Paying Attention

                “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears.  They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty has sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets.  So the Lord Almighty was very angry.  “When I called they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty.  “I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers.  The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go.  This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 7:11-14

                The Scriptures are full of statements like the one found here in Zechariah seven regarding the inspiration of the Word of God.  Here, as Zechariah is bringing to the people of Israel an answer to the question of the delegation from Bethel regarding whether it was necessary to continue the fasts and the mourning which have characterized their walk with God for the past seventy odd years now that conditions are starting to get better for God’s people, God cuts to the heart of the question.  Have they ever really paid attention to God’s Word?  Here we are given a functional definition of the doctrine of the Word of God.  It was given in the law and the prophets as the Word of the Lord Almighty by His Spirit.  Surely this doctrine is behind the teaching of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:19-21.

                “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Above all, you must understand that no prophesy of Scripture came about by the Prophets own interpretation.  For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

                These texts anchor our view that the Scriptures indeed are the inspired, inerrant Word of the Living God.  He has spoken them into being by communicating through Prophets and Apostles so that what is recorded for us in the Bible is indeed God’s Word.  Zechariah and Peter both agree that the Scriptures are the work of the Holy Spirit.

                There is something more here however.  So often we stop with the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word.  We take the doctrine no further than that.  Both Zechariah and Peter go further.  They look at the issue of our response to God’s inspired Word.  Zechariah writes, “But they refused to pay attention.”  Peter writes, “And you will do well to pay attention to it.”  When you pay attention to something you observe, or listen to it with the intention of responding to it.  In the case of the Word of God you pay attention to it so that you can obey it.  Our doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures must lead to our obedient listening to the instruction they give us.  If we as an employee of a company listen to our boss with the intention of following their instruction we will find ourselves listening carefully, without distractions, perhaps even taking down notes, so that we can make sure that we follow the instructions completely.  We would not be of much good as an employee if we did not. 

                How often do we find ourselves listening to the Word of God in a distracted way?  We are often content to simply get through the reading for the day.  We are not reading with a desire to completely obey our God. 

                What does Zechariah tell us is the consequence of such inattention?  It is that our prayers are not listened to by God.  Because we refused His call to repentance, He will refuse to hear when we call for help.  Could this be the reason why we experience so little of the Glory of God in these days?  We are called to be a people who have a deep love for the God we put our faith in.  This God has redeemed us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He calls us to an active, vibrant, obedient faith that pays attention to the Word of God.  Nothing is more important than that we pay attention to His call today.

Paul’s Spiritual Secret

                “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 4:13

                At the close of his short letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul makes an astounding claim that comes straight out of his experience of the sanctifying work of the Lord in his life.  All through the letter Paul has been rejoicing in the triumphant way the Lord has been leading him, using every circumstance to advance the cause of the Gospel and to reveal the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.  He has taken us into the reality that he now puts no confidence in his flesh.  Neither should we trust in our flesh because it stands in the way of our receiving and growing into the righteousness of Christ.  Along the way Paul illustrates the way God has solved a huge problem in Paul’s life.  He has brought Paul to the point where he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.  He has been brought to this point because God has infused into him the strength which comes from the Spirit of God.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” 

                As I wrestle with what Paul writes in Philippians 4 I am brought to the point where I must ask how I can experience the growth that Paul describes here.  He is pointing to the wonderful reality of a life that is lived in trust of the Lord’s provision for him.  He is content because he has that one thing that is really needed in life, which is a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has come to recognise that the Lord Jesus is completely sufficient for everything.  Therefore he can rest content because he is living in the will of God.

                For most of us, and I am presuming for Paul as well it is not an easy process to come to such faith.  Our flesh rebels against the will of God.  We have our own self-centred, fleshly ambitions and desires which are in conflict with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  What Paul is describing in Philippians four is the culmination of a long process of crucifying the flesh.  Such a process can be painful.  Our flesh dies hard.  It is absolutely crucial that we do indeed die to ourselves so that we can live to Christ.  How then does this take place in us?

                It is with this question that I found myself wrestling recently as I was reading a little book entitled Rejoice…..Always by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth, 1989).  In this short devotional study of the fourth chapter of Philippians Gwyn-Thomas reflects on the means by which we move into the reality of the contented life Paul describes in these verses. 

                “I also believe that we fail so often because we do not wrestle with God over our reactions to His will and purpose for us.  We must realize that in the school of faith God is always calling on us to grow – to apply our faith afresh.  It is not enough to say, ‘I am saved, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and then grumble like the unregenerate.  That is not the Christian life as we see it in the Bible.  We have got to recognize that there are times in our lives when there is a fundamental clash between what I believe God ought to give me and what God actually does give me, and the two things may be very different.  There has to be a reconciliation, a real bending and breaking of my own will to accept the will of God; there has to be a conflict and the first thing we have to do is recognize that there is a conflict between our wills and the will of God.  Then we must go back to God about this conflict and say to Him, as Job said to Him, ‘I do not understand You.’  What is more, we have to deal with God concerning this conflict.  We must seek for a change of heart, we must seek strength from the Word of God and we must pray about it.  Unless we are seriously concerned about the conflict between our will and God’s will for us, I do not believe that we will ever enter into that peace that Paul knew when he said, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens [or empowers] me.’” (Pages 111-112)

                All we can say to such wisdom is Amen!

The Lord’s Gift Of Grace

                ““You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today – yes, tonight before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  And all the others said the same.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 14:27-31

                We must note here the consideration of the Lord to our weakness.  His disciples are facing up to a great testing.  Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and each of the other disciples is facing up to the great pressure which has been brought to bear upon their hearts by the enemy of their souls.  The Lord begins to speak to them about the events that they are facing.  He speaks to them and to us with great honesty.  There is no sense burying the truth about what they are wrestling with.  So He speaks truth to them.  We love the truth when it is spoken to someone else.  It is hard to take when it is spoken to us.  This is the gift that our Lord gives to His disciples.  He quotes an Old Testament prophesy from Zechariah 13:7 to them.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  This word from God was spoken about them He tells them.  It is about to be fulfilled in their experience.  In speaking this way Jesus exposes their great need.  Peter speaking on behalf of all the disciples declares his denial.  He will not fall away, and neither will any of the others.  They are not weaklings like Judas turned out to be. 

                What Peter revealed here however was the weakness of his own nature.  There are all manner of things which we think that we are capable of accomplishing for the Lord.  Self-righteousness raises itself up as we face the threats of this life.  It boasts about the great things it is about to accomplish.  What it has failed to take into account is our real nature.  This was Peter’s struggle.  So the Lord tells him honestly about how he will fail, so that when it happens he will recognise that Jesus knew him in the depth of his weakness.  Think about what mark is saying here.  Make it personal.  He knows you in the great depth of your weakness and failure.  While you are revelling in your sin He is on the way to the cross to bear your sin.   “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While you were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  While Peter was denying His Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross for him.  While you and I were living weak, rebellious, broken lives with all of the depth of sin that that entails Christ went to the cross for you and me. 

                Jesus honestly exposes the sin of His disciples.  He does not leave them there however. He gently speaks to them about their restoration afterwards.  “When I have risen.”  The shepherd might be struck and killed, but that would not be the end of the story.  There is a resurrection coming for Jesus, and for all who believe in Him.  He tells them where He will meet them.  This will be the place where they will be restored into fellowship with Jesus.  The way to be restored however will take them through the cross.  It is in that horrible place of suffering and death that they will finally see themselves as they really are.  That is the place where they will be finally weak and honest enough to receive the gracious gift that God wants to give to them.  This grace we receive has always been the Lord’s gift to us.  We can never earn it.  It is not by merit.  The strong do not receive it as a reward.  It can only come into our lives as a gift from the Spirit of God.  What great love the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us.

Quotes From John Bunyan

“Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 124:8

                This past week I have been reading Dane Ortund’s book Gentle and Lowly (Crossway, Marcch 15, 2020).  I came across the following quotes from John Bunyan that I found to be very helpful at this point in the pandemic.  They fit very well with the 124th Psalm which we will be studying tomorrow night in Bible Study.

            “Let’s look more deeply at the difference between Christ’s intercession and his advocacy by noting the difference between Hebrews 7:25 and 1 John 2:1. Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ always lives to make intercession for us, whereas 1 John 2:1 says, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate.” Do you see the difference? Intercession is something Christ is always doing, while advocacy is something he does as occasion calls for it. Apparently he intercedes for us given our general sinfulness, but he advocates for us in the case of specific sins. Bunyan explains it like this: Christ, as Priest, goes before, and Christ, as an Advocate, comes after. Christ, as Priest, continually intercedes; Christ, as Advocate, in case of great transgressions, pleads. Christ, as Priest, has need to act always, but Christ, as Advocate, sometimes only. Christ, as Priest, acts in time of peace; but Christ, as Advocate, in times of broils, turmoils, and sharp contentions; wherefore, Christ, as Advocate, is, as I may call him, a reserve, and his time is then to arise, to stand up and plead, when his own are clothed with some filthy sin that of late they have fallen into.2 Note the personal nature of Christ’s advocacy. It is not a static part of his work. His advocacy rears up when occasion requires it.”

“Bunyan puts it best: Christ gave for us the price of blood; but that is not all; Christ as a Captain has conquered death and the grave for us, but that is not all; Christ as a Priest intercedes for us in heaven; but that is not all. Sin is still in us, and with us, and mixes itself with whatever we do, whether what we do be religious or civil; for not only our prayers and our sermons, our hearings and preaching; but our houses, our shops, our trades, and our beds, are all polluted with sin. Nor does the devil, our night and day adversary, forbear to tell our bad deeds to our Father, urging that we might forever be disinherited for this. But what should we now do, if we had not an Advocate; yes, if we had not one who would plead; yes, if we had not one that could prevail, and that would faithfully execute that office for us? Why, we must die.”

“But since we are rescued by him, let us, as to ourselves, lay our hand upon our mouth, and be silent.4 Do not minimize your sin or excuse it away. Raise no defense. Simply take it to the one who is already at the right hand of the Father, advocating for you on the basis of his own wounds. Let your own unrighteousness, in all your darkness and despair, drive you to Jesus Christ, the righteous, in all his brightness and sufficiency.”

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” by Dane C. Ortlund

Come And Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”

A Living Sacrifice

                “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

                                                                                                                                Romans 12:1-2

                The twelfth chapter of Romans begins a long section of the letter in which the Apostle Paul applies the doctrinal message which he has been exploring in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  What this tells us is that practical Christian living is always the result of correctly understanding and incorporating Biblical Christian doctrine into our lives.  The doctrine describes the fundamental way in which we come to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.  A Christian is a person who by faith abides in Christ.  It is not a philosophy or a lifestyle, it is not even membership in a Church, it is a relationship which is characterized by a trusting commitment to the Son of God.  The Apostle Paul outlines this in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  Then he begins to apply these truths to the life we live.  He starts with a very interesting statement in the first two verses of chapter twelve.

                This is that our response to God’s mercy which has been revealed in the Gospel must be to surrender ourselves to God.  In verse one Paul uses the word “offer” or “present” here.  Back in chapter six verses 13, 16, and 19 he uses the same word which is always translated as “offer”.  The word refers to the offering of a sacrificial animal on the altar.  The animal so offered was considered to be fully and unconditionally devoted to God.  The Apostle Paul is stating here that the consequence of God’s grace revealed in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that we surrender every part of our lives unconditionally to God in Christ.  Such surrender is not partial or conditional.  It is total and complete.  John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes it in this way in regard to his own life.  He says that when he came to terms with his own unbelief which resulted in ingrownness in his life he recognised that the way out was through first of all giving himself unconditionally to God.  Then he began to courageously obey God in every area of his life.  The ability or power to do this came, he recognised, not from himself, but from God’s Spirit. 

                This is what the Apostle Paul is writing about as he applies God’s truth to our lives.  It requires courage to obey God in this.  It also requires a growing faith.  This is the test, do we truly believe that God will keep the promises that He has made to us in His Word?  When we truly do believe it then the results are life transforming.  It all begins with a living sacrifice.

Testifying To What You Have Seen And Heard

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.”

                “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 1:14, 19, 34

                Several years ago I read a comment from a Pastor nearing retirement who was reflecting in an annual report on the fact that there always seemed to be too much to accomplish in the one service that he was able lead each week.  There was the need for worship and instruction as well as pulpit evangelism that needed to be part of each weekly service.  This pastor regretted the fact that the church seemed to be moving away from the Sunday Evening Worship Service.  Lloyd-Jones commented frequently that he focused his preaching in the Sunday Evenings upon the evangelistic appeal, while on Sunday Mornings he tended to focus more upon edification.  The reality was that there was a tremendous overlap between these two approaches.  Recognising that this overlap between the two approaches to preaching is a fact of life, and in fact is a reality, I have attempted to follow the pattern that Lloyd-Jones outlined, but within the mixture of gifts which the LORD has given to me.

 When we look into the discipleship focus of the Gospel of John as part of a larger series on the New Testament writings of the Apostle John we see the pattern that John followed.  One of the keys to this Gospel is that it calls us to “see” the vision of the Lamb of God and then to testify about it to others that they might come to faith as well.

                It is amazing what a correspondence there is between all of John’s New Testament writings.  In what is often called the centre of the book of Revelation we read these words.

                “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down.  They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.  Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

                                                                                                                                                Revelation 12:10-12

                Compare that quotation with the three verses referenced at the head of this page.  Each one points to what is seen and testified to by a widening body of believers.  John is calling us to see the vision of the Lamb who was slain for us.  We have beheld His glory.  Pre-eminently we have seen this glory in His cross; John will go on to tell us.  Here John simply points us to what we have seen.  The vision is of One who through a sacrificial death will take away the sin of the whole world.  The One that we see is the fulfillment of the Promise of the Scriptures.  In the book of Revelation John tells us that we overcome through the blood of the Lamb. 

                Secondly, John tells us that true believing discipleship leads us to not only catch sight of the vision but to testify to it.  John points out an ever widening circle of believers who bear witness to the reality that they have seen.  John the Baptist testifies to the religious leaders, and then to two of his disciples.  Those disciples go and find others.  The circle of the Church grows larger each time we bear witness.  This is the New Testament Discipleship principle.  Are you following it, testifying to what you have seen and heard?

Come And Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”

For The Glory Of Christ

                “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:26-27

                It is of vital importance that the Church of Christ recaptures an awareness of and commitment to the prayer meeting.  So much of the power which we need for genuine outreach in this world hardened by sin is dependent on prayer.  We need the presence of the LORD Jesus Christ among us.  We need an ever deepening awareness of His glory.  It is this which draws people to His holy presence.  In Matthew’s Gospel we read these words from the lips of our saviour.  For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

                One of the key issues which we often find ourselves facing as we think about joining with others in prayer is our own lack of proficiency in prayer.  We hear about the effective and fervent praying of others and then look at ourselves and in reality we judge ourselves as being deficient in our prayer life.  Surely the reason for this is owing to our focus upon ourselves.  We are not looking at the LORD and His limitless resources, but at our own all too frequent failures and limitations. 

                I found this account given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon entitled The Fatherhood of God, based upon the Lord’s Prayer.  “As one dear brother said the other day at the prayer meeting, — he could not get on in prayer, and he finished up on a sudden by saying, “LORD, I cannot pray tonight as I should wish; I cannot put the words together; LORD, take the meaning, take the meaning,” and sat down.” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody, Mass. 2011, p. 109)

                This illustration helps us to understand the dynamic which the Apostle Paul is describing in the Romans 8 passage quoted at the beginning of this devotional.  We often don’t know how to pray.  Our words and our understanding are often so very limited and unsatisfactory.  We feel as if anything that we could add to the prayer meeting will be unhelpful.  We have forgotten something however.  This is that the prayer meeting, like everything else in the Christian life is not really about us.  It is all about the Glory of the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit comes to Glorify Christ.  He comes in and intercedes for us as one who knows just what the will of God is for us.  He knows what is really in our hearts and He will pray for us accordingly.  He knows what we are really seeking in life and will bring our desires into accord with the purpose and plan of God so that we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ.  It is not about us.  It is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the prayer meeting, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the reality of a life lived for the Glory of Christ. 

                Ian Hamilton expressed this truth so well in a Pastoral Letter to the Cambridge Presbyterian Church in March of 2010, www.cambridgepres.org.uk/nl/nl1003.html.           “I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing meditations in this one assertion, — namely, that one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST (1.286).”

                It is to this that the Holy Spirit leads us as we gather together with other believers to pray. 

His Great Plan

                “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:1-2

                When we look carefully at the Book of Acts we see clear evidence of the hand of God upon His Church.  The fact is that the Gospel is God’s plan of redemption, decided on before the creation of anything and worked out in amazing detail within the events of history.  It should not surprise us that the whole plan is worked out in such amazing detail.  God would not have sent His Son into our world and then left the outcome of His work to chance.  When we look at the sixth chapter of Acts we discover another one of those events which had the potential to wreck the whole Church.  Satan’s attacks against the Gospel seem to come at those points where we are weakest.  Such attacks look to our eyes as if they are overwhelming in scope and power.  They always become the one thing that when overcome with Biblical Wisdom advances the Gospel’s impact in this world.

                Such was the case with the cross.  What looked to be the victory Satan was seeking was the very thing that led to the triumph of the Lamb of God over death.  Here in Acts six we see an attack which had been centuries in the making.  It concerned the friction between the Jews of the Diaspora and the Jews of Judea.  Ever since God had sent His people off into the exile there had been those who had been scattered throughout the world.  When others came home, many of these did not.  They had become immersed into the culture of their new cities.  Their language was Greek, the international language of the world.  Their culture was Greek.  Their ethnicity and faith was however still Hebrew.  Many of their widows had adopted the practice of moving to Jerusalem in their latter years in order that they might die and be buried in Jerusalem.  These widows were often impoverished needing the assistance of the synagogues for survival.  When they heard the Gospel and turned to Christ they were cut off from their source of assistance and therefore they needed the help which the Church was giving through the Apostles.  Problem was that the numbers were growing, the Church was being successful, and therefore the Apostles were being overwhelmed.  In this environment it is quite possible that some of these widows were falling through the cracks and that this lead to the type of grumbling and complaining that could have destroyed the New Testament Church.  This issue was even more pressing because it was falling on long held cultural divisions in the makeup of the church. 

                Here is the potential for disaster.  It is also the path forward which God has set out for His Gospel.  The Twelve called together the disciples, note the term used here for the first time in the Book of Acts.  A disciple is a person who is committed to a lifelong path of learning from a teacher.  The Church is a fellowship of those who are learning from the Lord Jesus Christ.   The Twelve exercise Biblical Wisdom here.  They seem to be applying the lesson learned from Moses’ commissioning of Joshua to lead the people of Israel in Numbers 27:15-23.  Many scholars have pointed to the connections between these two passages.  That teaching is blended with an absolute faith that God’s purpose in grace was being fulfilled right before their eyes.  Perhaps they reflected on the message of the Book of Daniel which describes in great detail the centuries through which they were living.  God’s plan to scatter and then gather His people in the exile surely was a part of what they were experiencing. 

                Therefore they decide on a plan that involves the Grecian Jews selecting a task force of seven men.  This was a typical number for the synagogues to choose for a task.  This vital ministry would be turned over to these seven and the Apostles would continue in the calling they had received from the Lord.  The consequence was even greater blessing for the Gospel.  God’s Wisdom was revealed in a powerful and liberating way. 

                The lesson for us today is that all of our stresses and crisis’ are part of God’s great plan to bring us face to face with the Gospel.  He is constantly putting us in circumstances where we see this clearly.  Are we willing to patiently trust Him as we seek to walk into His plan for our lives?  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing.  Will we?