Guidance for Complex Decisions

God’s word meets us in real life where we face questions that require His direction. Here we find two examples of how to deal with complex matters.

Today’s reading

Psalms 142-144; First Corinthians 10:14-33

Selected Verses

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.  Psalm 143:7-8

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  First Corinthians 10:31-33

Reflections

The Christian is called to glorify God, to make sacrifices to build up others, and to avoid being offensive or selfish so that many may be saved.  With those purposes in view, even complex ethical decisions become more obvious.

We aren’t given the specific historical setting of Psalm 143, but it is clear that David is desperate.  There is much honesty expressed in these Psalms.   No room for denial here.  The author feels he needs direction from God and he needs it fast.  Apparently he had to make a decision by morning.  This could be a prayer in the evening and David is praying that it will be clear to him by then as to which direction he should go.

The Corinthian believers also faced a dilemma.  They wonder how to handle the touchy situation of food offered to idols.  Some see it as a non-issue and have freedom to eat that food with no qualms.  Others are troubled by the idea of eating this food that was offered to demons.  Paul is clear that there is really no problem in eating the food, but there is a problem of causing a brother to stumble.  He gives the readers of his letter some very simple, clear and practical guidelines as to when to eat and when not to eat.

Think about it

Let’s put these guidelines into the form of questions to ask when making complex, ethical decisions:  How can I best glorify God?  How can I be helpful and build others up?  How can I avoid offending so that an unbeliever is more able to find his way to salvation?  Have I prayed to God for wisdom and waited for a sense of clarity on the matter? Consider how you can apply these questions to the difficult decisions you must make.

God is–the Challenge of Describing the Holy One

God is too holy to be described in human words, but we must try. When we have exhausted our efforts, we worship Him by ascribing to Him all glory forever.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 93-95; Romans 11:22-36

Selected Verses

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!  Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.  Psalm 93:4-5

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”   For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  Romans 11:33-36

Reflections

How do you describe God? Psalm 93 uses an analogy to the highest human authority, the king. Admittedly, that comparison falls far short because God is a king whose reign always was and always will be. He is eternal. He rules, not over some limited territory, but over the whole universe.

How do you describe God? The Psalmist draws from the most powerful forces in nature: a flood, mighty waters, the sea. The waters roar. They sweep away everything in their path. But that is not an adequate description of the power of God for He is mightier than the sea. He is on high above it all.

Paul compares God to the wisest counselor or the richest man on earth. They could add nothing to the Lord’s knowledge nor contribute anything He lacks. The Apostle seems out of superlatives as he cries out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Think about it

How do you describe God? Human kings make decrees, but they cannot guarantee their fulfillment. Maybe the kingdom will be overthrown. Maybe the king will die suddenly. The king’s decree is only a statement of his intention. But God’s decrees are “very trustworthy.” He is holy, set apart, completely other. Forever.

We cannot adequately describe God, but give it a try. He is worthy and accepting of all our feeble, but heartfelt, efforts to praise Him.  There can be no higher use of our minds and tongues.

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.

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.

What to do while longing for the Kingdom

It’s natural and good to be longing for the full arrival of the kingdom of God. But Jesus gave us an assignment while we are waiting.  Do you know what it is?

Today’s reading

Judges 20-21; Luke 11:1-28]

Selected Verses

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:  ‘Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.'”  Luke 11:2

Reflections

The theme of the book of Judges is “there was no king in Israel [so] everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Especially the final chapters of the book show selected incidents which illustrate this same theme.   People disregarded the law.  Their worship of God was corrupted.  Their marriages were in disarray.  There was sexual immorality reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.     It is not hard to see that public opinion in Israel would soon favor installing a king.  That would happen soon.  But would a king in Israel solve the problems that existed under the Judges?

Hold that question for a bit and fast forward to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus’ disciples observe His prayer life.  They ask for instruction about prayer.  Jesus gives them the prayer we usually call “The Lord’s Prayer” with its assortment of sample petitions.  After addressing God as Father and praying that His name be held as holy, the Lord gives them this petition, “Your kingdom come.”

Now, back to the earlier question.  The kingdom of Israel would not solve the problems of their society, much less the problems of the world.  But Jesus came announcing the first stages of the arrival of the kingdom of God.  He also gave His disciples the assignment of praying for the kingdom to come in its fullness.

Think about it

We have a responsibility to the secular governments or kingdoms we live in now. However, the only government that will last forever is the kingdom of God ruled by the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are you longing for that kingdom to fully come?  Isn’t it hard to wait for the eternal reign of our Lord, where peace will be permanent, sin will be unknown, love and justice will be the norm, and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, and death?  We know from Scripture that this is God’s ultimate will.  It is right to be longing for the kingdom, but Jesus told us to pray that it may come soon.  Pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is a prayer God is going to answer.

Leadership Lessons from Jesus and Joshua

Leaders are frequently challenged by high stress situations and high maintenance people. God’s Word gives guidance for effective leadership.

Today’s reading

Joshua 16-18; Luke 5:1-16

Selected Verses

So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.”  Joshua 18:8

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Reflections

Both Jesus and Joshua model how effective leaders handle high stress situations and high maintenance people. There are two important guidelines here for effective leaders.

  1. Effective leaders empower people to solve their own problems, as much as possible. Joshua gave the responsibility to the seven landless tribes to survey the territory, to write a description of the remaining land dividing it in seven portions, and to report back to him for allotments. Earlier, Joshua told the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to clear their land rather than asking for more territory.
  2. Effective leaders take time for prayer even during high stress times. Jesus’ ministry was becoming more widely known and the crowds came with endless needs for healing and teaching. It was not a bad thing that they saw Jesus as the one who could both heal them and teach them, but there were limits to what one person, even Jesus, could do. Jesus modeled for us the need to take time alone in prayer.

Think about it

In whatever leadership roles you fill, are you following these two guidelines as you face pressure and the expectations of others?  A mother recently told me how much joy she has seeing her young son assume more responsibility for getting himself ready for bed. In our church, we train and empower gifted people to teach Sunday school classes. This process adds quality to our classes and their members.

The biggest danger is the tendency to operate purely on human wisdom and to fail to take time alone for prayer. Evaluate your life today. Make the needed changes so that you handle high stress situations and high maintenance people in wise and godly ways.