Devotionals

Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:6-7

Father, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.

Devotionals

Life to the Full

The year was 1918, near the end of World War I, and photographer Eric Enstrom was putting together a portfolio of his work. He wanted to include one that communicated a sense of fullness in a time that felt quite empty to so many people. In his now much-loved photo, a bearded old man sits at a table with his head bowed and his hands clasped in prayer. On the surface before him there is only a book, spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife. Nothing more, but also nothing less.

Some might say the photograph reveals scarcity. But Enstrom’s point was quite the opposite: Here is a full life, one lived in gratitude, one you and I can experience as well regardless of our circumstances. Jesus announces the good news in John 10: “life . . . to the full.” (10). We do a grave disservice to such good news when we equate full with many things. The fullness Jesus speaks of is not measured in worldly categories like riches or real estate, but rather a heart, mind, soul, and strength brimming in gratitude that the Good Shepherd gave “His life for the sheep,” (v. 11) and cares for us and our daily needs. This is a full life, enjoying relationship with God, that’s possible for every one of us.

An Old Clay Pot

I’ve acquired a number of old clay pots over the years. My favorite was excavated from a site dated during Abraham’s time (circa fifteenth century BC). It’s at least one item in our home that is older than I! It’s not much to look at: stained, cracked, chipped, and in need of a good scrubbing. It’s very fragile. I keep it to remind me that I’m just a man made out of mud. Though fragile and weak, I carry an immeasurably precious treasure—Jesus. “We have this treasure [Jesus] in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Paul continues: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (vv. 8–9). Hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. These are the pressures the pot must bear. Not crushed. Not in despair. Not abandoned. Not destroyed. These are the effects of the counteracting strength of Jesus in us.

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus” (v. 10). This is the attitude that characterized Jesus who died to Himself every day. And this is the attitude that can characterize us—a willingness to die to self-effort, trusting solely in the sufficiency of the One who lives in us.

“So that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 10). This is the outcome: the beauty of Jesus made visible in an old clay pot.

Friendship Bench

In the south central African country of Zimbabwe, war trauma and high unemployment can leave people in despair—until they find hope on a bench. A friendship bench. Hopeless people can go there to talk with trained “grandmothers”—elderly women taught to listen to people struggling with depression, known in that nation’s Shona language as kufungisisa, or “thinking too much.”

The Friendship Bench Project is being launched in other places, including Zanzibar, Malawi, London, and New York City. “We were thrilled to bits with the results,” said one London researcher. A New York counselor agreed. “Before you know it, you’re not on a bench, you’re just inside a warm conversation with someone who cares.”

The project evokes the warmth and wonder of talking with our Almighty God. Moses put up not a bench but a tent to commune with God, calling it the Tent of Meeting. There, “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). Joshua, his young assistant, so valued his time with God that he wouldn’t even leave the tent (v. 11).

Today we no longer need a Tent of Meeting. Jesus has brought the Father near. As He told His disciples, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Yes, our God awaits us. He’s our heart’s wisest helper, our understanding Friend. Talk with Him now.

Guiding Children to God

An outspoken atheist believes it’s immoral for parents to teach their children religion as though it were actually true. He even claims that parents who pass along their faith to their children are committing child abuse. Though these views are extreme, I do hear from parents who are hesitant to boldly encourage their children toward faith. While most of us readily hope to influence our children with our view of politics or nutrition or sports, for some reason some of us treat our convictions about God differently.

In contrast, Paul wrote of how Timothy had been taught “from infancy . . . the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy didn’t arrive at faith as an adult through the power of his own, unaided reason. Rather, his mother nurtured his heart toward God; then he “continue[d] in what [he had] learned” (v. 14). If God is life, the source of true wisdom, then it’s vital for us to tenderly cultivate a love for God in our families.

There are many belief systems that are influencing our children. TV shows, movies, music, teachers, friends, the media—each of these carry assumptions (either obvious or under the radar) about faith that exert real influence. May we choose not to be silent. The beauty and grace we’ve experienced compels us to guide our children toward God.

The Greatest Mystery

Before I came to faith in Christ, I had heard the gospel preached but wrestled with Jesus’s identity. How could He offer forgiveness for my sins when the Bible says only God can forgive sins? I discovered I wasn’t alone in my struggles after reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Packer suggests that for many unbelievers the “really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man . . . as truly and fully divine as He was human.” Yet this is the truth that makes salvation possible.

When the apostle Paul refers to Christ as “the image of the invisible God,” he’s saying Jesus is completely and perfectly God—Creator and Sustainer of all things in heaven and earth‒but also fully human (Colossians 1:15–17, 22). Because of this truth, we can be confident that through Christ’s death and resurrection, He has not only carried the consequences for our sins but He also redeemed human nature, so that we—and all of creation—can be reconciled to God (vv. 20–22).

In an amazing, initiating act of love, God the Father reveals Himself in and through His Holy Word by the power of God the Holy Spirit and through the life of God the Son. Those who believe Jesus is Lord are saved . . . because Christ is Emmanuel‒God with us. Hallelujah!

No Line to Love

Sometimes when my Labrador retriever wants attention, he’ll take something of mine and parade it in front of me. One morning as I was writing at the desk with my back turned, Max snatched my wallet and ran off. But realizing I hadn’t seen him do it, he returned and nudged me with his nose—wallet in mouth, eyes dancing, tail wagging, taunting me to play.

Max’s antics made me laugh, but they also reminded me of my limitations when it comes to being attentive to others. So often I’ve intended to spend time with family or friends, but other things occupy my time and awareness; and before I know it the day slips away and love is left undone.

How comforting to know that our heavenly Father is so great that He is able to attend to each of us in the most intimate ways—even sustaining every breath in our lungs and synapse in our brains for as long as we live. He promises His people, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4).

God always has time for us. He understands every detail of our circumstances—no matter how complex or difficult—and is there whenever we call on Him in prayer. We never have to wait in line for our Savior’s unlimited love.

Waiting with the Turtle

Every fall, when the painted turtle senses winter coming, she dives to the bottom of her pond, burying herself in the muck and mud. She pulls into her shell and goes still: her heart rate slows, almost stopping. Her body temperature drops, staying just above freezing. She stops breathing, and she waits. For six months, she stays buried, and her body releases calcium from her bones into her bloodstream, so that she slowly begins even to lose her shape.

But when the pond thaws, she will float up, and breathe again. Her bones will reform, and she will feel the warmth of the sun on her shell.

I think of the painted turtle when I read the psalmist’s description of waiting for God. The psalmist is in a “slimy pit” of “mud and mire,” but God hears him (Psalm 40:2). God lifts him out, and gives him a firm place to stand. God is “my help and my deliverer,” he sings (v. 17).

Perhaps it feels like you’ve been waiting forever for something to change—for a new direction in your career, for a relationship to be restored, for the willpower to break a bad habit, or for deliverance from a difficult situation. The painted turtle and the psalmist are here to remind us to trust in God: God hears, and God will deliver.

Demonstrating Grace

“In moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there are opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance,” the recently bereaved man remarked. “I chose to demonstrate grace.” Pastor Erik Fitzgerald’s wife had been killed in a car accident caused by an exhausted firefighter who fell asleep while driving home, and legal prosecutors wanted to know whether he would seek the maximum sentence. The pastor chose to practice the forgiveness he often preached about. To the surprise of both him and the firefighter, the men eventually became friends.

Pastor Erik was living out of the grace he’d received from God, who had forgiven him all of his sins. Through his actions he echoed the words of the prophet Micah, who praised God for pardoning sin and forgiving wrongdoing (Micah 7:18). The prophet uses wonderfully visual language to show just how far God goes in forgiving His people, saying that He will “tread our sins underfoot” and hurl our wrongdoings into the deep sea (v. 19). The firefighter received a gift of freedom that day, which brought him closer to God.

Whatever difficulty we face, we know that God reaches out to us with loving, open arms, welcoming us into His safe embrace. He “delights to show mercy” (v. 18). As we receive His love and grace, He gives us the strength to forgive those who hurt us—even as Pastor Erik did.

Where Are You Headed?

In northern Thailand, the Wild Boars youth soccer team decided to explore a cave together. After an hour they turned to go back, and found that the entrance to the cave was flooded. Rising water pushed them deeper into the cave, day after day, until they were finally trapped four kilometers inside. When they were heroically rescued two weeks later, many wondered how they had become so hopelessly trapped. Answer: one step at a time.

In Israel, Nathan confronted David for killing his loyal soldier, Uriah. How did the man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) become guilty of murder? One step at a time. David did not go from zero to murder in one afternoon. He warmed up to it, over time, as one bad decision bled into other, worse decisions. It started with a second glance that turned into a lustful stare. He abused his kingly power by sending for Bathsheba, then tried to cover up her pregnancy by calling her husband home from the front. When Uriah refused to visit his wife while his comrades were at war, David decided he would have to die.

We may not be guilty of murder or trapped in a cave of our own making, but we are either moving toward Jesus or toward trouble. Big problems don’t develop overnight. They break upon us gradually, one step at a time. Where are you headed?

Clean Containers

“Hatred corrodes the container that carries it.” These words were spoken by former Senator Alan Simpson at the funeral of George H.W. Bush. Attempting to describe his dear friend’s kindness, Senator Simpson recalled how the 41st president of the United States embraced humor and love rather than hatred in his professional leadership and personal relationships.

I relate to the senator’s quote, don’t you? Oh, the damage done to me when I harbor hatred!

Medical research reveals the damage done to our bodies when we cling to the negative or release bursts of anger. Our blood pressure rises. Our hearts pound. Our spirits sag. Our containers corrode.

In Proverbs 10:12, King Solomon observes, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” The conflict that results from hatred here is a blood feud between rivaling peoples of different tribes and races. Such hatred fuels the drive for revenge so that people who despise each other can’t connect.

By contrast, God’s way of love covers—draws a veil over, conceals, or forgives—all wrongs. That doesn’t mean we overlook errors or enable a wrongdoer. But we don’t nurse the wrong when someone is truly remorseful. And if they never apologize, we still release our feelings to God. We who know the Great Lover are to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).


RSS | My Utmost For His Highest

How Could Someone Be So Ignorant!

Who are You, Lord? —Acts 26:15

“The Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand…” (Isaiah 8:11). There is no escape when our Lord speaks. He always comes using His authority and taking hold of our understanding. Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate insistence…

How Could Someone So Persecute Jesus!

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? —Acts 26:14

Are you determined to have your own way in living for God? We will never be free from this trap until we are brought into the experience of the baptism of “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Stubbornness and self-will will always stab Jesus Christ. It may hurt no…

Look Again and Think

Do not worry about your life… —Matthew 6:25

A warning which needs to be repeated is that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches,” and the lust for other things, will choke out the life of God in us (Matthew 13:22). We are never free from the recurring waves of this invasion. If the frontline…

Look Again and Consecrate

If God so clothes the grass of the field…, will He not much more clothe you…? —Matthew 6:30

A simple statement of Jesus is always a puzzle to us because we will not be simple. How can we maintain the simplicity of Jesus so that we may understand Him? By receiving His Spirit, recognizing and relying on Him, and obeying Him as He brings us the truth of…

Leave Room for God

When it pleased God… —Galatians 1:15

As servants of God, we must learn to make room for Him— to give God “elbow room.” We plan and figure and predict that this or that will happen, but we forget to make room for God to come in as He chooses. Would we be surprised if God came…

God’s Overpowering Purpose

I have appeared to you for this purpose… —Acts 26:16

The vision Paul had on the road to Damascus was not a passing emotional experience, but a vision that had very clear and emphatic directions for him. And Paul stated, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). Our Lord said to Paul, in effect, “Your whole life…

Transformed by Beholding

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… —2 Corinthians 3:18

The greatest characteristic a Christian can exhibit is this completely unveiled openness before God, which allows that person’s life to become a mirror for others. When the Spirit fills us, we are transformed, and by beholding God we become mirrors. You can always tell when someone has been beholding the…

Am I Looking To God?

Look to Me, and be saved… —Isaiah 45:22

Do we expect God to come to us with His blessings and save us? He says, “Look to Me, and be saved….” The greatest difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and His blessings are what make it so difficult. Troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings…

Recall What God Remembers

Thus says the Lord: "I remember…the kindness of your youth…" —Jeremiah 2:2

Am I as spontaneously kind to God as I used to be, or am I only expecting God to be kind to me? Does everything in my life fill His heart with gladness, or do I constantly complain because things don’t seem to be going my way? A person who…

Are You Fresh for Everything?

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." —John 3:3

Sometimes we are fresh and eager to attend a prayer meeting, but do we feel that same freshness for such mundane tasks as polishing shoes?

Being born again by the Spirit is an unmistakable work of God, as mysterious as the wind, and as surprising as God Himself. We don’t know…

Vision and Darkness

When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. —Genesis 15:12

Whenever God gives a vision to a Christian, it is as if He puts him in “the shadow of His hand” (Isaiah 49:2). The saint’s duty is to be still and listen. There is a “darkness” that comes from too much light— that is the time to listen. The story…



     
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