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How Not to Be a Mule: Come, Unbridled

mule with bridle eating grass

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Psalm 32:9

About Mules

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. They’re said to be more hardy than horses and more intelligent than donkeys.

Still, being likened to a mule isn’t exactly a compliment.

My uncle owned a mule named Petey. Petey was both strong and headstrong. Life on the farm was good for Petey the Mule.

But one day, which happened to be manure hauling day, “Petey decided he no longer liked his ears touched. This caused problems putting on his halter and bridle,” Uncle John posted. “He developed some escape routes which included trying to run Farmer John over; thankfully this isn’t Farmer John’s first rodeo.”

Thankfully, God can relates to mules too. He’s familiar with beasts that charge and beasts that avoid.

But, biblically, what is it that makes mules so mulish?

Hint: It’s what our kids do when they refuse to come and confess that he stole the candy or broke the lamp or lost his Fitbit, again.

That is, they refuse to come to us until after they’re busted outright or the guilt gets so heavy they simply can’t bear it. That’s mulish.

And foolish.

About The Most Happy-Making Thing You Can Do

In Psalm 32, this is the behavior in view: Refusing to come and confess to the one who freely forgives.

Staying away from God when we sin is irrational-without understanding. Because confessing to the God who already knows and freely forgives is one of the most happy-making things we can ever do.

In fact, that’s how David begins Psalm 32, with a double-whammy description, and prescription, for happiness:

Happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

The way to be happy and blessed is to go and confess.

Why Mulish Is Foolish

Which is exactly why the next two verses in Psalm 32 contrast this path to happiness:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Pity the fool, the mule, who does that- who stays silent and far away from the Master.

But mules do. They are silent, slow and stubborn. Mules need pressure applied to come to the master. They must be curbed with bit and bridle. That’s why God’s hand feels heavy on us sometimes, like Farmer John’s did on Petey the Mule that day.

I put pressure on you when you were sinning and neglecting me, our Master might explain, so that you’d come back to me. But I wish you’d just come freely. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

Not Confessing Is Irrational

In case you missed it, avoiding the master is irrational. It is not acting in accord with the truth that repentance brings refreshment and confession clears the conscience. It is living as if estranged relationships and hidden sin are to be preferred over restored relationships and forgiveness. That is foolish. Mulish.

Like when son-who-shall-not-be-named confesses to eating my prized Dove Dark only after I show him the wrapper I found under his bed and not a moment before.

To be human rather than horse or mule, is to be rational. To be rational is to realize that we will be happier when our sin is confessed and covered by God.

And that when we cover it, he will not, but that when we uncover our sin before God, he will cover it (Psalm 32)

Life on the Farm

Mules live on farms. Here John Piper expands the image for us:

Maybe we should try to picture God’s people as a farmyard of all sorts of animals. God cares for his animals, he shows them where they need to go, and supplies a barn for their protection. But there is one beast on this farm that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule…

God likes to get his animals to the barn for food and shelter by simply calling them.

Or even with a look.

Steered With a Look, or a Bit?

Psalm 32:8 says, “I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

My Mom says that I was disciplined with a look as a child. All it took was the look, and I’d usually come around. I’d curb my tongue or knock it off or change my tune.

If only the grown-up Abigail was always so sensitive to God’s eye.

But sometimes I’m a mule. Sometimes God has to put the bridle of suffering on me and drag me from danger. I completely agree with John Piper that,

A guilty conscience and all the agonies that go with it is a merciful gift to the unrepentant.

Piper continues the barnyard analogy, “So God gets in his pickup truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him stiff-legged and snorting all the way into the barn.”

But we’d be better off and so much happier if we just came with a look or a call.

Repentance Brings Refreshment

But isn’t all this come and confess talk very gloomy? you ask.

C.S. Lewis answers that question like this,

It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and to really know one’s own sin is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of a tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.

C.S. Lewis, “Miserable Offenders,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970) 120-121. 

I bear witness: confessing is happy-making. In the moment, it’s humbling and hard and it hurts. But, “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘Tis a gift to come down to where we ought to be.”

Isn’t it?

In fact, isn’t being forgiven about the most lightening and relieving, soul-healing and refreshing gift a sinful soul can ever receive?

In Acts 3, Peter preached just that:Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins mat be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Repentance brings refreshment.

How Not to be a Mule

Sometimes it is the bit of affliction and the bridle of suffering that makes us come to him. Or, to borrow David’s words, to stay near him.

It is much to be deplored that we so often need to be severely chastened before we will obey. We ought to be as a feather in the wind, wafted readily in the breath of the Holy Spirit, but alas! we lie like motionless logs, and stir not with heaven itself in view. Those cutting bits of affliction show how hard mouthed we are, those bridles of infirmity manifest our headstrong and willful manners. We should not be treated like mules if there was not so much of the ass about us. If we will be fractious, we must expect to be kept in with a tight rein. Oh, for grace to obey the Lord willingly…

C.H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 32

We should not be treated like mules if there was not so much ass about us. Oh, for grace to obey the Lord willingly. Ouch. And amen.

Do you know this?

I mean, know it? I confess that I must re-learn that confession is good for the soul. Like when I sent that early morning apology text (there have been plenty of others since) and when I made a mule of myself on an Irish mountain. And this weekend when I marched up the steps away from a sister, and my mule snorts woke me up and turned me right back down to confess, “I’m sorry I was rude.”

In summary, not being a mule means staying near God without being forced. It means praying to God before his hand is heavy on you. It means confessing your sins to Him straightaway. Before you’re busted.

That is how NOT to be a mule.

And when I do come to him and confess, he will freely forgive. He will tenderly take my chin in his hand and lift my humbled head.

My unbridled, forgiven head.

You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.

Psalm 3:3

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation: the Pope & the Lord’s Prayer

Woman hiking over bridge looking off to the left.

Have you heard that the pope changed the Lord’s prayer?

You know that line about temptation?

The Change

For centuries English-speaking Christians have been reciting the same Our Father. I pray it with Catholics at my sons’ parochial school and with perfect (Protestant) strangers when I’m in a new church. Young and old, at home and away, we say it together.

But this month, Pope Francis approved a revision. Rather than, “Lead us not into temptation,” Catholics may now pray, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

Here’s the pope’s reported rationale for the change:

“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.”

The pope was worried that the words “Lead us into temptation” might confuse us. They might cause us to think that the Father who calls us to be holy might also lure us off the narrow way.

So we no longer pray in unison.

A Less Confusing Translation?

Pope Francis is absolutely correct in saying that we are the ones who fall, that Satan is the one who tempts us, and that our Holy Heavenly Father does not seduce his children to sin.

Those are not in question. The Greek word eisenenkēs is the word in question. It’s the word that he changed. It means “lead into” or “bring into.” The same word is used in Luke 5:1812:11Acts 17:201 Timothy 6:7Hebrews 13:11, as in “They will bring you before the synagogues.”

But, to avoid confusion, the pope approved the revision. Do not let us fall into temptation, is easier to wrap our brains around.

But Is It Accurate?

While the saints have long wrestled with the implications of the words-going back at least as far as Tertullian in the third century- they’ve agreed that Lead us not into temptation is the most accurate translation.

Ancient translations like the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac Peshitta preserve this meaning, as do classic reformation translations like those of Luther and Tyndale…Translators across cultures, centuries, languages, and theological perspectives have all grasped the Greek here the same basic way: we are to pray that God would not lead us into temptation.

Luke Wayne, Does the Lord’s Prayer really say “lead us not into temptation?

So we agree. The traditional wording is the most accurate.

But I understand the pope’s concern. Asking God not to lead us into temptation implies that rather than lead us in paths of righteousness, he might draw us off the way.

Does God Tempt Us To Sin?

No.

Scripture is clear. God does not tempt us to stray.

“Let no one say, when he is tempted,” James wrote, “‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14).

In this Look at the Book episode, John Piper helps explain from James 1 how innocent desire can cross the line into sin. Suffice to say, our Good Father has nothing to do with it.

What Good Fathers Don’t Do

Now back to the pope. Here’s why he approved the change: “A father doesn’t [lead his children into temptation]. A father helps you to get up immediately.” So says the pope.

John Piper argues that this approach to the Bible is upside down.

God is a good father to his children. A perfect father. And since he is God, and not a mere human, his perfections should not be forced into the mold of our fallible views of what good fathers do. Having perfect wisdom, and knowing all things, our heavenly Father does things no human father should do.

A prime example is Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”

No human father should take the life of his child as a sacrifice for others. Yet that is precisely what God did to his beloved Son. There are other examples, but the takeaway is this,

We should learn whether he does or not from Scripture, not from our prior notions of what good fathers do. Our notions are finite, and distorted by sin and culture. We must continually refine them by what the Bible teaches.

John Piper, “Reading the Bible Upside Down

What The Bible Teaches

And what it does teach is that we should pray, “Our Father . . . lead us not into temptation.” It does mean “lead into” or “bring into” (see also Luke 5:1812:11Acts 17:201 Timothy 6:7Hebrews 13:11). 

Since lead means lead and temptation means temptation maybe we shift the focus to the word into. Which may change our focus as we pray this way:

Do for us, dear Father, what you did for Jesus, when you “led (!) him by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). You filled him with the word of God and, though he was led to the crisis of temptation by your Spirit, he did not get sucked into sin, but triumphed by your word (Matthew 4:4710). For this same grace, in all your leadings, we earnestly pray. Amen.

Amen?

What does “Lead us not into temptation mean?”

This is what you’ve been waiting for, what I’ve been puzzling over for the last three weeks since the pope changed the Lord’s Prayer.

When we pray Lead us not into temptation,

We are asking that we should never be led into a situation where we are liable to be tempted by Satan…into positions where we are liable to fall. This is what our Lord meant when He said to His disciples at the end, ‘Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.’ There are situations which will be dangerous to you; watch and pray, always be on guard lest you fall into temptation.

God does test His children, and we must never presume to tell God what He is or is not to do. He knows that we need much training in our preparation for glory.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Volume 2, “Prayer: Petition”

In other words, as Paul warned, Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Take Heed Lest You Fall

George Whitefield, an 18th century evangelist, said, My brethren, if you were left to yourselves, you would be overcome by every temptation with which you are beset.

What this “confusing” last petition in the Lord’s Prayer teaches me is to take heed. To not ever think I’ve grown so much that in my faith that I can’t fall. I can. We can. We must see the weakness of our flesh.

This is not a contest in which we are being tested and tried to prove ourselves, Al Mohler suggested. The reality is we are being tested and tried in order to prove God. To prove his faithfulness. To prove God’s strong grace triumphant in our self-control. And to prove that we need the Lord.

I need him to resist sullenness and self-pity when I don’t get my way, to resist sinful anger when people break my kingdom rules. To prove that God does satisfy me more than another bowl of ice cream, more than a hundred Facebook likes, more than a sunny house I don’t have.

Because at the end of the day, we are not up to this. But for the power of God, we will cave in, we will grow faint, and fail.

Christ’s Chosen Words

Of all the words the Lord could have used, he chose those.

When one of Christ’s disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1), Christ answered, “When you pray, say . . . ” (Luke 11:2).

Lead us not into temptation. Those are Christ’s chosen words.

On the one hand, there is a Father whom we must ask not to carry us into evil. On the other hand, there is a Shepherd who suffers unspeakable agony in his triumph over evil. From Job to C. S. Lewis, Christianity has a rich spiritual and intellectual history of reflecting on God’s relation to evil. We could let the words of the Our Father continue to prompt the faithful in this consideration.

Or we could whitewash all the timeless tensions in Scripture and play master over Christ’s words. 

Joe McCarty, Editing Jesus, Touchstone Magazine, May/June 2019

Why We Pray This Way

I’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks and my head is still spinning. I feel this “timeless tension” of Scripture. But I’ve landed on this.

“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything.”

Tim Keller

As with all of our petitions, the requests we make in the Lord’s prayer are not meant to bring things to God’s attention that He doesn’t already know. As Jesus says before offering the model prayer, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” (Matthew 6:8).

To pray is to admit we need help- help to do God’s will and help to want to His will. We don’t so much aim to change God’s mind as transform our own.

So in the Lord’s Prayer. The other requests contained in it make that plain. Praying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” reminds us that we need to forgive. Praying, “give us this day our daily bread,” reminds us to be content and trust God to provide. And praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” reminds us that, with God’s power, we can resist temptation and stay on the narrow path where God leads us.

We pray about these things because we need God’s help. We are weak and cannot do them alone. As we pray about them, we make them priorities. Prayer is a means God uses to conform our will to His will.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Today we will face countless temptations. We’ll stare down multiple desires that could conceive and give birth to sin. But, our Father in heaven, forbid that we would give in. Deliver us from evil.

We might get muddy and we will feel weak, but please don’t bring us into temptation that stops us from running the race with our eyes on you.

Please, Lord. Lead us not into temptation.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Jesus, in Gethsemane, quoted in Matthew 26:41

EXTRA (aka: More good stuff that would have made the real post way, way, WAY too long.)

The Greek word translated temptation is the same word for trial or testing (see Acts 20:19. Heb. 3:8, James 1:2,12, 1 Peter 1:6, 4:12, Rev. 3:10). Lead us not into temptation-or trial or testing.

In Hebrews 2:10 it says that it was fitting that the author of our salvation be perfected through suffering. If it was true for Christ, how much more true for us. Therefore, there is a fittingness to our trials. Temptation, testing, and trials are necessary for our spiritual growth and strength.

And good fathers and mothers do test their children. In part, at least, we give tests to help our children learn and succeed. So with our Heavenly Father. He puts us in the fire to strengthen our faith, not to see us fall.

God doesn’t tempt us. But he does test us.

Need some evidence?

Exhibit 1: Abraham.

See Genesis 22. Abraham was told to offer Isaac, his child of promise, as a sacrifice. He was tested. God the Father tested his son Abraham to see if he believed the promises of God of not. Abraham was asked to offer up the child of promise. He reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He passed the test.

Exhibit 2: Job.

See Job 1 and 2. Does Job fear God for nothing? Satan asked. Then Job was tested- he lost his children, his wealth, his health. God’s purpose was not that Job would fall, but that he would stand. And we have heard of Job’s patience and have seen the Lord’s aim: to show that he is compassionate and merciful.

Exhibit 3: The Israelites.

See Exodus 20. God had just given the 10 Commandments. Then came came some audio-visual effects sent by God to mark the day. Then the Israelites trembled with fear and stayed away. That’s when Moses told them , Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.

Exhibit 4: Philip.

See John 6. It’s just before the feeding of 5000. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Jesus tested his disciple Philip.

Exhibit 5: Jesus.

See Matthew 4 (& 26). Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This is the strongest evidence. It was the Father’s good pleasure that his dearly loved Son be tempted. Jesus was tempted in every way as we were yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). With crimson colors, Jesus passed this test.

Tests and trials will come. God disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5-8). So don’t be surprised when they do. Be ready to choose what you did not choose, and to count it all joy because God is giving us what we need to be mature and complete not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

Our Good Father will never tempt us into sin.

But he does test us.

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Easter’s Over. But Do You Know Resurrection Power?

Did you feel it this morning? I mean, when you opened your eyes, did you feel wonder-working power coursing through your veins?

Easter is over, but did you know resurrection power today? Did you?

No?

You’re not alone.

Power Piled Up

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty strength that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:18a, 19-20

That’s just part of the prayer. But did you notice how Paul heaped up power words to describe what’s available for those who believe?

He could have stopped at just one term, but he piled up all of these:

power – dunamis – strength, power, ability, from which we get “dynamite” ,

working – energeia – working, compulsion from within; from which we get “energy”

mighty – kratos – force, strength; might; in our word autocrat

power/strenth – ischus – physical force, ability, force, strength, might

So much power. Immeasurably great power. And it’s all for believers; for us- for me, for you.

But what does it do?

Wonder-Working Power?

It works so many ways, but here’s what it did in me, today.

You see, I’ve been nursing a certain hurt for a while. But the current strengthened me to look the one who hurt me in the eye and smile.  It helped me fix my thoughts on good things when self-pity and wounded pride flared up. This requires resurrection power.

The more we are united by faith with God in Christ,” Paul Bayne says,the more does His virtue or power work upon us, both in conforming us to Himself.” Bayne describes this power in four vivid ways:

(1) What a power is that which so changes men, and makes lambs of lions, chaste and sober of filthy and intemperate, humble of proud — a thing harder than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

(2) To continue and promote the work of sanctification in us, who are carnal, sold under sin, is a thing no less strange than to keep and make fire burn higher and higher in water.

(3) The quickening of us with heavenly desires and holy affections is no small power; neither is it less wonderful than to see iron and lead flying upward…

Such is resurrection power.

Why We Need Resurrection Power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes two huge reasons why we must know this resurrection power– a negative reason and a positive reason.

Negatively

Negatively, because of the powers set against us. The Christian in this world is one waging a constant warfare– the world, the flesh and the devil are dead-set against us. (See 1 John 2.)

Here Lloyd-Jones explains the urgency in our war against the flesh, specifically against the force of habit.

[C]onsider the force of habits. How many a man has been stumbled by this. He comes into the Christian life and he’s heard, All things are become new. Then he begins to find there are certain habits within him and he finds it rather difficult to break them. The old man is not annihilated. He’s still there and he’s got to be dealt with.

You and I have to mortify the body. Don’t imagine for a moment that evil habits will be taken right out of your life…There is nothing but the power of God that can keep a man going against the force of habit.

To face the force of habit requires we know this power. But that’s not all.

Positively

Then Lloyd-Jones describes the positive need we have for resurrection power.

You and I are called to keep the commandments of God. Christ calls us to keep his commandments. There are the 10 Commandments and the moral law of God- that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. We are called to follow Christ: Be perfect as your Father is perfect. We’re to live like this sort of life now…

We’re absolutely helpless. We wouldn’t stand for a second. We couldn’t live it for a moment but for this exceeding great power of God that is in us.

The power, I say, is in us. The Apostle is not praying that they will receive this power, but that they will realize that it is in them…It’s an utter fallacy to think that God makes a man new and then leaves him. No, he wouldn’t have stood a moment unless this power is in him. It’s our realization of this power in us that varies

So why don’t we realize resurrection power? Why don’t we know it? 

I mean know it. I mean experientially know it- like you know how a hot shower feels or how dark chocolate tastes, how coffee smells and your dog’s fur feels.

That know.

Dull Heart-Eyes

The biggest reason we don’t know this kind of power is that our spiritual eyes are dull.

That’s what Paul says at the beginning of the Ephesians 1 prayer that the “eyes of your hearts would be enlightened.” Because Paul knew that our heart-eyes had to be enlightened to really know resurrection power.

Notice that Paul didn’t pray that God would give us this mighty power, but rather that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to know this power. Which means we should probably pray this way. That God will help us understand the resurrection power we have.

Unless God gives us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation the knowledge of him,” we won’t really know it. And Scripture is plain, God is at work in us today (Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:20-21).

But we won’t know that unless our heart-eyes are opened to see what’s already ours.

Power Already Ours

Steven Cole related a story about the late, wealthy newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had spent a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world.

Then one day he found a description of some items that he desperately wanted to own. So he sent his agent abroad to search for them. After months on the trail, his agent reported that he’d finally found the treasures. And guess what? They were already in Hearst’s warehouse. He had been searching for treasures that he already owned!

If you are a Christian God’s mighty power is already yours.

But maybe like Mr. Hearst, you’re not aware of what you possess and you don’t possess your possessions. Maybe you don’t experience God’s mighty power to resist sin and live a holy life. 

Cole asks if some of us are looking at our lives and asking,

Is there a power that can subdue my tongue? Is there a power that can subdue my anger? What power can subdue my bitterness? Is there a power that can subdue my lust? Is there something that can conquer the sin I don’t ever seem to get a hold of?

Well, Paul is right there waiting for us when we ask questions like those. He’s already prayed that God would open the eyes of our heart to know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us to believe.

Then, with a prayer, it shows up.

How His Power Shows Up

In Romans 6 Paul explains how being united with Christ means we died to sin and we live to God. How resurrection power means we die to sin and and live to God.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

Then, in Philippians 3, Paul explains how even his own suffering and physical loss is gain,

[T]hat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead… Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 

Paul had been a believer more than two decades when he wrote that to the Philippians. Which means that that pressing on to know God’s resurrection power isn’t one and done. To know resurrection power is our lifelong quest.

I love how John Piper explains this life-and-death, resurrection power paradox:

Sin is defeated at the cross; yet sin remains to be fought. Satan was defeated at the cross; yet Satan remains to be fought. And for this fight, may God answer Paul’s prayer in our lives! May we know the power of God toward us who believe— resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

Resurrection Power Now

Yesterday I asked a few friends how they experience resurrection power now.

One friend said she feels the power when she forgives a someone who keeps disappointing.  Another said he knows it when he is patient with a child who keeps provoking.  And the third said she experiences it when she keeps praying- without losing heart- for a loved-one who keeps straying. The last friend said she felt this power when she stops the vicious cycle of anxious thoughts to cast her cares on God.

How about you? How do you feel resurrection power?

I feel it when I repent and press on when I sin, rather than waste time in guilt and shame. And I know resurrection power when I’m strengthened to wait patiently and serve others with joy. Like when I greet ones who hurt me with friendly eyes and a smile.

And none of these is one bit natural for me. The actions are fire raging in water, iron flying upward. Dying to sin, living for the glory of Christ. 

All are proof of God’s wonder-working resurrection power.

There Is A Power

Maybe yesterday you ate too much at Easter brunch. Or lost your cool, again, with a rude child last night. And maybe today you’re asking, Is there a power that can help subdue my sin or break this force of habit? 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers a resounding yes. Even in these we can trust that God’s resurrection power is at work. We can trust that he who began a good work will be faithful to bring it to completion. 

Oh, beloved people! Is there anything more important to know than this? We are in the hands of God and he’s working in us. He’s given us this power to believe and He’s right now working in us- fashioning us, molding us into perfection.

We can’t avoid it and we can’t escape it. We are in His hands and he will go on with it -Blessed be his name! My comfort and assurance this morning is to know that God is working in me and He will never cease to work in me until I stand before him in glory. 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,

according to the power at work within us,

to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

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Windows In Heaven

Eyes can miss what’s really there and ears can fear what’s not.

Deceived By Our Senses

Sometimes we focus on bad things not really there. Witness: the bogeyman under the bed, the boss who seems like he’s out to get you, the catastrophe ahead if you miss this chance. A loud- and phantom-sound of enemy chariots that could make a mighty army flee. 

And sometimes we miss good things that really are there. Witness: the cloud of friends waiting in the wings to surprise you, the stern boss who’s really got your back, the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. A mountain full of horses with chariots of fire to fight for you.

I had a week last week.

I saw my run through that gauntlet coming. Hard-hitting meetings Monday through Thursday. Book club Monday, visitation Tuesday, AWANA Wednesday and conferences Thursday. Back to back, after-work meetings meant scrambling for boy care, scrounging up dinners, and scrimping on sleep.

Then Friday. Friday was firstborn’s birthday. And boy’s birthday means party at our house. And the thought of that was almost enough to make me feign the flu. And ponder frozen pizza and bake your own cake.

I’m not a panicky person. But a glance at that row-full of margin-less days was enough to take my breath away.

Yes, I needed stamina. But my heart needed strength, too, for the would-be-stay-at-home mom in me to fight the surging self-pity and resentment at having to work long hours away.

I needed endurance and energy, and equally, strength to comprehend, and see. And my week was infinitesimally light and momentary compared to the chronic suffering and and struggle pressing on some of you now.

Compared to an enemy army surrounding, it was a gentle spring breeze.

Enter Elisha 

The prophet Elisha had a high price on his head. So high, in fact, in 2 Kings 6:13-14 we read the king of Syria sent horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

So when Elisha’s servant rolled off his mat next morning and strolled out to look around, Behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. So, alarmed, he questioned Elisha, Alas, my master! What shall we do? 

Elisha answered his anxious servant, Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. That’s not all, though.

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

God gave his servant strength to see what did not appear to the naked eye. Heavenly armies were in the wings, waiting to do battle with Israel’s enemies. But it took righteous man’s prayer in order for a servant to see.

God lets his servants see what help is really there. And lets his enemies hear what is not.

Sandwiched between Elisha’s praying that his servant see the chariots that were and Israel’s besieging enemy fleeing at the sound of the chariots that were not, Elisha announces that Israel’s famine would end in dramatic fashion:

Thus says the LORD, “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel.”

The captain of the king is incredulous, faithless, blind and asks,

 If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?

The entire Syrian enemy army was besieging Samaria- starving Israel out. The captain saw that. But then God worked his wonders. He messed with the enemies’ senses and made windows in heaven. 

The Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. (2 Kings 7:6-7)

But there were no chariots or horses this time. The entire army fled at phantom sounds. And their stockpiles of food, their seahs of barley and wheat, were sold for measly shekels.

Things are not always what they seem. There are truer realities than what senses tell. But sometimes need help to believe.

God could just put a windows in heaven, but he uses another means to help dull our eyes see.

How We See

Each day we get out of bed we can walk by faith in the Son of God or stagger about in the here and now. We can see the thorns and miss the brilliant horizon beyond. We can live overwhelmed with earthly circumstances and focused on overfull schedules.

Or we can pray for eyes to see.

That’s the means God so often uses to open our eyes to see. Elisha did. Paul did too. He prayed for the Ephesians to have spiritual eyes to see God’s love and know rock-bottom reality (Ephesians 1:17-19).

We can pray for ourselves and our friends like Paul prayed for his. We can pray,

  • That we will know the hope to which God has called us (1:18) and know when our hope is false.
  • That we will know the riches of the glorious inheritance God gives in the saints (1:18) and not settle for sinful pleasures now.
  • That we will know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe (1:19) and not fear the enemy. 
  • That we will know the love of God that surpasses knowledge (3:19) and let this love drive bitterness out. 

Paul calls it walking by faith, not by sight. And that’s not a solo job. When the world’s bearing down and hope’s losing ground, we need boots on the ground help seeing. Ed Welch says,

This is when we call out for help from the body of Christ. Spiritual battles should not be fought without the aid of other people who can join us in prayer, encourage us with their presence, and offer apt words of truth. We could ask them to pray for us as Elisha prayed for his servant. When surrounded by an army that was sworn to kill the two men, Elisha prayed that his servant would see by faith. “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17). 

We need friends to pray that our spiritual eyes would be wide-open; that we’d have strength to see.

Seeing Opportunity

They knew my week was chock-full and so three dear sisters prayed for me. Texts and mid-week check-ins came to let me know they prayed. Sure enough, my heart was helped and my soul made strong. Self-pity was stifled and energy was enough. As the week went by and deadlines were met and boys were fed, I started seeing opportunity. 

Michael Youssef says the difference between seeing opportunity or impossibility is in the connection. When we’re connected by faith, by prayer, to God’s power, we see opportunity. Dead wires are disconnected, filled with dread. They see impossibility.

But live-wires see opportunity for God to look big in our smallness and to showcase His strength in our weakness. And God likes looking big like that.

God looked extra-big to me last week. He looked big when he let none of my words fall to the ground in intense meeting. Big when He gave me words to encourage friends much more weary that me. Big when a critical report arrived not a second too soon.

But God looked huge Friday night when I finally kicked back in our house-full of guests. And the pizza that night-our third night in five- tasted better than I can ever remember.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might…

Ephesians 1:16-19