Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God Hears Even When He Doesn't Answer

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was... Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years...

An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth." 
Luke 1:5-7, 11-14

If you have kids or are around them at all, you've probably noticed that they don't take no for an answer. When they want something they'll ask and ask and ask again. Even when you succeed in getting them to stop asking you today, chances are it'll be the first thing out of their mouths tomorrow. Although this behavior might be frowned upon from a parent's perspective, God actually encourages it. Repeatedly Scripture implores us to persevere in prayer, to keep asking God for what we need even when He doesn't answer right away (Luke 18:1-8, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18). Zechariah's story reminds us of this.

As Zechariah prayed for a child I imagine he took comfort in Proverbs 15:29, "The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." He and his wife were righteous people. Surely God would hear their prayer. But God never answered. Months turned into years and still he prayed. Zechariah prayed until he and Elizabeth had passed the age of childbearing. And then he stopped praying convinced that it simply wasn't God's will for his life. (I know I've taken some liberties filling in the biblical narrative here but I think there is reason to believe this is likely how it went.)

Then one day Zechariah was chosen to burn incense in the temple. This was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity, a big day in his life, but Zechariah had no idea just how big. As he stood alone in the temple praying and offering incense on the altar just outside the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to him. Gabriel had a message from God. Zechariah's prayer had been heard, he would have a son. His son would be the forerunner to the Messiah and the first prophet in over 400 years. His son would be John the Baptist. Zechariah was incredulous. He had a hard time believing that God had finally answered his prayer that he and his wife would have a child at their age. (This is one of the reasons I believe the prayer Gabriel is answering was likely uttered years before and not right in that moment.)

Be encouraged by this! God hears your prayers even when He doesn't answer them right away. Keep praying. Keep asking. Don't give up! He delayed in answering Zechariah's prayer so that when He did answer it would be all the more sweet to Zechariah and it would result in even more glory for Himself. God loves to answer the prayers of His children. Rest assured, if He isn't answering your prayer, there's a reason. God orders the events of our lives towards His ends. Trust Him and keep on praying.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Power of Praise

Lord, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!
You have covered the heavens with your majesty.
From the mouths of infants and nursing babies,
you have established a stronghold
on account of your adversaries
in order to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1-2)

When do you praise God? Maybe just when you're at church? Or only when things are going well? If so, then you are missing out on a powerful spiritual weapon.

Have you ever been told that praise can be a spiritual weapon? According to this passage, it is and believers ought to use it against our enemies. The passage speaks of a stronghold that God brings forth from the mouths of infants and babes. What is this stronghold? The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint understood this stronghold to be praises to God sung by children. Jesus affirmed this understanding when He quoted from the Septuagint translation in Matthew 21:16- "You have prepared praise from the mouths of infants and nursing babies.” If we are to take Jesus' word for it, then the praise we declare to God and His Messiah is a stronghold which protects us from our enemies.

How does this work? When we're surrounded by enemies (physical or spiritual) we ought to sing God's praise. In doing so we remind ourselves and our attackers who our Protector is, how strong He is, and how magnificent He is. As we open our mouths in praise, our enemies close their mouths in silence. As we praise God's strength we grow more confident as they grow more afraid. There is good news for us here. Believers don't need to be strong or mighty to be safe. We can be as weak as a newborn babe. God is our Protector and our weakness doesn't limit His power.

So spend some time praising God today. Praise Him for who He is. If you need inspiration, read a few psalms. As you praise, your outlook will change. And if you'll praise Him publicly before your enemies they'll think twice as well.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mining for Wisdom

"Where can wisdom be found and where does understanding dwell?" (Job 28:12 cf Daniel 2:20, James 1:5 & Revelation 7:12)

In the rest of his discourse while trying to answer this question, Job acknowledges that man has perfected the means to search out and mine precious metals and jewels from the earth no matter how deep into the heart of a mountain they may lie. Man digs tunnels through dirt and stone alike to seek out the treasure he desires. Yet there is one treasure that proves elusive. No matter how hard he tries, man is unable to seek it out. It lies beyond our grasp. This treasure is wisdom.

History tells us that the great philosophers of old spent their lives seeking it out wisdom, yet the record of how they lived their lives and of how they died leaves little room for doubt. Whatever knowledge they discovered, wisdom was not found. Job reveals to us that "God understands the way to it and He alone knows where it dwells." Yet God, in His mercy, reveals the path to wisdom to us.
And [God] said to man, "The fear of the LORD-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." - Job 28:28

The fear of the LORD is the well from which all wisdom springs. If you don't fear God, then you underestimate Him. You don't understand who He is. And nothing could be more important than understanding the nature of your Creator and what He requires of you. Thus, if you do not fear God then you cannot be considered truly wise. You may have attained some measure of earthly knowledge, but wisdom eludes you still.

A person of understanding shuns evil. Anyone who clings to evil actions, thoughts or attitudes is not yet made perfect in understanding. When we embrace evil we bring fire to our chest, for evil surely brings destruction. Our God will not be mocked. We all reap what we sow. Therefore, anyone who willingly pursues evil, destroys their own peace and security. What could be more foolish than this? Only a man without understanding would do such a thing.

Of course, I imagine you are tempted to reject these definitions of wisdom. Likely you do not find them fully satisfying. I Corinthians 1:18-25 shows us that in our sin man always wants to reject God's wisdom, chiefly in Christ but in every other way as well. So if I may push Job's metaphor a little farther, I would say that perhaps this writing hasn't placed jewels of wisdom directly into your hand, but at the least it has revealed a worthwhile shaft to go digging in. Do your own mining of the fear of the Lord and of shunning evil. Here are some other passages that agree with Job's assessment: Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, Job 1:8, Proverbs 8:13. Find wisdom and understanding in them, and pursue them always.