September 2011

Why God relates to us differently

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:35-36 (NIV)

This is a curious passage of scripture, one which could make someone who is familiar with the nature and teaching of Jesus to do a double take. What in the world is Jesus talking about here?

This advice seems contrary to everything we know about Jesus from both His teachings and His dealings with His disciples. It appears to contradict His many exhortations to faith in God’s provision and to trust in God’s protection. The very idea of now being told to essentially lookout for oneself after the comfort of experiencing God’s miraculous interventions seems ludicrous.

But the reality is, Jesus’ manner in relating to His disciples is about to change. He is preparing them for His impending arrest, crucifixion and death. In the next breath He tells them: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.’” (vs. 37)

This change in the rules of the game ushered in a very difficult time for the disciples. No one suffered more than poor Peter. First he took Jesus’ advice about the sword too literally. At Jesus’ arrest he overstepped the will of the Lord and wielding his sword cut off a man’s ear. Jesus had to rebuke him saying “No more of this!” and healed the man. Then Peter ended up denying Christ three times and going out into the night weeping bitterly. (vs. 47-62)

One answer for unanswered prayer

One of the most frustrating things everyone has to deal with at one time or other is unanswered prayer. Unanswered prayer is so perplexing because it brings us face to face with the mystery of God’s ways. It is an unsettling reminder that God does not always do things our way nor operate according to our time table. It confronts us with the reality, as Steven Curtis Chapman sings, that “He is God and I am not!”

It is particularly difficult, if not painful, when the unanswered prayer is a strategic one; a prayer upon whose answer so many other things and breakthroughs in our lives depend. It can be a prayer for the mending of a broken relationship, a financial release, a healing and deliverance from some affliction or wisdom to make a critical decision etc.

When prayers like these go unanswered they have a way of putting our lives on hold. It is as if everything hangs in the balance upon God answering that prayer. Sometimes even our relationship and trust in God can seem to be at stake, because we feel that if He doesn’t answer such an important prayer in our lives, He must not love or care for us.

This type of prayer might be called a linchpin prayer. A linchpin is a fastener that holds two important parts together, like the pin that keeps a wheel from sliding off an axle. Without a linchpin the wheel eventually comes off, the car breaks down, the journey comes to a halt, plans are put on hold and you are stuck. The natural reaction then is to begin to pray desperately, fervently for a linchpin. Linchpin prayers demand answers because we depend upon them to get our lives unstuck and moving ahead in God’s purposes.

My wife and I have had to deal with that reality over the past two years in our prayers to sell our vacation home. Everything I know about prayer in 40 years of walking with Lord has been applied to that end. We have done it all: faith confessions, crafted prayer with scriptures, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of agreement with other believers, binding and loosing prayers, forgiving and blessing prayers, humbling with repentance and fasting prayers etc. etc. But seemingly it has been all for naught and we have not had one bite in two years! It is as if God has totally ignored our prayers to sell the place. We did rent it out for a year, which gave us a reprieve from our concern about it, but our renters moved out last month and now we are back to square one – once again wholly dependent upon an answer to our linchpin prayer.

Yesterday as I was praying again about this I had a revelation. I believe it was inspired by the Holy Spirit for it had never crossed my mind before. The thought came to me, “maybe you should change the way you are praying about this.” Hmmmmm.

It was a liberating thought because although I have sought to be persistent in this prayer, as Jesus teaches, I was finding very little peace and confidence in the process. (Luke 18:1) Sometimes praying linchpin prayers simply fuel our anxiety rather than faith. That was a nagging affect my praying was having upon me.

We can become so obsessed with an answer coming our way in our timing that we slip from the “tranquility” of faith into the “toil and chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6) Sadly then, we can fail to pick up on God’s subtle re-directives through unanswered prayer.

Traits of a Real He Man!

“Here are the men who served, together with their sons: From the Kohathites: Heman, the musician, the son of Joel, the son of Samuel, son of Elkanah . . ..” 1 Chronicles 6:33-34 (NIV)

When reading the Bible there is a temptation to pass quickly through the seemingly endless lists of genealogies. But contained therein, as with any genealogy, are clues to discovering hidden treasures of historical significance if one is willing to dig deeper to find out more.

In reading through the first book of Chronicles this week I came across one list of “son of’s” that caught my attention. I had never noticed before that the Prophet Samuel, who ledIsrael as its last judge and ultimately ended up anointing David as the King of Israel, had a grandson named Heman who was a musician. That piqued my curiosity and so I began to poke around in the cross references to see if I could find out more about this Heman.

What I discovered about Heman is that he was a real “He Man” and someone every man should want to emulate. His name, Heman, means faithful and his life was marked by that very trait. He was an amazingly multi-talented man gifted not only musically, but also as a prophet and a leader in David’s kingdom. In addition he was a man richly blessed by God as a father and he passed on to his sons his passion and skills in serving God. We are told that some of them followed in his footsteps in “the ministry of prophesying accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.” (1 Chronicles 25:1) Heman is one of the few men in the Bible who exercised authority and influence concurrently in both a priestly and prophetic realms while also serving in an official governmental capacity answerable directly to the king.

As a very talented musician, proficient with both percussion and stringed instruments, Heman was also a priest as a descendent of Aaron. And in addition to possessing outstanding leadership qualities he was a man whom God’s hand was obviously upon. (1 Chronicles 25:5) David therefore appointed him and Asaph to be in charge of all the worship in the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant resided. (1Chronicles6:31-32) In that Tent of Meeting, which served as the center ofIsrael’s worship until Solomon built the temple, rotating music teams under Heman and Asaph’s supervision provided praise to God 24/7.

If that were not enough, Heman, like his grandfather Samuel, was also a “seer” or prophet. In fact, that gifting was so remarkable that David appointed him as his official seer. In that role Heman related directly to David, served as his personal counselor and had his ear whenever the Lord would reveal things to him. (1 Chronicles 25:5-6)

Beginning at the feet of Jesus

“She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” Luke10:39 (NAS)

There are many lessons we can learn from the relationship that Martha and Mary had with Jesus. From the scriptures we are privy to three very significant encounters these two sisters have with Jesus and the ensuing exchanges of dialogue give us great insight into their unique relationships with Him.

We are first introduced to these two women in the gospel of Luke when Martha invites Jesus into their home as He and His disciples happen to passing through their town of Bethany. We learn right away that these two are very different in their motivation and approach in relating to Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha’s love language is serving and hospitality while Mary’s is sitting and listening. Both approaches have their place. Jesus’ teaching about the virtues of both servanthood and prayer closet disciplines affirm that. But much has been made of Martha’s frustration with Mary’s lack of help and Jesus response to her. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (vs. 40-41)

There are two very important lessons we can glean from this encounter with Jesus. First and most obvious, there are times when serving Jesus is less important than sitting and listening to Jesus. In fact service that is most pleasing to Jesus must flow out of first sitting and listening to what He would have us do. Many of us like Martha have a tendency to put the proverbial serving cart before the attentive horse. And we must always be mindful that the need does not necessarily constitute the call.

The second lesson here is the point Bible scholars make about Jesus’ liberating women from the traditional roles that restricted them from full participation in spiritual teaching and nurture. Many conjecture that Mary was crashing a men’s only gathering as she sat there at Jesus’ feet and that part of Martha’s frustration was Mary’s non conformity to the requisite role of women being in the kitchen. It is noteworthy that, as was Jesus’ habit, once more He sweeps aside accepted convention in deference to true spirituality.

The next time we find Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary, also at their invitation, is under entirely different circumstances. (John 11:1-44)

The secret to solitude

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke5:16 (NIV)

This week when I read this verse it literally jumped off the page and filled me with joy. I have read this passage of scripture many, many times before, but for some reason it never registered with me the way it did this time. I came to the realization that Jesus’ consistent habit of seeking solitude actually triumphed over the things in His life militating against it. Developing a life punctuated by solitude and communion with God is a battle that can be won.

We know from the gospel accounts that crowds were constantly besieging Him and His life was at times so frenzied that He and His disciples did not even have time to eat. (Mark 3:20 & 6:31)

Our world today is no different. People, projects and media demands are constantly besieging all of us as parents, spouses, employees, students, home owners etc. The fast food business in our culture is booming because like Jesus and the disciples, we often do not have the luxury of time to sit down and eat a decent meal. Which brings up a point that often intrigues and irritates me at the same time – have you noticed that drive-through customers seem to get faster service than those standing at the counter? I am not going to go down that rabbit trail, not today.

The point I am really making is that carving out time in our busy schedules for intimate communion with God has its ups and downs but it is a winnable battle if, like Jesus, we persist. Of the seven specific accounts in scripture of Jesus seeking solitary time all but two of them were interrupted. Only His all night prayer to choose the twelve and His time with Peter, James and John on the mount of transfiguration were sacrosanct. (Luke 6:12-13, Mark 9:2)

During His 40 days in the wilderness Jesus was plagued by the Devil. At the outset of His ministry we learn His attempt to steal away in the early morning hours for prayer is spoiled by humans. Simon and the others go looking for Jesus, find Him and immediately put pressure on Him to respond to the multitudes who are also seeking Him. (Mark 1:35-38)

The one time we are told that He wanted to take His disciples apart with Him by boat to a solitary place, the crowds got wind of it and beat them there. (Mark 6:31-33) Later that night after a busy day of teaching, feeding more than 5000 people, and sending His disciples back by boat, He climbed the mountainside to seek some time alone with His Father. But again He is interrupted as He sees in the distance the disciples straining at the oars and decides to go to them. (Mark 6:45-48) Of course, the coup de gras of Jesus’ solitude disturbances was His arrest in theGardenofGethsemane.

It has always amazed me that Jesus did not seem to be discouraged or frustrated by these interruptions. To the contrary His compassion for the disciples, the crowds and even His enemies moved Him to see it as an opportunity to teach them and further His Father’s purposes.

Thinking about Jesus’ dismal batting average when it came to solitude has for years perplexed me. Why couldn’t we have more accounts of His successful, uninterrupted times of solitary prayer? If Jesus’ prayer life was so fraught with distractions, how could I ever hope for anything better?

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