Wednesday nights are wonderful nights of prayer at our church, filled with expectation that God will meet us there and that our prayers will be heard. During a time of pre-service prayer last night, I sat in our chapel waiting on the Lord. As I sat there, I picked up my Bible and opened it. The book opened to the 50th chapter of the book of Isaiah and my eyes were drawn to the following verses (Isaiah 50:10-11, ESV):
10 Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.
As I read through these verses, I felt God was trying to say something to me through them. Verse 10 begins with a question, “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?” I know from Proverbs 1:7 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. As a believer, I must have that fear of the Lord. My life must reflect the reverence that is due Him and we must obey His Word. The verse then says that a person who walks in darkness, perhaps because of frustration, injustice, or persecution, needs to trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God. I get that and try to live that out in my life.
When I got to verse 11, I started wondering what God was trying to say to me through it. I thought, “Why was I brought to this verse? Is God trying to tell me something?” And that’s when my conversation with God began.
God: “What do you think I’m trying to tell you?”
Me: “Well, Jesus is the light of the world and when we follow Him, we become that light, as well. We kindle the fire of the Holy Spirit in us and equip ourselves with the light of Jesus so that we can walk in it. So, I think you are telling me that we need to walk by the light of Jesus, not by our own light. But what are You saying to me when You say, “and by the torches you have kindled?”
God: “You need to pass the flame to others.”
Me: “Okay, so that means we are supposed to take the light of Jesus to others, right? We need to spread the Gospel.”
God: “Yes. But, I’m talking to you, not ‘we.’ Are you doing your part? Are you kindling the torches of others with Jesus’ light?”
Me: “I think so. I’m doing it through my blog.”
God: “True. But I need you to do more.”
Me: “Oh!” (I didn’t really know what else to say!)
As followers of Christ, we are given a mission, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world. We all need to do our part. God told me that He wants me to do more. Maybe that speaks to you, as well. If it does, pray that God shows you what He wants you to do. And rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help you to do it (Acts 1:8). I know that’s what I need to do!
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. (Ezekiel 37:4, NET).
Have you ever been in a dry season in your walk of faith? I know that I have. More than once. Dry seasons are times when we feel far from God. It seems like God is far away, maybe even like He has abandoned us. The truth is that, when we feel far from God, it’s more than likely because we have moved away from Him. God is always with us. He’s always there, waiting to listen to us, waiting to speak to us. But sometimes, perhaps because of a difficult circumstance, or because of fatigue or illness, our hearts may become hardened and we may move away from God. The result is a season of dryness, a season in which it seems that all of the life has gone out of us.
In Ezekiel 37, the hand of God was on Ezekiel and the prophet was brought by the Spirit of God to a valley filled with bones. As Ezekiel walked through the valley, he saw that not only were there a large number of bones there, but also that the bones were very dry. There was no life in them. God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones could live. Not knowing the answer to that question, Ezekiel replied, “Lord, you know.” Ezekiel very likely understood that life returning to those dry bones was dependent on God. God had the power to bring life where life has gone. God told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, to declare His word to them. His word was that He would breathe life into them. With God’s breath in them, the bones would live, flesh would return to them, and they would know that God is Lord (Ezekiel 37:1-6).
God may use a dry season to teach us. He may want us to learn to surrender to Him, to put our complete trust in Him. And God also has the power to pull us out of that dry season, to restore life to our “dry bones.” We need to reach out to Him in prayer, we need to look to His Word and to “hear” it. We need to allow the Spirit of God to breathe life into us. If our hearts have become hardened, we need to allow Him to soften our hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26-27, God promises to give us a new heart, to put a new spirit within us. He will remove the heart of stone from our bodies and replace it with a heart of flesh. He will bring life to our “dry bones”. He will bring refreshing in our dry season by putting His Spirit within us.
Ezekiel prophesied over the bones as God told him to do. Flesh and breath returned to those dry bones and they stood to their feet and lived. When we allow God’s Word and His Holy Spirit to speak into our lives during a dry season, we will be lifted out of that dryness. We will once again draw close to Him and will stand to our feet and walk with Him right beside us.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16, NIV)
Prayer is powerful. Through prayer, faith is strengthened, shackles are broken, and sickness is healed. Through prayer, wisdom is given, peace is felt, and fear is eliminated. And through prayer, we draw closer to God. In the fifth chapter of the letter of James, we read that prayers offered by a righteous person have great effectiveness. Scripture tells us that God hears our prayers (Jeremiah 29:12). Jesus taught that whatever we ask for in prayer, we will receive if we believe (Mark 11:24). But if this is so, why do some prayers go unanswered? What are the hindrances to prayer?
There are a number of things that can hinder our prayers – actions, attitudes, and motives that lead to our prayers being unanswered. Sin hinders our prayers. So does selfishness. James 4:3 makes it clear that at times, when we ask and do not receive, it is because we are asking wrongly, looking to satisfy our own passions rather than looking to satisfy God’s will. Selfishness is expressed through greed, ambition, and boastfulness. When we are seeking things from God that would satisfy any of these things, our prayers will go unanswered. But when we seek His will above our own, He will hear our prayers and supply the things that we need (Matthew 6:33).
Another hindrance to prayer is injustice or indifference to the needs of others. Proverbs 21:13 says that those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will not receive an answer to their own cries. We must show mercy, concern, and caring for those around us who are in need. In Isaiah 1:17, we are told to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We must always seek the good of others, placing the needs of others before our own needs. When we do, God hears our prayers and will answer.
Do your prayers seem to be going unanswered? If so, it may mean that God wants you to examine your heart, to see if there is something in you that is hindering your prayer. It is at these times that you need to cry out to God as the psalmist did in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” When you ask God to search your heart, He will reveal the things that you need to deal with, the things that are hindrances to your prayers.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
In the sport of tennis, a player must win a game by two points. So, let’s say that Rafael Nadal is playing against Andy Murray. The score is tied 40-40 (called “deuce”) and Nadal wins the next point. At that point, the chair umpire will call out “Advantage, Nadal!” In that particular game, Nadal is considered to have the advantage because he is one point away from winning, while Murray must win three points in order to win. So, obviously, Nadal, by going ahead of Murray by one point, has the “advantage.”
In 2 Chronicles, chapter 32, we see that King Sennacherib of Assyria had invaded Judah and besieged its fortified cities with the intent of seizing them. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, seeing that Sennacherib was intending to attack Jerusalem, rebuilt the broken walls of the city, had many weapons and shields made, and gathered his army to prepare for battle. Perhaps these efforts would have given Hezekiah and his army a fighting chance against the massive Assyrian army, but when Hezekiah addressed the army of Judah, what he said showed that they did not just have a fighting chance, they had the advantage. These are Hezekiah’s words found in 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 (NET):
“Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic because of the king of Assyria and this huge army that is with him! We have with us one who is stronger than those who are with him. He has with him mere human strength, but the LORD our God is with us to help us and fight our battles!”
Advantage, Hezekiah! The Assyrian army, though greater in number than that of Judah, was an army possessed with mere human strength. But on the side of the army of Judah, was the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the Lord would be there to help Hezekiah and the army of Judah have victory over Sennacherib and the Assyrian army. Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah prayed and cried out to the Lord, and the Lord sent a messenger to wipe out the soldiers, princes, and officers of the Assyrian army. Humiliated, Sennacherib returned home, where he was killed by some of his own sons. Hezekiah and the residents of Jerusalem were delivered from the power of their enemies and made secure on every side (2 Chronicles 32:20-22).
As followers of Christ, we have an enemy who is always looking to defeat us, to invade our lives and our families, and to separate us from God. He will do anything in his power to take us down. But just as Hezekiah and the army of Judah had an advantage over their enemies, so do we. When we have Christ in our lives, when we have surrendered our lives to Him and made a decision to follow Him, then we have the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on our side. And with the Lord on our side, the enemy cannot stand against us. With the Lord God on our side, though the enemy may try, he will not defeat us. As it says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We have the advantage!
Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from The NET Bible® Copyright © 2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org All rights reserved.
On October 3, 2003, the popular Las Vegas duo of Siegfried & Roy were in the middle of their act, which combined illusion with white lions and white tigers, when one of the tigers, named Montecore, attacked Roy, leaving him critically injured. During the act, Montecore apparently became distracted and began moving toward the edge of the stage. Since there was no barrier between the stage and the audience, Roy quickly put himself between the Montecore and the audience and commanded the tiger to lie down. Montecore did not listen and instead attacked Roy, who had lost control of the tiger, a powerful animal that possessed great strength. An investigation into this unfortunate accident was unable to determine the cause of the attack. They were never able to determine why Montecore, who had always demonstrated gentleness towards Roy, suddenly turned on him.
Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. The word translated as gentleness in Galatians 5:23 can also mean meekness or humility. The worldview of meekness is weakness or timidity. But, the meekness or gentleness that we are called to have as believers is anything but. Gentleness, meekness, and humility are not weakness. They are power under control. They are shown when we fully submit our own power to God’s plan. There is no greater example of this than the example of Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus possessed gentleness (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus also possessed great power. While He was fully human, Jesus was also fully divine. He had the power to raise the dead back to life (John 11:43-44). He had the power to calm a storm (Luke 8:22-25). He had the power to multiply a young boy’s small lunch into a meal for thousands of people (John 6:8-13). On the night that He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus could have called down an army of angels to set Himself free from those who were leading Him to His death (Matthew 26:53). Jesus had the power to do that. But Jesus submitted His power to God’s plan (Matthew 26:39,42) so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled and God’s promise of a Redeemer and Savior would be realized (Matthew 26:54).
When Montecore attacked Roy, it was an example of power that was no longer under control. This animal, who had previously displayed gentleness, now demonstrated his own unbridled power. In that moment, the tiger was no longer submitting its power to its master, and the result was, for Roy, catastrophic. How catastrophic would it have been for all of us had Jesus not displayed gentleness in submitting to God’s will and plan and instead used His power to avoid going to the cross? We can rejoice in the fact that Jesus chose not to use His divine power for His own good but, in humility, put our need for salvation above His own life and suffered death on a cross that we may have eternal life with the Father in heaven (Philippians 2:5-8). As followers of Jesus, therefore, we must seek the help of the Holy Spirit so that we can cultivate the fruit of gentleness, of power under control, in our own lives.
Relationships are important. In the Creation story, God made that clear when He said it was not good for the man, Adam, to be alone (Genesis 2:18). And so God created woman. From the relationship between man and woman, came children, and the world became populated with people, people who needed and desired the relationship of others. Relationships can be found in the form of close and long-lasting friendships, they can be found in the form of the intimate relationship between spouses, and they can be found in the close-knit relationship of families. All these relationships are both necessary and good. But what is the most important relationship?
In Mark 3:31-35, Jesus was sitting with a crowd of people when His mother and His brothers came seeking Him. People in the crowd brought this to Jesus’ attention, probably assuming that He would get up and go to them. Jesus’ response likely took them by surprise. Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? And, who are my brothers?” He then looked at His closest disciples who were sitting around Him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does God’s will is my brother and my sister and my mother.” In Luke 14:26, Jesus said that if anyone comes to Him but does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, and sisters and brothers, that person cannot be His disciple. So, is Jesus saying that our relationships with our families and our friends are not important? Not at all!
In Matthew 15:4, referring to God’s commandments Jesus said that we need to honor our parents. In John 15:12-13, He taught that we must love another and that there is no greater love that someone can show than to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus placed high value on the relationships that we have with our family and with our friends. Jesus expects us to love our families, to love our friends. He expects us to cherish the relationships in our lives. But, if we are truly His disciples, then we must cherish our relationship with Him, our relationship with God, above all others. And we do that by always seeking to do His will in our lives.
All of our relationships are important, but our most important relationship is our relationship with Jesus.
Before the conductor comes to the podium and a symphony orchestra begins to play a musical piece, the first player in the violin section, who is known as the concertmaster, will stand up. The concertmaster will ask the principal oboe player to play a “tuning A.” The rest of the orchestra will then tune their instruments so that they are playing the exact same note as the oboe player. Once the orchestra is in tune the conductor steps up to the podium and begins to lead the orchestra in the piece that they have prepared to play. Being in tune is important to the orchestra. If the violins are playing a note that is not in tune with the woodwinds, the sound that is produced will not be pleasing. But when the orchestra is in tune, they will play in perfect harmony, and the sound will be quite pleasing.
Marriage is much like a symphony orchestra. In order for a marriage to work well, the husband and the wife need to be “in tune” with each other. In an orchestra, there are different types of instruments with very different qualities and very different sounds. But when tuned together to the same note, they produce a concordant sound that is both beautiful and inspiring to those who hear it. In marriage, a man and a woman come together to begin a life together. Like the instruments in the orchestra, they are very different, coming together with different personalities, different character makeup, and maybe even different interests and values. Scripture tells us that, in marriage, a man and woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). In order for these two very different people to produce a relationship of perfect harmony, to become “one flesh,” they must be “in tune” with each other. So, how does that happen?
In the orchestra, the concertmaster leads the instruments in tuning up so that they produce the desired sound. In a Christian marriage, it is Jesus who leads a man and a woman to live “in tune” with each other. Without Jesus at the center of the marriage, husband and wife can be out of tune with each other, and the result will be a relationship that is not pleasing to either of them, let alone pleasing to God. In the orchestra, the concertmaster uses the principal oboist to provide the note to which the other instruments can tune. As the “concertmaster” of a marriage, the Word of God, the Bible, is much like the oboist. It provides us with what all of us need to live lives that are pleasing to God. When both a husband and a wife “tune” their lives to the Word of God, they will be “in tune” not just with God, but ultimately with each other. And then, God, just like the conductor of a symphony, will lead them to produce a marriage that is like a well-played symphony, both beautiful and inspiring to those around them.