Tuesday, May 3, 2016

TRUSTING THE LORD

Every Christian claims to trust the Lord. Yet, in reality, many of God’s children aren’t ready to face the black storm coming upon the world. Unless we lay hold of a special, unshakable trust in our Lord, we won’t be ready for the hard times, now or in the future.

When the full fury of the storm breaks and uncertainty falls over humankind like a cloud, multitudes of Christians will not be able to handle it. Overcome with fear, they will lose their song of victory. Who are these believers who won’t be prepared to endure the storm? They are those who haven’t cultivated a life of prayer with the Lord and are not grounded in His Word.

For years godly shepherds have urged Christians to set aside a time each day to meet God in prayer. Thank the Lord, many have learned to pour out their hearts to Jesus and they are being rewarded with a holy faith and trust. Indeed, their faith grows daily by their reliance on His Word.

You see, communion gives birth to trust. By pouring out to the Lord all our worries, we come away with His rest and assurance: “Trust in him at all times . . . pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). According to this psalm, “trusting” and “pouring out” are inseparable. If we are to trust God at all times, including the darkest times, then we must be pouring out our hearts to Him without ceasing.

As the days become more frightful, there will arise a people of God who become bolder and bolder. These are believers who call daily on the name of the Lord, “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6). Revelation from God’s Word will uphold them in the hardest of times.

David learned to call upon the Lord in every crisis of his life. Time after time this godly man ran to his secret place, emptying all his fears before the Lord: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears. . . . He delivered me” (2 Samuel 22:7, 18).

Monday, May 2, 2016

LOVE ONE ANOTHER by Gary Wilkerson

If you had to name the pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching, what would you say it is? We gain some insight from His final night with His disciples before going to the cross. He had only a few hours left with His closest friends, so He concentrated all that He’d taught them into one word: love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

When we talk about love in the Church—in fact, when we read this verse—our minds go in gentle directions. We think of kindness, generosity, being good to others, and, indeed, the New Testament says a lot about this kind of love. It uses the phrase “one another” about fifty times, with commands to treat each other with patience, encouragement, generosity. The book of Ephesians uses the word “together” often, emphasizing Christ’s great command to love in community.

The disciples would have no problem with this command; in fact, they probably thought they were already pretty good at it. They had just spent three years in full-time ministry with their Master, learning how to do what He taught them.

But in this scene, Jesus speaks of love in a very different context. It becomes clear in His next sentence: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Now that’s a serious kind of love. I picture the disciples looking at each other wondering, “Would I die for this guy next to me? Sometimes he really irritates me.” Maybe they didn’t love each other as well as they thought they did.

My point is that when Jesus commands us to love as He loves, it’s no light thing. It isn’t some romanticized idea based on feelings or ideals. What He commands of us is gospel love—powerful, unconditional, sacrificial love that has its roots in the cross of Christ. Jesus was about to demonstrate for His followers the most powerful act of love anyone could ever experience by going to the cross for our sins. In doing that, He would show how this love applies even to our enemies—because He gave His life for them, too.

Friday, April 29, 2016

CLOSET PRAYER

Closet praying happens when we’re alone, in secret. “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6).

But there is more to it. The Greek word for closet in this verse means “a private room, a secret place.” This was clear to Jesus’ listeners, because the homes in their culture had an inner room that served as a sort of storage closet. Jesus’ command was to go into that secret closet and shut the door behind you. And it’s a command to individuals, because this is not the kind of prayer that can happen in church or with a prayer partner.

Jesus set the example for this, as He went to private places to pray. Over and over Scripture tells us He “went aside” to spend time in prayer. No one had a busier life, as He was constantly pressed by the needs of those around Him and had so little time to Himself. Yet, we’re told, “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). “When he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).

Consider the command Saul was given in Acts. When Christ apprehended this persecutor of the church, Saul wasn’t sent to a corporate church meeting, or to Ananias, the great prayer warrior. No, Saul was to spend three days alone and apart, praying and getting to know Jesus.

We all have excuses for why we don’t pray in secret, in a special place alone. We say we have no such private place, or no time to do it. Thomas Manton, a godly Puritan writer, says this on the subject: “We say we have no time to pray secretly. We yet have time for all else: time to eat, to drink, for children, yet no time for what sustains all else. We say we have no private place, but Jesus found a mountain, Peter a rooftop, the prophets a wilderness. If you love someone, you will find a place to be alone.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A PLACE OF PRAYER

Our homes are to be places of prayer!

“If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Some Christians call this “agreement praying.” You are deeply blessed if you have a devoted brother or sister to pray with. Indeed, the most powerful intercessors I’ve known have come in two’s and three’s. If God has blessed me at all in this life — if He has used me for His glory — I know it is because of a few mighty intercessors who pray daily for me.

The place where this kind of prayer takes place most powerfully is the home. My wife, Gwen, and I pray together daily, and I believe it holds our family together. We prayed for each of our children during their growing up years, that not one of them would be lost. We prayed about their friendships and relationships. We also prayed for their future mates, and now we’re doing the same with our grandchildren.

Sadly, very few Christian families take time for prayer in the home. I personally can testify that I’m in the ministry today because of the power of family prayer. Every day, no matter where my siblings and I were playing, in the front yard or down the street, my mother would call out the front door of our home, “David, Jerry, Juanita, Ruth, it’s prayer time!” (My baby brother Don wasn’t born yet.)

The whole neighborhood knew about our family prayer time. Sometimes I hated to hear that call, and I griped and groaned about it. But something clearly happened in those times of prayer, with the Spirit moving amid our family and touching our souls.

Maybe you can’t see yourself holding family prayer. Maybe you have a spouse who isn’t cooperative or a child who’s rebellious. Beloved, it doesn’t matter who chooses not to be involved. You can still come to the kitchen table and bow your head and pray. That will serve as your household’s prayer time, and every family member will know it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BLOW THE TRUMPET IN ZION

What exactly are we to pray in times such as these?

Here was Joel’s prescription for Israel in that day of gloom and darkness: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children. . . . Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:15–17).

Here was the call to the church: “Don’t be discouraged or give in to despair. You are not to believe the devil’s lies that there is no hope for an awakening.” Instead, according to Joel, the people’s cry was to be, “Lord, stop this reproach on Your name. Don’t let Your church be mocked any longer. Stop the heathen from lording it over us, taunting and asking, ‘Where is your God?’”

You may think, “What God promises here is only a possibility. He says He might hold back His judgment. That’s nothing more than a ‘perhaps,’ a ‘maybe.’ Everything He calls for from His people could be in vain.”

I don’t believe God tantalizes His church. And He won’t send His people out on a fool’s mission. When Abraham prayed for God to spare Sodom (where his nephew Lot lived), the Lord’s heart was moved to save that city even if only ten righteous people lived there. And Abraham prayed this as destroying angels were walking into the city! I’m convinced God’s people today are to pray to the Lord in the same way.

Joel’s prophecy regarding an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is found in Joel 2:28-32 and is repeated by the apostle Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:17-21. The prophecy begins, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

EVEN TO ME

“Therefore . . . saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:12–13).

As I read this passage, I am struck by the words, “Even to me.” As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to His people: “Even to me — when you’ve pushed Me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked My warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land — I urge you to come back to Me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back My judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah.”

Do you see God’s message to us in this? As His people, we can plead in prayer, and He will hear us and answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of His saints.

I have a word of warning to the church at this moment: Beware! Satan comes precisely at such a dark hour when disaster looms over the earth, when the heathen rage and terrorize nations. The devil knows we’re vulnerable, and he throws out this lie: “What good can you do? Why try to evangelize Islamists, when they want to kill you? You can’t change anything. You might as well give up on the sin-saturated world. There’s no use praying for an outpouring of the Spirit. All your repenting is futile.”

But God comes to us with this word from Joel: “There is hope and mercy, even now! I am of great kindness and slow to anger. And now is the time for you to turn to Me in prayer. I may hold back My judgments and even bring blessing to you.”

Even now — in a time of murderous Islamic extremism, of militant homosexuality, when our nation has lost its moral compass, when courts are driving God out of society, when fear grips the whole earth — it is time to turn to the Lord in prayer.

Monday, April 25, 2016

STEP INTO THE RIVER by Gary Wilkerson

The skeptics said to Joshua, "If we cross over the Jordan River, we're going to face enemies as never before. You know the reports. There are thirty-one different kings in the land where we're going and every one of them wants to do us in. Do you know how many kings we've defeated in the last forty years? Exactly two. What on earth are you thinking? How could this be what God wants?"

Joshua knew it would be difficult — in fact, impossible. But he also knew there was only one way for Israel to go: forward. They were going to cross over, and they would do it in faith, trusting that God had their best interests at heart.

We all know that in the end, Joshua and Israel possessed the land and were blessed.

The priests carrying the Ark stepped into the rushing river, and as soon as they immersed their toes, God supernaturally parted the water. After that, every evil thing the skeptics predicted was turned into good for God's people.

The people came to a great fortified city occupied by their enemy. When they marched around it, the impenetrable walls came tumbling down. A handful of kings that Israel thought would be hostile instead joined them and doubled the size of their army.

Did all this make super-saints out of Joshua and Israel? Not at all. At one point Joshua failed to obey God, but because he repented quickly, the Lord used the experience to strengthen him.

Are you willing to step into the river? God may be saying, "If you'll just commit to putting your toe in, you will see me part waves for you. It doesn't matter how many enemies and fortresses you face, I will carry you across to the other side. I have already laid out my plans for you and I'll see them through to fulfillment, all to My glory."

I urge you: Trust God to lead you across your Jordan. Let Him silence the voice of every skeptic. His “Plan A” for you won't be defeated. He is faithful — and He will give you victory!

“The Lord said to Joshua . . . As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 3:7).