Faith and Trust

.... In our previous posting we described faith as "a trusting dependence on God over matters that remain unseen to us, though He has assured us of them." (based on Hebrews 11:1, NAS). But when our faith is exercised in response to God's promise, it is more than simply an 'arrangement'; He always intends a living connection to be formed between us. For ultimately, each and every one of those promises must be fulfilled through abiding in Jesus:
.... "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us."
(2 Corinthians 1:20)
.... In this passage, the core understanding of a dependent relationship is clearly evident. It illuminates a nuance that is present in every Scriptural example of faith, though not always expressly stated. The whole concept of faith includes an understanding that we can trust in God and surrender to Him because we believe that He has our best interest at heart:

.... "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

(Hebrews 11:6)

.... So faith includes an essential understanding that we are looking beyond our means and looking to God Himself to meet our needs, and always in a way that intimately connects with Him. We are trusting in His care through His own infinite power, knowledge, and love, rather than trusting in ourselves (Romans 8:28). The best example of this concept is our faith in the gospel itself: for when we were still without strength and enemies of God through our sin, our heavenly Father still loved us, and sent His Son Jesus to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:6-8).
.... This brings us to another interesting point about faith. In trusting God, there is actually an inverse ratio between our weakness and God’s own strength, for Jesus told us that in our weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words He can demonstrate His strength more fully when, through inherent weakness, we have gotten 'self' and our own efforts out of the way; and in areas where we are naturally strong, we must be cautious not to rely on ourselves and our strength (2 Corinthians 3:5), but to rely on the strength of the Lord instead:

.... "Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited.

.... "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit’."

(Jeremiah 17:5-8)

.... In summary: we know that God has our best interest at heart, and that He always wants us to trust Him. It is all about Him, and He wants to show Himself strong on our behalf. But for this to really happen, He wants us to get ‘self’ out of the way, so that we are not simply trusting in our own abilities. And in this way He alone will be glorified, as we abide in Jesus and His life is shown through us.
.... Faith also restores the element of fellowship that was lost through the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It completely answers the vacuum that was formed on that occasion, replacing our sin with the righteousness of God in Christ, which is imputed to those who believe:

.... "just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’."

(Galatians 3:6)

.... We will continue our discussion of faith as a relationship in our next posting.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 9

The Unseen Element of Faith

.... Faith is demonstrated very simply in the story of Abraham, whom God made the father of many nations:

.... ‘And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.’

(Genesis 15:4-6)

.... Faith plays a particular role when a part of our confidence depends on things that are unseen (Hebrews 11:1). In Abraham’s case, God promised him a child and an heir but it would be many years before this promise was fulfilled. In the meantime, on his end, Abraham kept believing God and trusted Him in the matter; and God, on His own end, kept assuring Him:

.... "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

(Hebrews 11:1 NAS)

.... Or in another application of faith, we could lift our eyes to heaven on a clear, starry night, as Abraham did so long ago. God created the entire universe but none of us were there when He did this, so we must accept His word over it (Job 38:21). Since a part of our understanding depends on things that were unseen to us all, we are again exercising our faith:

.... "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible."

(Hebrews 11:3)

.... But on God’s end it is all very different. He does not operate by 'faith' at all, since nothing is unseen to Him nor ever has been (Hebrew 4:13). In fact He sees the past, present and future alike (Isaiah 46:10; 57:15). Nor does He rely on some 'higher source' of power as we do when we are trusting in Him; but rather, He Himself is the ultimate source of power, the Almighty, and He does everything according to the counsel of His own will. (Isaiah 40:13-14; Ephesians 1:11; Revelation 4:11). This defines both His leadership role as the object of our faith, and our own subordinate role as we are looking to Him in trust, in following Him.
So from God’s own perspective, when He makes a promise and sees that we are responding by trusting in Him, He will assure us of His steadfastness along the way – just as He assured Abraham periodically, until the promise was actually fulfilled (Genesis 17:16-19; 18:10-18). A dependent relationship is formed when we accept that He is all knowing, all powerful, absolutely faithful and in control, and that He is guiding our destiny as we entrust our future to Him (2 Corinthians 1:20):

.... "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

(Hebrews 11:6)

.... We will continue this perspective in our next posting.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 8

Beginnings of Faith

.... In the beginning, God created man in His own image and set him in the garden of Eden (Genesis 1:26; 2:15). Woman was also created, and they enjoyed fellowship with God as they walked with Him in the garden (see Genesis 3:8). But we all know what followed as the serpent came and deceived the woman, and the fall of mankind took place:

.... Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

(Genesis 3:1-6)

.... Let’s take a critical look at just what was lost through this fall. For the first time, man had not believed God’s word nor trusted Him. Man showed his first ambition to become independent of God, and to redefine his subordinate relationship of trust. Instead he wanted to become comparable to God, and to depend on his own abilities – even to the point of second-guessing God’s motives and purposes. Furthermore, he opted for the tangible, rather than trusting in a truth that was unseen.
Shortly after the fall of man, the conciliatory role of faith first appeared (Hebrews 11:4). Faith helped fill the void that was created through man’s fall, and to mend the relationship that was strained through it. Faith, in every way, is mindful of God and of pleasing Him:

.... "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

(Hebrews 11:6)

.... The same, underlying concept can be seen in this negative application of the same concept:

.... "Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you . . . for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith."

(Deuteronomy 32:18-20)

.... The true, biblical concept of faith brings us back to trusting in God and believing in His word, even to the point of believing in things unseen. But most importantly, it cannot be separated from the context of a subordinate relationship. We will discuss this further in our next posting.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 7

Introduction to Faith and Grace

.... The church of today is characterized by many ‘denomi- nations’, which came into existence through a series of doctrinal disagreements (1 Corinthinas 11:19). So let’s take a moment and think about what that means:
.... Even though there are several ‘versions’ of the church, there are not several versions of the truth (Ephesians 4:21). If each denomination has a different belief on the same subject, they could all be wrong but they could not all be right. At most, only one such doctrine could prevail in each case (hint: it would be the one that points to Jesus - Ephesians 4:13-14). So this begs the very important question of just how much error our relationship with God could tolerate, and we would still be considered Christians? Or at what point would it be said that we’ve crossed that line, to be considered a cult?
In the Scriptures, six subjects play an essential role in our doctrinal understanding. They are so vital, in fact, that we must understanding them purely in order to be saved. We don’t need to know much about them, but whatever we do know has to be correct. These subjects include our beliefs over the nature of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (and thus, between them, the doctrine of the Trinity,) as well as our basic understandings of faith, grace, and the gospel. Please refer to the chart, below:

.... A little thoughtfulness will illuminate the importance of these six areas. These are the doctrinal counterparts to our real, actual, living relationship with God, in it’s most basic terms; the ‘paperback’ understanding of the real thing! As such, a proper understanding in these areas will guide us into a pure relationship with God in actual, real life; but an error in one or more of these areas would have the effect of guiding us away from Him, resulting in estrangement (see Galatians 5:4).

Organizations that claim to be Christian, yet fail in one or more of those doctrinal areas, are referred to as cults. This would include groups like Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, and the Way International. Other groups, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, have serious doctrinal dis- agreements with the mainstream church yet those six vital areas of their doctrine remain sound. Since those other areas of difference are not enough to exclude them, they are still Christians and should not be considered a cult.
.... In the beginning of this course we discussed the gospel in several of our modules. In the days to come we’ll discuss the Doctrine of the Trinity as well, which describes the nature of the person of God. But in this module we’ll address the two remaining vital topics, faith and grace, and the role they play in our walk with the Lord as we hold them purely.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 6

Praying for Others to be Saved

.... Seeking the salvation of our unsaved loved ones, friends, and neighbors is a very special concern that must always begin with seeking God’s favor, for He alone can avail in their lives in this regard (Acts 11:18):

.... "who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

(John 1:13)

.... Because we are saved by God’s will alone, no amount of talking to our friends, caring for them, preaching or campaigning will be of any value unless we are working in conjunction with the Lord’s own efforts. And the initial input He wants to see from us is our own heartfelt prayer for them:

.... "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men . . . For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

(1 Timothy 2:1-4)

.... God earnestly wants all people to be saved, and He will use our prayers to help bridge this gap in more ways than one. We should pray that God will open their hearts to the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-19), we should interceed for their needs as discussed in our previous posting, and we should give thanks to God when He blesses them. This will give them a taste of His goodness and provide them with our own example of how to respond to Him thankfully, with the intention of introducing them to a relationship of their own: "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" (Psalm 34:8).
.... Just as importantly, the intention of this prayer is to work a change in ourselves. The whole impetus is to bring our hearts into agreement with the Lord's own desire to see them saved -- and as we noted in our previous posting, we will need to persevere in this. That sort of motive, combined with our patience, can work a very deep change within us to make us more Christ-like in character:
.... "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh . . . my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved."
(Romans 9:1-3; 10:1)
.... In this passage we see a very Christ-like attitude that has developed in Paul, who is moved to nearly sacrificial terms on behalf of his kinsmen, that they may be saved (though only the sacrifice of Jesus could ever avail them in this regard). This is the heart that God wants to develop in each of us that we may be fruitful and that Jesus may be exemplified, and so glorified, in our lives.
Here is the simple truth of the matter. In God’s efforts to make us Christ-like, we will only grow so far before bumping up against that part of His heart that came into this world and save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Once we have reached that point we will stagnate unless some of that desire begins to burn within us as well (Galatians 4:19). As we saw in the Foundation 2 module, this is a vital key as we grow into His likeness.
.... So in the end, God chooses this route for our own sakes as well as theirs, that the heart of Jesus and His ministry may take shape in us both.

You have now completed the Prayer Module. To begin the Module on Faith, Grace and the Law, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 5

Prayer Requests for Unsaved Friends

.... Jesus told us that we may ask for anything we wish, and if there is a way in God’s will for granting it, then it will be done:

.... "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."

(John 16:24)

.... Our requests come before God with great favor because we are in a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:32). But when we make requests on behalf of unsaved friends, we are stepping outside of that relationship. So how does God view those requests? In the context of prayer and its purpose, Jesus addressed this very situation through a parable:

.... ‘And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'? I say to you, though 1 he will not rise and give to 2 him because 3 he is 2 his friend, yet because of 2 his persistence 1 he will rise and give 2 him as many as 3 he needs."

(Luke 11:5-8)

.... This passage can be confusing because it introdues a three-way interaction. But to help straighten this out, we’ve taken the liberty of identifying the parties by numbers. Number one is the man who is in bed, who represents God the Father. Number two is the mutual friend, who is knocking on the Father's door. Number three is the man on the journey, who was a friend to man number 2 but is not acquainted with the man in bed.
.... In other words, God has a relationship with us through Christ, but He does not have a relationship with our unsaved friends. So if we are asking for something on their behalf, we will need to be persistent about it! If we do persist, He’ll eventually grant their needs. But at the same time, He does not want anyone thinking they can come to Him through anyone other than Jesus:

.... "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus."

(1 Timothy 2:5)

.... Therefore let us note very carefully, again, that God did not rise to meet their needs because we consider them our friends! He will not accept us as mediators between Himself and them. But rather, He is acting on our behalf alone because, well, because we have started to pester Him about it!
.... Instead, God wants us to understand that He would gladly establish His own relationship with them, so that they might come to Him themselves:

.... "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."

(Luke 11:9-10)

.... This brings us to the question of prayer for salvation, which we will discuss in our next posting

To proceed to the next posting, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 4

Rewards of Fasting

.... Fasting is a form of intercessory prayer that reflects the heart and mind of Christ as He laid down His life for us all. God is far more likely to grant our requests when we pray for other persons in this way, with a true motive of servanthood on their behalf. But He does even more than this:
.... At the end of our fasting, we will find God’s generosity abounding toward ourselves, as well. Even though we never sought this in the process, God has determined that "he who waters will be watered also, himself," and He is pleased to deal with us bountifully (Proverbs 11:25). In other words, if you pray selflessly on behalf of others, in laying down your life for them, God will take very good care of you as well:

.... "Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."

(Isaiah 58:8-11)

.... And for those who seek Him in fastings often, and lay down their lives for others from a pure motive (perhaps including prayer for their enemies) -- yet another revelation may be glimpsed, far off in the distance:
Perhaps, through a sincere time of fasting, they may find their first glimpse of the heart of a martyr who has seen something of much greater importance than is own life. What an overwhelming thought that God Himself might be glorified, or even that He could be glorified, through merest mortals such as ourselves.
With this revelation comes a sense of great humility and yet of great honor, that we may be counted worthy of such a thing, for His glory. For martyrs have seen, through indescribable suffering, a glimpse of God’s own eternal purpose in just such a way, in the very purpose that He fulfilled in Christ.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 3

Fasting Activities

.... As discussed in our previous postings, fasting is primarily intercessory in nature. It is an act of prayer in which we are laying down our lives on behalf of others. This is a very Christ-like motivation and God has great respect for it, but only when the whole disposition of our lives, throughout this episode, supports and verifies this selfless motive. For example, our fasting should be directed to God alone and should never be done to seen by men (Matthew 6:16-18). And in a very similar way, God examines our outward activities while we are fasting:

.... "‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high."

(Isaiah 58:3)

.... In other words, when we are fasting, we have a human tendency to introduce selfish motives from other directions. For example, if fasting curtails our social activities for the evening, we may be tempted to work some overtime instead, or to make our employees do so, to earn a few extra bucks for ourselves; or why not do a movie, or go and play some video games? But would you call this a fast, and an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord?
.... Or why not save some lunch money, if you are skipping meals anyway? Or why not steal a march on our diet by using your fast to shed some extra pounds?
.... One may be tempted to think in such terms, but when we do so we are allowing selfish motives to play a detracting role. For God has warned us not to mix our intercession with such motives if we want our petitions to be honored by Him:

.... "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?"

(Isaiah 58:6-7)

.... So if you have extra time on your hands because of fasting, use it to focus on your prayer, or at least spend it in some other form of serving the Lord, rather than using it to serve your pocket book. If you have uneaten food or unspent lunch money, which was saved through your time of fasting, quietly donate it to the poor; then end your fasting with a feast of thanksgiving in expectation of the Lord's presence, that He will soon come to minister in the situation over which you've prayed (Mark 2:19).
.... We should always check ourselves in the whole disposition of our fasting, examining our motives and the outcome of our activities, to subjugate everything to Him in the petitions we are bringing. And if unexpected gains do come your way through your time of fasting, use a little healthy imagination to bless others generously, that your selfless motive may stand undiminished.

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Daily Bible Reading: Romans 2

Motives in Fasting

.... In our previous posting we saw that fasting is intercessory in nature: a laying down of our life on behalf of others as a reflection of Jesus, who did the same for us all. But for God to honor our motive as such He must see it conveyed through the entire fasting episode.
For example, God expects our fasting to be done quietly, for Him alone to see. Our motive must be to connect with Him. But if we mention to others that we are fasting, or show it through outward signs, He sees an ulterior motive in our hearts: that a part of our motivation has been to brag, so that others will admire us for being ‘so spiritual’ (Matthew 6:16-18). In such a case, the honor we receive from man will be the only reward we do receive, and the prayer itself will go unanswered:

.... "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends."

(2 Corinthians 10:18)

.... In the passage we are about to quote we'll see, again, that prayer was undertaken to be seen by men. In this particular case, it was to show who was more ‘spiritual’ for the purpose of strife in winning an argument:

.... "Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high."

(Isaiah 58:4)

.... In another revealing passage, Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

.... "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

(Luke 18:10-14)

.... Jesus told us that the Pharisee was praying "with himself", because his prayers were getting no higher than the ceiling. God was not listening, even though the Pharisee fasted often, for God resists the proud and they are destined for humility instead of honor. But His heart was toward those who seeks Him humbly in their prayer, especially in prayer with fasting.

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Daily Bible Reading: Romans 1

Prayer and Fasting

.... As we consider the basics of prayer to God, our attention must eventually be drawn to the purpose of fasting. This is something we may not resort to often, but we should still understand its purpose for the occasions when it does seem appropriate. God has a special respect for this sort of prayer, which is best understood in relation to Jesus Himself.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2). This makes fasting a Divine initiative and we are following in His footsteps when we do it. Somewhere, the mind of Christ is at work in it. Although this conclusion may seem simplistic for the moment, let's examine two further elements that will complete our understanding:

.... "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart."

(Psalm 35:13)

.... If we carefully examine every instance of fasting that is shown in the Bible, we'll find an application that is usually missed. With only one exception in the Old Testament, and another in the New, no one ever fasted on their own behalf. Instead, their fasting was intercessory in nature. This means that those who fasted were almost never doing it for themselves, or at least not exclusively so; instead they were fasting and praying on behalf of another person, or at least for a common cause such as their entire nation facing an invasion.
And here is the second insight, to complement our first. What would happen if we fasted for an extended period of time, say, for several months? Someone will smirk and reply. "You would die, of course!" Yes, and that is exactly the point! Through this extreme application the subtle, underlying principle of fasting stands out more clearly:

.... "My knees are weak through fasting, and my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness."

(Psalm 109:24)

.... Death is the process that fasting begins, and in fact it is the very purpose. When we are fasting we are beginning a slow, controlled descent into death, as life itself ebbs away from us. Now let’s put this together with our previous element, in which fasting was intercessory:
When we pray and fast on behalf of another person, we are actually beginning to lay down our lives for their sake, that they might somehow find the favor and grace to stand before God. This is a very Christ-like thing for God to see in us, and therefore it is the sort of the petition He respects from us (Isaiah 53:12; Ephesians 5:1-2). This is the key to the mystery of fasting, and we will discuss it further in our next postings.

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Daily Bible Reading: Acts 28

Praying Without Ceasing

.... As you learn the Scriptures and pursue God in your prayer times, you’ll become accustomed to discerning His voice. Soon (if it has not happened already,) you’ll be able to perceive Him speaking to you at all times, even as you go about your daily business. Throughout the day, the Holy Spirit will offer you counsel in all of your decisions, just as Jesus foretold of Him:

.... "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you . . . He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come."

(John 14:26; 16:13)

.... God has designed man in such a way that we are able to assimilate information three times faster than we can articulate it. For example, we may be driving our cars and carrying on a conversation with a passenger simultaneously; with a little multi-tasking, we can watch the road and keep up with our friend at the same time. But even so, this is just two-thirds of what we are capable of doing. We can keep the remaining third of our hearts and minds locked into the Lord in a ‘listening’ mode, to receive His thoughts and guidance along the way. He may be guiding us in the discussion, for example, to insure that we are answering wisely.
Now let’s combine this concept with some thoughts from our previous two modules, in which we addressed the Oracles of God:
.... Just as God constantly speaks to us through impress- ions, which are reflections of His Divine subjectivity, our own spirits can speak the same language in a constant conversation with His Spirit. The understanding of this 'heavenly language' in our minds can become so fluent that we are sensitive to His counsel at all times, able to discern His intentions very quickly, and able to respond to Him in the same spiritual language (and also, to respond to others in plain English). And in this manner the Scripture is fulfilled which says:

.... "pray without ceasing."

(1Thessalonians 5:17)

.... It is important for us to be in touch with God at all times so we can be led by His Spirit, and this is the practical understanding behind that constant communication (Romans 8:14). But of course, this ongoing mode of prayer falls short of our fullest prayer potential, since our attention is still divided.
.... This brings us back to the importance of our personal prayer times, in which our attention is entirely devoted to God. For alone in His presence, without distraction from this world, the final one-third of our perception can be multiplied times three, as we give Him our complete and undivided attention. And this is where the deeper issues of our lives will usually be wrought and defined.

To proceed to the next lesson, click here

Daily Bible Reading: Acts 27

Prayer Meetings

.... The ‘agenda’ we learned from the model prayer (a.k.a. the Lord’s prayer,) was designed for our personal, devoted prayer times, when we are able to focus our undivided attention on the Lord (Matthew 6:6). But what about Christians coming to- gether corporately, in a prayer meeting?

.... "for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."

(Isaiah 56:7)

.... Because corporate prayer involves many Christians together, it requires a certain discipline, especially in deciding who will speak at any time and what they will be saying. This is because everyone should be in agreement with the speaker (James 1:6-7). And for this very reason, this module on prayer has intentionally followed our previous modules on the oracles of God (v 5). Because the first person who should always be speaking is God Himself, and we should all begin by listening to Him. Let's put two Scriptures together to explore this concept further:

.... "for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."

(Isaiah 56:7)

.... "Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few . . . a fool's voice is known by his many words."

(Ecclesiastes 5:1-3)

.... Prayer begins by drawing near to listen to God, to inquire about His heart and mind to insure that we're on the same page with Him. This is where we'll learn what He wants us to pray about: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5).
.... Therefore true, effective prayer may begin with a silent (and perhaps extended) time of quiet attentiveness, in which the Lord's thoughts are explored in a manner that is similar to contemplating prophecy. As God expresses His will to us in this way and we listen intently, we'll come to understand the leading of the Holy Spirit clearly and He'll emerge as the meeting's true prayer leader (1 Corinthians 2:10). And as we respond in prayer, by seeking the Lord's will in the things He's revealed to us, we know that our prayers will be effective:

.... "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."

(1 John 5:14-15)

.... When our prayer is focused in this manner it will always be effective, but it also presents many of us with a need for correction. Most modern prayer meetings are dominated by the concept that nature abhors a vacuum. As the prayer warriors gather together they are (by their own description) ‘bombarding heaven’ with their requests. If one speaker falls silent for even a moment, it is the queue for another, who immediately enjoins so the barrage may continue. They are praying for everything that comes to mind, using a scatter-gun approach that is simply designed to cover all the bases.
But true corporate prayer would be highly reflective in nature. Words would be few because most of their time would be spent in listening to God, as a prophet would do, in order to know His mind more fully. When someone did perceive His thoughts, they would only pray aloud when they felt prompted to do so and they'd be careful not to go beyond what they'd received.
.... If they'd really heard from the Lord, other Christians in the meeting would be hearing the same things, so it would naturally hold their attention and agreement. And this would allow them to follow up on the same prayer topics with further refinements as the entire revelation was developed and pieced together between them. In this manner they would be praying exactly what God wished them to pray, exactly what was on His heart, and in full agreement – a perfect bull’s eye, rather than a scatter-gun approach:

.... "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words."

(Matthew 6:7)

.... Thus prophecy and prayer should go together naturally, turning our prayer into a conversation with God in which He leads and we respond as the conversation unfolds.
So when you join with other Christians to pray, listen reflectively and meditate on the things God is showing you before speaking up about them. And be aware of the prayers of others, who may already be articulating the same puzzle pieces you're still working on. It's okay if there are long periods of silence; it’s okay to ask the Lord for clarification and to wait on Him, because this is a conversation – but overall, try to speak neither rashly nor hastily. This is not a pep rally. God is the audience of your prayer, and not just each other.
.... And since you know He will hear when you pray according to His will, you'll invest your time wisely in discerning His will first of all, for you know He will grant these requests when they are made to Him (1 John 5:14-15). Take Him seriously in these things and do it His way, and watch how serious He is responds to you, in turn (James 4:8).

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Daily Bible Reading: Acts 26

Addressing Temptation

.... In our times of prayer, after the issues of sin and forgiveness are settled, God wants us to act preemptively in regard to potential sin, to discuss any temptations we may be facing:

.... "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."

(Matthew 6:13)

.... First, let’s understand very clearly that temptation is not the same thing as sin. Remember that Jesus Himself was tempted in every way that we are – yet without sinning (Hebrews 4:15). Sin only occurs when we yield to temptation. But on the other hand, God can be highly glorified in our lives when we look to Him in those times of trial, and allow Him to write the character of Jesus in our hearts in order to overcome those trials (1 Peter 1:6-7).

.... Therefore, temptation could be viewed as our battleground: a danger, yes, but also an opportunity for growth if we are learning to trust Jesus – so we must always bring our trials before Him honestly. The whole thrust is that we are asking for His presence in going through a temptation, in order to deliver us from the threat it contains and to change us for His ultimate glory. And He will provide plenty of help along the way to ensure that we do overcome:

.... "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."

(1 Corinthians 10:13)

.... In fact, in giving this help, Jesus Himself will be very near to us. This is one of the reasons He endured all those temptations in the first place:

.... "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."

(Hebrews 4:15)

.... and,

.... "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."

(Hebrews 2:18)

.... So, what shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

.... One other, special area of temptation relates to the devil, who is called the tempter. For further information on this perspective, please click on the break-out module entitled Spiritual Warfare Revisited.

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Daily Bible Reading: Acts 25

Sin and Forgiveness

.... In the model prayer that Jesus gave (also known as ‘The Lord’s prayer’) We found the heavenly ‘agenda’ for our prayer meetings with the Father. We've already discussed the prayer's opening, the Lord's priorities, and our personal requests, which are given in turn. But now it comes to our most urgent area of need, which pertains to the issue of our sins:

.... "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

(Matthew 6:12)

.... If sin has occurred in our lives since our last prayer, God never wants us to leave it festering; He always wants us to bring it back to Him promptly. Just like the prayer we offered when we were saved, He wants us to confess this sin to Him, repent of it, and seek His forgiveness, which He will faithfully grant to us:

.... "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

(1 John 1:9)

.... God will not only forgive us but, if we are attentive enough to perceive it, we will find ourselves receiving solace, encouragement, counsel and grace (or empowerment) for the purpose of restoring our fellowship with Him, and to help us do better the next time. It is His goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
.... And if you will perceive it, the Holy Spirit will be lovingly pointing you to Jesus as the example of the One who understands and overcomes temptation, and who makes intercession for you (Hebrews 4:15; 7:25). Together with the grace and forgiveness that is shown, a transformation is intended as your heart become a little more like His in clinging to Him in need, acceptance and gratitude. But in our quotation about forgiveness, from Matthew 6:12, you’ll notice that a condition has been included as well:
Just as God forgives us, He expects us to forgive others. This is a Christ-like attitude at the very heart of what He wants to do in our lives, in making us like Jesus as we walk with Him:

.... "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."

(Colossians 3:13)

.... God wants us to forgive others as a condition for His own forgiveness; Jesus told us that if we do not forgive them, neither will He forgive us (Matthew 6:15), so let’s stop to think about this:
.... Here you are, having a prayer meeting with God Himself, and He has come to this point on the agenda. So if an issue of unforgiveness toward others exists in your life, He’s not going to let you skip it. Sure, you're sensitive about it. But if you try to duck the issue and avoid the subject, He's likely to become suddenly firm with you – and beyond any doubt you’re not going to find this enjoyable. And don’t think it will stop when the prayer is over. In His own gentle but firm way He will pursue you on this issue until you deal with it properly. And if the situation warrants, He may even begin to punish you in the meantime (Matthew 18:28-35).
.... So when you stand praying, forgive, that your heavenly Father may also forgive you (Mark 11:25). This doesn’t mean you can't talk to Him about it to find grace and peace, as you lay your cares on Him (Psalm 55:22; Isaiah 53:4). Nor does it mean you must refuse to learn a lesson from a bad experience. It simply means that you must let the love of Christ shine through you, to seek peace with others and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11-12). This Christ-like quality clearly transcends the ways of this world, and it will begin to transform you in many other ways as well:

.... "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

(Matthew 5:44-45,48)

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Daily Bible Reading: Acts 24

Praying for Personal Needs

.... In the model prayer that Jesus gave, He set the 'agenda' for our prayer times as we speak with our heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9-13). After an opening time of honoring Him, and once we’ve disciplined ourselves to discuss God's own priorities (which we described in our previous posting), we will again feel a shift in focus as He prepares to move on to the next item on the ‘agenda’. He is now prepared to discuss our own, personal needs and requests:

.... "Give us this day our daily bread."
(Matthew 6:11)

Remember that our entire prayer is a conversation with God. Because of the respect we've already shown in the opening of our prayer, and the discipline we've displayed in seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, God is much more willing to hear and meet our personal requests now. In fact, before we even speak, He anticipates our needs and has already arranged to provide for our necessities:

.... "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

(Matthew 6:25-33)

.... In fact, beyond meeting our actual, daily needs, God has told us that if we ask within the scope of His will, He will grant whatever personal requests we make of Him:

.... "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."

(1 John 5:14-15)

.... So this is what the promise comes down to. If you are asking for something that is not compatible with His will, you are asking amiss, so in that case He will not grant your request (James 4:3). But many other requests fall into a vast, gray area. They may not have been His perfect will for your life; but if there is a way to grant your request that does not conflict with His ultimate will, He may still be willing to do it for you.

.... So if you are making a request and you perceive that His answer is ‘No’, yet it seems tentative, and it seems to invite further discussion, try searching your heart and examining your motives over the days to come. Would your request bring Him glory, or would it actually draw you further away from Him? Maybe a few carefully considered revisions is all that your request needs -- a realization that some valid precautions are in order, or an awareness of some basic conditions to keep in mind -- and then you can ask Him again:

.... "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

(John 14:13)

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Daily Bible Reading: Acts 23