When God Does not Answer

Psalm 83:1 (NIV) O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.

God answers prayers. There is nothing impossible with Him. But there are many times I have come before God, garnered all the faith I could, prayed my heart out, and trusted that God would answer me but things did not end up the way I expected. There are other times when I have wondered whether I should even bother praying at all. If God did not answer me the other day, how sure am I that He will do it this time around? Someone even wonders whether God is listening or I am simply talking to myself.

In the article, “Jesus’ Unanswered Prayers,” Philip Yancey writes that “Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers.” For instance, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was arrested, He pleaded with the Father all night to save Him from the impending suffering. It was such an intense moment that His “sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Of course, Jesus knew that the Father could do what He has asked Him to do, but He still surrendered to the Father’s will. And as Yancey says “When Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he did not get that salvation; instead, he got the salvation of the world.”

When God does not answer us in ways we expected, it is not because He is indifferent or unable to give us what we asked for. It is because he has something better for us. Our role is to bring our desires before Him and let Him do as He pleases.

Prayer

Dear heavenly Father, teach me today to trust in you love, power and wisdom even when thing may not go the way I want. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

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Dying to Self

Mark 10:35-45 (NIV) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”…They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”…Jesus called them together and said…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Many of us do not want die. We, in fact, spend much of our energy and resources trying to preserve our lives. Ironically, in the course of doing all this we may end up wasting our lives away. That is why the call by Jesus to die to self is antithetical to everything we know and live for. It is a radical call. It is unnatural. It is not how the world works.

In today’s passage, the two disciples, James and John, come up with a rather ridiculous request to Jesus—and they do not expect Jesus to deny their request. They want each of them to sit at either side of Jesus in His coming Messianic kingdom. They certainly are ignorant that Jesus’ going to Jerusalem will lead to death and not political triumph. They also obviously are not fully aware of the implications of following Jesus, which include suffering and pain. Jesus then responds to all the disciples that true greatness is achieved by selfless service.

From God’s point of view, greatness is measured by willingness to die to self and serve others. The way to greatness is through selfless service. The Word of God exhorts followers of Jesus Christ to emulate His example of humility as we serve one another. He was God from all eternity but he freely gave up His divine privileges to become like us. He who created the world lived like a slave and died the death of a worst criminal.
On the day of the Passover before His crucifixion, he washed the feet of his disciples. This was a menial job meant for household servants. After the exercise, Jesus told the disciples an important lesson: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This can only happen when we stop pursuing self-serving interests but serve others. It happens when we allow God to use us to accomplish His purposes rather than us using God to accomplish our purposes.

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Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the way to true greatness. Please help me to live humbly as a servant of others. In Your name I pray, amen.

 

God and Money

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Mark 10: 17-22 (NIV) As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…. Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

One thing that was common in Jesus’ ministry is that different people approached him with all kinds of questions—and He responded to them according to the genuineness of their intentions. This time He is approached by a wealthy man with an age-old question. What does it take for one to enter the kingdom of God? There is something striking about this encounter. Jesus’ loving eyes see something wrong with this man.  Although he has been keeping the law religiously, his heart is tied to his wealth. His wealth is effectively the god that he is serving.

Many years ago, as college students, we went for a retreat where a missionary was one of the speakers. I cannot remember much of what he said but he made a comment about money that went—more or less—like this, “you should always look at money as if it is stones.” I think what he meant was that we should not let our hearts get carried away with the love of money. But since we considered him and other missionaries more financially privileged than us, we never took his comment seriously.

Our sentiments towards the missionary notwithstanding, the Bible severally warns about the temptations of money. Pastoral leaders should not yield to the temptation of serving God as a means to get rich (1 Tim. 6:5). Those who try to follow Christ but remain attached to the pursuit of wealth and worldly pleasures get choked and are unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). Money can be an object of worship. We are warned that we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). And the love of money is the root of all evils (1 Tim. 6:10).

So, what is it about money that makes many people feel that they do not need God? Truth is that money is not neutral. That is why we need to be intentional about how we relate to it and use it. All of us have something or someone our hearts are attached to. Unless we deal with that, we cannot truly follow Christ. Wealth and affluence are some of the gods of this age. What issue of your heart would you have Christ deal with as you follow Him? As followers of Jesus Christ we can have a healthy mindset towards money and wealth. We should not serve God for money but rather we should serve Him with all He has given us, including money, for His glory.

 

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, would you reveal to me the idols in my heart that could easily distract me from following you. In Your name I pray. Amen.

 

 

A Garden of Roses

Song of Songs 2:16-17 (NIV). My beloved is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills

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Many married couples hope that they will live happily ever after saying their marriage vows. Sadly, the reality is different. In fact some, out of frustrating experiences, will be quick to warn that marriage is not “a bed of roses.” True, it is unrealistic to expect marriage to be comfortable and easy without any challenges.

I, however, like to compare marriage to a garden of roses. God intended that the marriage relationship between man and woman is beautiful and fulfilling, and above all, God-honoring. But just like a garden of roses with both the beautiful flowers and the thorny parts, marriage can be both exciting and challenging.

Behind a beautiful garden is the hard work that goes with it. A good marriage needs to be tended. Just like a garden needs watering and nourishing, marriage also needs to be nourished with love, words of encouragement, prayer and many other things.

Marriage also needs to be pruned. Pruning in deals with the internal issues—attitudes and habits—that could easily destroy our relationships if not dealt with.

Also, both a beautiful garden and marriage require is weeding. This deals with the external factors. To maintain a healthy marriage relationship we have to deal with forces that could easily hurt our relationship such as bad company, how we deal with friends and relatives, and so on.

The good news is that we are not alone in tending this beautiful garden of marriage. The God who started it is always there with us to help us.

Contending with Evil Altars

2 Chronicles 15:16-18 (NIV)16 King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 17 Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 18 He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

An altar is a place where people make sacrifices to a deity. The first mention of the altar in the Bible is when Noah builds one after the flood in order to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). God instructed Moses to build an altar, as part of the tabernacle, to burn incense for the Lord (Exod.  30:1). The priests were tasked to burn incense on the altar every morning. In the New Testament believers are exhorted to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Therefore, for Christian believers, altars may be the spaces where we live out and the activities we do in the name of Christ to honor God. This may include prayer and worship gatherings or even our day-to-day work as long as it is done to honor Christ. Altars concretize and energize our worship of God.

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However, even in the biblical times, altars were not the preserve for the worshipers of the One true God. Other nations also erected altars to sacrifice to their gods. Sadly, time and again the people of Israel were lured to worship the foreign gods on the pagan altars. This of course displeased God and He likens it to spiritual prostitution.

Evil altars, then, are spaces and activities where the name of the Lord is dishonored and evil is glorified. As believers, we are called to contend with evil altars. But we also need to realize that we contend with evil forces and not human beings. We don’t kill “non-believers” or disown our children when they refuse to follow Christ. We content against spiritual altars by speaking and living by the truth of God’s Word and praying against them in the name of Jesus Christ.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What radical steps of obedience do you fell led to take as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Conditions for True Success

2 Chronicles 15:1-2  The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.  2 He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Whereas the world understands success in terms of material possessions, true success comes from God. We learn from King Asa’s story that true success comes when we have a right relationship with God and we are committed to doing what honors Him.  The king was exhorted to seek the Lord so that he and his kingdom can be successful. His primary call was to seek God and serve Him. As long as he was singularly committed to honoring the Lord, he would be successful. There are at least three attitudes that Asa demonstrated that are also applicable to us if we want to experience God’s blessings.

Fear the Lord. To fear the Lord is to have reverence for Him that culminates into worship. When we fear the Lord we exalt Him above everything else. We honor Him in every way. We shun evil and strive to do what pleases Him. The Word of God repeatedly exhorts believers to fear the Lord because that is the source of wisdom.

Seek the Lord. It is easy for people in places of responsibility to miss their primary calling, which is to seek the Lord, and focus on pursuing their selfish ambition. That’s why every leader, and indeed every believer, needs someone to speak the truth of God’s Word to them. Asa was blessed to have Azariah speak into his life. Make an effort to stay in God’s presence through prayer, the Word, fellowship with other believers and practicing other spiritual disciplines. Seeking the Lord also involves turning away from other idols of the heart such us self, earthly treasures, and other lusts. God has promised that all those that humbly seek Him, will find Him.

Obey the Lord. This is closely related to the two attitudes we already mentioned. We seek the Lord because we fear Him and when we seek Him, he reveals His will to us so that we can obey Him.  Our obedience should be prompt, wholehearted and unreserved. Whenever there are aspects of our lives where we hesitate to completely surrender to the Lord, they can easily become snares to lure us away from Him.

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Finishing Well

2 Chronicles 14:2-6 (NIV) Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.  4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. 6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.

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One of the commonest analogies to the Christian faith is a race. It is easy for many people to sign up, turn up and actually begin the race but not all who start the race finish. The same thing happens in Christian ministry. There are many people who start well but end up miserably. It is important that we do not only start well but also finish well. So, how can we finish well?

Keep the Perspective. One of the pitfalls of Christian ministry is losing the big picture. It is easy to be preoccupied with dealing with the crises and the urgent but miss the whole point of the purpose of our calling. We are really here to please our Master, Jesus Christ. If whatever we do does not honor Christ, then we have missed the point.
Keep the Faith. It is easy to depend on God when you are poor, struggling, or not famous. But when God blesses us and we become successful, the temptation to become proud becomes great. We can easily attribute our success to our wisdom and hard work rather than God’s help. Never stop trusting the Lord.

Keep the Fire burning. Do not lose the passion. Do not become complacent. When we become complacent, we get content with our accomplishments and stop believing God for the best. It is easy to think that we have arrived and simply enjoy the status quo. Always find avenues to keep aflame your passion for the Lord and His work.

Quote: “We never outgrow your desperate need for Christ.” Jerry Bridges