his people.

Confession of sin should not be morbid introspection driving us to hopelessness.  The Apostle John exhorts us:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Confession is a lifestyle

Confession leads to forgiveness and cleansing.  It is not a once-for-all event but a lifestyle which brings growth in both holiness and praise.  Be diligent in confession.

[For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].