finding out what pleases the Lord

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

Oftentimes in our lives, we seem at a loss for one reason or another to know just what to do, or before that, how to think. We do need to act thoughtfully, or based on what is good, or even best. And that is surely whatever might be pleasing to the Lord: the fruit of the light that marks us as children of light– all goodness, righteousness and truth, all that is good, right and true (translations of this passage).

It makes no difference what spot we find ourselves in, what we’re facing, or what’s going on. We need to seek one goal only: to please the Lord. As we do that, God will help us, and be for us all the help we need. It is secondary what we’re actually going through. What is primary is whether or not we’re endeavoring through it all to live out the light that we already are in the Lord. What the devil wants us to succumb to is whatever would block or hide that light from ourselves and others.

To help us understand what would please the Lord is to thoughtfully ponder based on scripture and what we’ve learned by the Spirit as to what is good, right and true. So that we leave behind whatever is not in those categories. Of course that will involve ongoing repentance. But this realization and thought can help us refuse to go places we might naturally go simply because we know that such is not pleasing to the Lord.

As we endeavor to prayerfully practice this, the Lord will verify to us what indeed is pleasing to him, and what is not. We will understand one way or another. That may seem subjective, but it is based on what is objective. And certainly involves relationship with a person, the person of Christ himself. All in and through him.

 

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the call to prayer

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Mark 14:37-38

The occasion was Gethsemane, and our Lord was in desperate straits. He took his three closest disciples with him, and then went off alone to pray. He had told them to keep watch, but he expected them to pray as he was praying. Instead they fell asleep.

What Jesus did that night has some mystery to it, but it was the final wrestling in prayer before he gave his life over in the will of the Father to receive the cup of judgment he was to drink at the cross in his suffering and death. He had walked steadily toward this inevitable hour, having set his face like a flint, it says, to do so. But now it had, as it were, rushed upon him, like waters breaking in to put one in danger of drowning.

Our Lord’s habit was to regularly pray, spending much time with the Father in solitude. He was again alone with the Father, but this time with his three closest disciples not far away. He surely wanted them to note what he was going through, to learn from his example, to try to begin to emulate it themselves you would think, from what the above text says. It was certainly an occasion for teaching them, and all of us.

Sometimes for me, I wish it was less often, it seems like life is caving in in a number of ways. I can panic and take matters into my own hands, which I’ve been good at over the years. Or I can learn to do what Jesus told the disciples, and by extension, tells us even today to do. Watch and pray. So that I won’t enter into temptation to give in to what’s wrong. Because while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

For me I see all such inwardly challenging times as a call to prayer. Even an opportunity for that. Not that I feel like praying, though I want to train my mind and heart in that direction. Praying for myself and for others, and continuing in prayer, seeing it as spiritual warfare, which surely was the case for our Lord at Gethsemane. And when I go through periods of time like that, I want to be devoted to prayer all the more.

It does seem like Jesus was challenged in his spirit, not wanting to drink this cup. Jesus was not willing himself, but he was indeed willing to do the will of the Father, come what may, no matter what. Jesus was weak in the flesh, in his humanity, though not having sin like we do. Jesus actually prayed like that because he needed to, so that he could bring God’s salvation to many, even to the world. If he needed to pray in that hour of trial, how much more do we need to, in the weakness of our flesh through which even our spirit can give way. So that we’ll not give in to our own will, but God’s will. In and through Jesus.

 

ignoring the sirens

I remember years ago at the Bible college I was at for a year, that a friend used to always pray whenever he heard a siren, probably for the people involved, particularly those in need, a good practice. My point is metaphorical, yet just as good, in fact quite important at least for me, in the walk of faith. I believe that there’s a sense in which we need to ignore the sirens that hit us off and on, sometimes repeatedly, over and over again for different reasons. The call is urgent and compelling; after all, I’m likening it to a siren.

Concern, even alarm, and urgent attention mark this call. Or maybe just plain dread. In biblical, and I would add, real life terms, we’re talking about what ultimately becomes a crippling fear, or an angst as in anxiousness, just plain, pure anxiety, which we cannot shake. These are all tell tale signs that something is wrong. And that these sirens in our head are getting us nowhere. If we respond to them, putting us on a never ending cycle of more and more of the same.

We simply need to ignore such siren calls, developing the discernment needed from God to tell the difference between the gentle, yet persistent promptings of the Spirit from the loud, edgy, restless, and ultimately accusatory, even condemning tones of what comes from the enemy. It might come from ourselves, and the way we have responded to life over the years, sometimes certain key factors or moments from childhood playing a part. Even so, in biblical terms the flesh and the devil, along with the world are all intertwined. I think of the world here as a system which does not acknowledge God, or God’s good rule. The flesh as our broken humanity which is set against God, even if religious, and trying to do what is well, right and good on our own. And the devil as the demonic element which while not at all equal to God, has full sway in both the world and the flesh, as depicted here.

There is no way we can simply get rid of fear and troubling thoughts from what we’ve taken in of the sirens that surround us, or come our way.  We simply have to turn our ears in a new direction, and get them in tune for a different sound all together, as well as learning to hear the other for what it really is, so that eventually we don’t hear it much at all, if at all, since we understand it’s actually a false alarm, not from God.

But in the meantime, we simply have to take the stand of faith, not letting such sirens move us. Instead, when we hear them, waiting for God’s direction, the still small voice, or gentle whispering of the Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). And accepting nothing less than God’s peace. And in that, finding God’s help to navigate all the questions, and difficult paths of life we encounter. In and through Jesus.

something of the devil’s schemes

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6:10-20 is one of my go to passages I have memorized in the past, which I can go back to and repeat at least nearly verbatim. And sometimes I find that I really need to. There are times when all of the sudden it seems like I am stuck in a place I really don’t want to be in terms of spiritual warfare.

This passage could mean that we live in the evil day, or that the evil day will hit us along the way (NIV). I don’t know. I tend to want to include both, that we should be ready all the time now, and that we’re to put this into practice when we know we’re under attack. I remember that Christians have actually made a regular practice of “praying on the armor.”

Of course we have to take to heart, as well as put into practice all that the passage means, and that’s saying quite a lot. We have to find our strength in the mighty power of the Lord and put on the armor of God, what God provides for us in Christ through the gospel to stand firm. Too easily I can be duped by being taken in by the devil’s schemes, so that I give in to something less than God’s will or best.  It can be in terms of defending one’s self, rather than being open to truth, and taking the way of the cross in following Jesus. Oftentimes it’s a subtle, yet outright denial of God’s word, or God’s goodness, just as the serpent tempted Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).

At any rate, we do well to realize that this is the point in which we live, and why in part there’s so much trouble in this life. Particularly so in that we are followers of Jesus in the face of that which is in direct opposition to Jesus and the good news in him. Although in this day in our culture it’s mostly quite subtle. And the schemes of the devil include getting us off the mark of God’s will for us in Jesus. So that it might be all about defending ourselves, or something less than Christ and the gospel, rather than standing firm in the faith, and for Christ and the gospel, come what may.

Something I was not simply reminded of yesterday, but thrust into. And through which I am seeking to learn, and do better, in and through Jesus.

we need all of it, that is, scripture

Yesterday I shared the life change I’m embarking on in simply slowing down, and Jesus’s call to be yoked together with him in his work as recorded in Matthew 11. And that day, one passage brought life to me.

But the next day was a difficult one in that I was probably experiencing one of the flaming arrows of the enemy, and experienced darkness most all day. Not the normal gray with sunshine, but clouds, I usually experience. Not that we’re to be focused on our experience, though it’s not like it’s unimportant, either. Combined with the hard work, it wasn’t easy. Add to that, being tired, and that in itself can be a challenge, and in fact, can set us up for difficult days. Of course there is always God’s grace to sustain and help us overcome such, but just the same, we’re still human. We certainly have our limitations.

So I realized in that darkness that while of course I always need the Lord, and frankly felt abandoned, which I’m sure is not the case, though sometimes God might possibly withdraw a sense of his presence for a reason, but most often, it is we who have moved, but I realized anew and afresh that we really need all of scripture. So a few passages came to mind on which I meditated: Philippians 4, James 1, and at last the great spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6, verses 10-20. All of that helped me, but meditating on that last passage through saying it again and again, begin to help lift me out of my darkness.

I have found along the way that it seems God impresses certain passages on my mind for my life, such as Proverbs 3:5-6 a couple years back. And I can see why, especially later on. And then the Matthew 11 passage for me on Monday. But the point here is that whether we can understand it or not, and often we won’t, we need all of scripture. And we do well to memorize certain parts. I used to memorize years back, but have avoided the practice in recent years. But now am doing it again, since I choose to no longer refer to my small Bible during work time, since there’s a new rule against phone use. And I’m finding this surprisingly, rather rejuvenating.

Of course to be in all of scripture means we need to be reading it, and/or hearing it being read. There’s much good in both. For listening, I would recommend Max McLean for a good straightforward reading of scripture, and it’s available online through Gateway. But there are other good options online and elsewhere. And there’s no substitute for reading it yourself. Actually both can have a special impact, but when you have the text in front of you, you can stop at certain points, and ponder a bit, or reread when needed.

And then there’s the good old fashioned, what some would call evangelical practice of memorizing scripture. And the more, the better, but key passages such as those I mentioned above.

The point here is that we need to be in all of scripture. We need all of it for a reason (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 15:4).

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

May God help all of us to be more and more in his word, imbibing and living in that, receiving all we need for life, in and through Jesus.

the breath of the Christian: prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Not to be confused with the Christian spiritual practice of breath prayer, which I personally have nothing against from what I understand of it, we as Christians, believers and followers of Jesus, need to make prayer a vital part of our lives throughout the day. When I say prayer, I’m thinking primarily of petitions to God for others, and also for one’s self, but it certainly ought to include worship and praise of God, as well as confession of sin, and as we’re told in the great passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, we’re to “pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and petitions.” It’s good to utter the Lord’s/Our Father’s prayer regularly, daily, and that helps keep us on track in what and how we should pray.

Charles Spurgeon, the pastor and great preacher in London used to be known as being a busy man in pastoring the church, and in teaching at the school his church had for pastors. It didn’t seem like he would have much time for prayer, but he said that there was always a prayer under his breath. And it’s interesting that it seems like he had a gift of the Spirit of faith for those who were ill, maybe a gift also of healing. It was said that there were more people healed through his prayers than through all the medical doctors in London. And he was a Baptist, and therefore not given to any special emphasis in that direction. It was just a gift he had.

Let me also note that kindness and generosity toward others, even when it would be easy to do otherwise, ought to mark our speech, beginning with our thoughts of others. We also need to remember that we all need mercy and grace. Instead of criticizing someone who may even well deserve it, we need to bite our tongues and pray for them. We need to be in prayer left and right for everyone and everything.

Note too that prayer is not some great way of praying on our part, so that God accepts it. No, no, no. It is just a simple prayer to God in all of our weakness, perhaps pain, and even sin. We just pray to God with simple prayers in all our own weakness and brokenness. Maybe having a hard time sometimes even uttering a word, or thinking it matters, but just doing it, and doing it again and again, so that hopefully it becomes a habit of life.

I like to be in the word all day, both reading it, and especially throughout the day going on to the next phrase in another kind of Bible reading. Ironically, I shouldn’t let even that get in the way of praying. With the kind of job I have, I can sometimes easily take the next phrase and shove my small Bible back into my pocket. But other times I’m so busy, I can’t do that. Those can be times where I can practice prayer all the more. However it works out for us, what we need to do is pray, pray, and pray some more. And never stop praying. An important exercise of our faith, and for helping us live in God’s will with others in and through Jesus.

knowing what we’re up against

Yesterday in a helpful message on giving money (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8, 9), Jeff Manion pointed out that it’s important for us to know what we’re up against especially in our own tendencies, as well as simply living in a world with values which might run contrary to our own so that we might feel pressure to conform. Know and grow were maybe the two big words in these two message on giving money in The Grace Effect series.

Yes, and so important, a really good opening up and application of those passages for us today. And I have to think along with that, this is a good word to us in general. We need to know and grow. Know where we’re at, what our goal is in Christ through the word, and what opposition we have. Of course we learn all of this from the word, from scripture, as well as simply from living in life, both. Scripture is the basis for our thinking and action, and life confirms it in various ways.

It’s all ongoing. Don’t we all wish we could simply step into the full and complete victory of God in Jesus? And it’s not like we never do, or in a sense already have in our salvation in Jesus, because that most certainly is the case. But from that we grow, because we’re left in this present existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And make no mistake, the going is not always easy, sometimes brutally hard. And that is in large part to our own tendencies. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who insisted that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and that we would find rest in that yoke with him (Matthew 11:28-30)?

But we know that we’re also up against an enemy which knows our weakness, and seeks to exploit it just at certain times. I definitely, and at times frequently experience that. As we’re told in scripture, we are in a spiritual battle, no doubt (Ephesians 6:10-20).

To be forewarned it to be forearmed, they say. To know does seem to be half the battle. Although in this case, knowing ends up being even more, since we have to understand our struggle, as well as what God’s will in Jesus actually is for us. Too many of us, and too often, as well as too long in our lives, settle into something far less that what God has for us in Jesus. We need to become more and more aware of that, as well as more and more aware of God’s victory in Jesus which is for us now. And how this need never ends in this present existence of the world, the flesh and the devil. But is overcome by the gospel, the good news in Jesus, through the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And incrementally through growth, but a growth which helps us to live fully, more and more in that salvation for us, present now in Jesus.