Crumbs of Mercy

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life?

There is a story in the New Testament of a woman who was unfit for God. If that sounds shocking or surprising to you in any way, then you should read further, because her story is your story and my story. In the gospel of Matthew, she is referred to as a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus in search of mercy for her little girl, who she described as cruelly demon possessed. In the story, it appears Jesus abruptly told her she didn’t qualify for mercy since she didn’t come from the right people. Then He said something that seems cold and cruel from our perspective. He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” In just a few moments of conversation, Jesus spoke to a desperate woman, telling her she was unfit for God. If it troubles you that Jesus would say that about a woman in her position, then you need to hear the rest of the story because it has a wonderful ending.

This woman was a person who was distant from God. I’m convinced that Jesus’ approach was very tender, in spite of how it seemed to her in the beginning, or how it might seem to us as we read the story. Jesus is moving her to consider her standing before God. The Jews considered all Gentiles as dogs. It was a cruel term and a failure to understand the heart of the God they worshipped. There is no distinction among peoples or races. We are all equal before God. No person or people group is less important than another. 

However, in the presence of God, against His holiness, His greatness, and His glory, I am no more than a dog. That is to say, I am unfit for God. I don’t qualify for God’s help. I am undeserving and unworthy. That is why this story is not only the story of a troubled woman, it is your story and mine. She was unfit for God. She was distant from Him spiritually. She didn’t know the true God. She was a worshipper of false gods.

One of the great truths the Bible teaches us is that all of us, in spite of race, economic status, or religious standing are unfit for God. You were distant from him from the day you were born. That distance is evidenced by the thoughts and intents of your heart that are only evil continually. According to Jesus, it is what comes out of a person’s heart that pollutes them and renders them unfit for God.

This woman was unfit for God. She was unfit for God’s fellowship. She was unfit for heaven. As she sought help from Jesus, she was asking Jesus for something she didn’t deserve. Likewise, God owes us nothing. All of us are unfit for God.

She was at a point of desperation in her life. As Mark tells the story, he writes, But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Mark 7:25

Here was a woman who was unfit for God, and now, her little daughter had an unclean spirit that defiled her. She was distant from God, and now that distance from God was showing up in the life of her little girl. 

Emotionally and spiritually exhausted, she fell down desperate at the feet of Jesus. I’ve carried a limp and lifeless daughter in my arms into the Emergency Room. I know what it is to stand in the hospital with a child so sick I didn’t know whether she would live or die. So I feel her pain, even as I read this story. Some of you do as well. You know what it is for your child to have a demon; for the devil to get a hold of your precious boy or girl, and you would do anything to see them set free.

That is this mother. Are you desperate? Have you run out of options? Is there some need in your life that has reached critical mass? You want to talk to the Lord about it. You want to bring it to Jesus. But then you look at your own life, and you say, “But I’m like that woman. I am guilty of sin. I am distant from God. I am unclean. I am unfit for God.”  You see, this is your story, and it is mine!

She made a decision to make a move toward God. This woman had trouble in her home. When you have trouble in your home, I know by experience, you also have trouble in your heart. 

God created us all with a conscience. Your conscience tells you if you are right with God or guilty of sin. You may never listen to the voice of your conscience. You might shut it out and not even care until your child is sick or in trouble. The first thing your conscience does is to condemn you as guilty. It blames you for the problem or you blame yourself. As you stand in the middle of difficulty in your home and in your heart, you begin to feel an overwhelming need for God. You may have lived distant from Him all your life, denying His existence and running from His influence. 

This is your story. This is you. This is a picture of your life. This is a picture of your need. This is a picture of what you must do. You need to come to Jesus in your need and as you are. Your only help and only hope is at His feet.

What was that woman thinking that day in the moments before she ran to Jesus? Was she thinking, “I haven’t been living for the Lord. I can’t pray. I can’t ask God to help me. I’m not worthy. I’ve been living distant from God. I’m unclean. I’m unworthy. I’m unfit for God!”

If those were her thoughts, then certainly the Lord’s initial response reinforced them.  In the gospel of Matthew, we are told that initially, Jesus didn’t respond. The disciples were urging Him to send her away, considering her unworthy for His attention. When Jesus finally answered, He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Have you ever applied for some kind of special assistance and been told you didn’t qualify or that your child didn’t qualify or that you were the wrong kind of people or worse that you were a dog? Were you made to feel unclean, unworthy and unfit?

She might have just stomped her feet and walked away in anger. But she didn’t. She fell at His. She risked making this move toward God by coming to Jesus. She heard about Him. She thought: “He can help my little girl.”

In Mark, we see Jesus’ response to her request: “And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Mark 7:27

Two things here. First, Jesus is taking this woman through the process of evaluating her own relationship with God. Was she deserving of God’s help? No. Are you deserving of God’s help? No. You prove it over and over. Your thoughts that rise up out of your heart betray you as being just as unclean and unworthy and unfit as this woman here.

But second, Jesus did this a little more tenderly than it appears. The word He used was not for some mangy street dog, but for the puppy that might sit at your feet as you eat at your table. 

He was painting the same picture that I have painted for you, but He did it in a tender way. Here was a woman who came to Him for help. She made a decision to make a move toward God—even though she was unclean, unworthy, unfit for God. She did so because she was desperate.

Are you ready to make such a step toward God today? Is there some need in your life that presses you to fall at the feet of Jesus and plead with Him for help that only He can give?

What was it that she wanted? What was it that she needed? Matthew tells us that when she initially approached Jesus, she came crying out,“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Matthew 15:2

When Jesus told her that dogs didn’t eat bread from the children’s table, she replied: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28

There is the deep desire of her heart! She wanted crumbs—crumbs of mercy. Whatever He could spare! Whatever He could give.! Whatever drop of mercy He could provide, she believed it would help her little girl. Like that other woman who had the issue of blood who said, “If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I could be healed,” this woman wanted just a few crumbs—a few drops of His mercy.

She was saying, “Lord, I know I’m unworthy. I know I am unclean. I know I don’t deserve anything from you. I know I am unfit. I know who I am. But I also know who You are. All I am asking for you is for a few crumbs of mercy!”

Would that do for you today? Would you settle for a crumb of mercy that fell from the table of Heaven? I believe most of us would. I believe most of us would say, “Lord, I don’t deserve anything from You, but I beg you for mercy.” Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you too have a son or a daughter or a spouse who you believe could be delivered with just a few crumbs of His mercy.

So how do you get that process started? Do what she did. Make a decision to move toward God. Place yourself by faith at the feet of Jesus. Tell Him that He’s right about you. Tell Him you know who you are, but you also know Who He is. Believe that He is willing and able to help you!

Did Jesus give her the deep desire of her heart? He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29

What was so special about her answer. First, it revealed that she understood her own spiritual condition before God. She was distant. She was unworthy. She was unfit. It revealed that she understood her own need for God. She proved that by coming to Jesus. Second, it revealed what she believed about Jesus. She believed He could meet the need in her life as no one else could. Third, in placing herself at His feet, she was coming in surrender, not based on her own worth, but simply on her need for mercy. And fourth, in coming to Jesus for help and hope she was placing her faith in His person and in His power.

So Jesus said, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29 It’s done. It’s over. I’ve done it. I answered your prayer. I met your need. Instantly. Miraculously. Just what you asked for because of your answer. The demon is gone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could exercise the faith of this woman. She knew who she was and what she was. She didn’t come to Jesus based on her worth. She came as she was, and in her need, looking for just a crumb of mercy. And when she went home, look what she found.

And going back to her home,  she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.   Mark 7:30

Imagine the joy in that mother’s heart when she went home and found her little girl no longer tormented by that demon. Her little girl delivered. Her little girl whole.

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart. Do you need to put yourself and that need at the feet of Jesus? Do you have a need like that? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life? Are any of us worthy? No. But all of us are needy!

How desperate are you for the Lord’s blessing? Are you desperate enough to come to Jesus? This woman was so desperate that she came publicly. Her need was so great that she clamored for just a crumb of His blessing. How about you? Are you willing to identify yourself as the person whose need and faith moves you to come to Jesus? All of us are unworthy. Jesus wants all of us to know that. He also wants us to realize that all of us are needy! Ultimately, He wants us to know that He is the One who can meet the deepest need of every heart!

Photo by Monika Grabkowska

Out of the Depths: Surviving the Dungeon of the Soul

The lowest spot on earth is the Dead Sea.  Geologists tell us that it sinks a little lower every day.  Some estimates say it is sinking at a rate of thirteen inches per year. But in the ocean is a place even darker and deeper. No light has ever penetrated its darkness.  The deepest part of the ocean is called the Mariana Trench.  If you dropped Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the surface of the earth, into this part of the ocean, the top of Everest would be more than a mile below the surface.  The pressure at that depth is eight tons per square inch. That is like trying to hold sixteen thousand pounds with just two fingers, while an equivalent amount of weight is bearing down upon every square inch of your body.

Have you ever felt like you were living in the lowest spot on earth? Like the Dead Sea, you sink a little more every day.  Like being in the depths of the Marianna Trench, the pressures are almost more than you can bear. Is that what life is like for you? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? If so, you can understand the feelings of David when he wrote these words.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, O Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  Psalm 130:1-41    Out of the depths I have cried… Psalm 130:1

David Was In The Depths

Was it the depths of sin?  Was it the depths of despair? Was it the depths of danger? Was it the depths of poverty? Was it the depths of sorrow? The depths have been described as that point in your life where: “Earth is hollow,  heaven empty, the air heavy, every form a deformity, every sound a discord, the past a gloom the present a puzzle, the future a horror.” C. H. Spurgeon:  The Treasuries of David

The depths describes the very bottom of your circumstances, the very bottom of life.  It is as low as a person can go. That’s where David was. He was in the depths!

What Can You Do in the Depths?

You can cry. And most people do. The depths is the lowest of all places in life. But it is more than a place. It is an attitude—an outlook—one of the most intense hopelessness and despair.  It is the dungeon of the soul.  How does a person survive such a place, such a period, such a season of life?

Even strong men cry in the depths, for in the depths, a man realizes that he has come to the end of his own resources—that he has nowhere to turn. So in the depths you cry.  You weep secretly, sometimes silently, sometimes invisibly to those around you. David was in the depths, and there in the depths he cried.

To Whom Do You Cry in the Depths?

In the depths, that deep, dark, depressing dungeon of the soul, one can conclude that all is utterly hopeless. A person might decide that there is nowhere to turn, that there is no place to cry, that there is no ear that will hear. We can even decide that God’s shoulder is not available to cry on. But David said, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Psalm 130:1

Not only so, but in the depths, a person might detest himself or herself, and so, feel that even God loathes them and their condition. But listen to what Paul said when he asked, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

The depths can’t separate us from our Lord’s love or His presence. David was in the depths.  And there he cried, but not just into his pillow. He cried to the Lord! C.H. Spurgeon said, “Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places.  Deep places beget deep devotion.  Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation.” 

It was out of the depths of slavery in Egypt that the children of Israel began to groan earnestly.  “They sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried out..” Exodus 2:23b  But while their souls were chained in the dungeon of the depths, their prayers took flight. Their cry for help rose up to God, and God took action to initiate their deliverance!

Out of some pit of life, whether despair, or sin or sorrow—out of those depths, David cried to the Lord. Could it be that you are the person in the depths—that deep, dark, depressing, dungeon of the soul?  Are your eyes weak from sorrow?  Is your pillow wet with your tears?  Then turn those cries heavenward.  Your situation may be desperate, but God’s love, compassion and salvation reach even into the depths.  

How Does a Person Come to Be in the Depths?

When I find myself in the depths, I usually get there as a result of my own folly.  In my own personal experience, I have found that sin will take you to the depths! It will take you deeper in the depths  than you want to go. It will keep you longer in the depths  than you want to stay. The depths of sin will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.

When I find myself in the depths, I am never there alone.  Satan is always there to assault me and to remind me of my faults and failures.  He is there heaping sorrow upon sorrow and discouraging me from calling on my God who is mighty to save. The same is true of all of God’s people. The enemy not only accuses us of being unworthy to call on God, He accuses God as either weak or unwilling to save us from our despair. He reads in our hearing the record of our sins. The devil keeps a detailed record of our sins against God so that he can accuse us, and dishearten us, and accuse us before God, pointing at our sin list with his crooked finger. The devil keeps a list. But listen to what David said about God.

David said, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,  O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You,  That You may be feared.”

If God held a grudge—if my sins were kept in His heart all would be hopeless. Make no mistake, there is a record, but against that record stands the promise of full and free forgiveness. Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.” And Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13-14 that he has “forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Yes—there is a record!  But there is also a Redeemer!! So, when in the depths, it is not necessary to plead your merit when pleading for God’s forgiveness.  You have no merit.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of God’s mercy and grace.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of the Cross! No dungeon is so dark or deep that the Savior can’t see and save!  David was in the depths.   He cried to the Lord—daring not to stand on his own character—but on the grace and mercy of the Lord.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Where Does One Wait While in the Depths?

David waited in the depths.  Bombarded by his doubts—bludgeoned by his fears—there he cried out to God—hanging on precariously as he waited for God’s deliverance and hoped for God’s help. There in the depths, he cried for God’s mercy, while clinging to God’s word.

Sometimes, that is all that we have in the depths. We have just one precious promise, just one verse to cling to.  Tell me what else is there—when your money is gone—when your health is gone—when your wife has told you that tomorrow she’ll be gone—when your hope is gone—what is there to hold on to?  David held on to the promises of God!

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,  and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

Can Anything Good Come Out of the Depths?

Can any lesson be learned in the depths of distance from God, in the depths of disobedience, in the depths of discouragement? Remember Jonah. How deep did Jonah sink in the depths? Jonah described his circumstances as having sunk to the belly of Hell. He prayed, The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.nI went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.When my life was fainting away,  I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. JONAH 2:5-7

God delivered even Jonah from the depths. In the throes of the desperation that you now experience, you may be wondering if any good could come from it.  It seems right now that it will destroy you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But in the depths, David learned to call on God. He was forced to look to God.  He was forced to pray. And he was forced to wait. Listen to his testimony:

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love  and with Him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. 130:7-8

What David might never have known in life’s noon, he discovered in life’s midnight.  The depths is a place where a person can meet God!What secret is God teaching you as you travel through the tremendous soul-crushing pressures of the depths?  Do you feel as if you are living through the lowest spot of life? Like the dead sea, do you feel like you sink a little more every day? Like being in the depths Marianna Trench. do the pressures seem almost more than you can bear? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? Then cry out to the Lord. He plumbs the depths and the darkness. Neither height nor depth can separate you from his love.  

Photo by Alice Alinari

Decisions

The root word from which we get our English word “decide” comes from the latin cis. It originally meant to cut or kill. Isn’t it still true? When I have to make a decision, I realize one has to die. I have to reject one and embrace the other. For that reason, decisions are hard for me. I prefer to be presented with two choices, not ten from which to choose one. More than once I had to make a decision that would impact my future and my family. The bigger the decision, the more tentative I become. In Isaiah 42:16, God gives the promise of His guidance. I choose to trust God’s guidance over my own in the decision making process.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them, I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains.   These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.  Isaiah 42: 16

This is one of the most remarkable promises in the Bible. It is precious to those of us who know it and have needed it at various points in our lives. Consider with me the precious riches of this promise.

First, the basis of this promise rests entirely on God Himself. 

Five times God affirms His determination to fulfill this promise. I will lead the blind. I will guide them. I will make darkness into light. I will do it.  I will not leave them undone. There are some promises in the Bible that are conditioned upon our obedience. This promise rests entirely on the grace of God. He shoulders the complete responsibility of bringing it to pass. That gives me confidence that God will help me when I don’t know which way to choose. He will show me which way needs to be dead to me and the way that He wants me to take, even if that way seems difficult and fraught with danger.

Second, this is a promise made to the helpless.  

How helpless were those to whom the promise was made? He calls them the blind. We might call this spiritual blindness, but it is also physical blindness. It is the blindness we face when confronted by one of the passages of life or by some major life decision. I find it is not failure to say, “I don’t know which way to turn.” It is an acknowledgement of the truth that we all face because of who we are and the limits of human knowledge. I am blind to the future, whether it is the near or distant future.  I don’t know what is around the corner of my life.  Walking by faith is essentially walking blind, admitting our absolute and utter dependence on God.  

Third, this is the promise of God’s leadership.

The question in my mind, more often than not, is: “How will I get from where I am to where God wants me to be.”  The more I ask that question, the more I begin to look down the familiar roads of God’s leadership.  I begin to think, “Well this is how God worked before.  Perhaps this is the way God will work again.”  I look for God’s activity in ways that I have known it in the past—ways with which I am comfortable—because of prior experience.

Here, God promises to lead but by a way that is new to us.  Not only is it new to us, it is completely unknown to us.  More often than not, God’s leadership comes to us in ways we don’t expect. It takes us by surprise.

How will you get from where you are, to where God wants you to be?  You have God’s promise that He will lead you. When you have God’s promise, that is all you need. You don’t need a road map. All you need is Him! In the study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby said, “If you follow Jesus one day at  a time, you will always be right in the center of His will. For me, that was one of the greatest discoveries of my life. However, I still must trust Jesus and His wisdom over my own.

Fourth, it includes the promise of God’s presence.

A leader may only point the way. A guide is someone who walks with you in the way.  A leader points you in the right direction and leaves you to go there on your own. A guide ensures you make it there safely by placing on Himself the responsibility for your journey. How will you make it from where you are to where God wants you to be? Wait on God and His leadership. Don’t worry or fret when you don’t know the way.  God is your guide and He will not leave you until He has done what He promised you.  

Fifth, God accepts full responsibility for the risks involved in following Him.  

There will be dark places, and there will be rugged places.  During those times, it isn’t up to you to provide light in the dark or to make the rugged smooth.  Your responsibility is simply to keep walking when the way is dark, and to keep trusting when the way is rough.  As you face these difficulties with your trust in Him, God will make a way where there seems to be no way. Remember, Jesus promised, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

If you are standing on the verge of some life-changing decision, it is my prayer that the God who made this promise will reveal His plan in the midst of your circumstances. I pray that you might know His presence with you, even as you read these words. Trust Him! I have followed His leadership for over forty years. Many times I have failed Him, but He has never failed me!

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi

One Hour with Jesus

Did you know that if you get 8 hours of sleep every night, you spend 4 months of every year sleeping? If you sleep that much who needs a vacation? If yo,u watch television three hours a day, you spend a month and a half of every year just watching television. If you work forty hours a week, or more, you spend about three months of every year working.  Check your screen time on your phone. I don’t know which side you are of average, but according to statistics, the average person spends about four hours a day on their phone. That translates into two months of every year.

So you spend four months sleeping, three months working, two months on the cell phone, a month and a half watching television. That is the way you spend  over ten months out of every year. If you goof off another four hours of every day that’s the other two months. And that is your life.

In regard to that, allow me to ask you a question, in all of the time that you spend—however you spend it—have you thought about spending one hour with Jesus? How you spend your time is none of my business. But the chances are good that there is a situation in your life right now that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus?  But you didn’t. You were too tired—or too sleepy—or too busy—or too interested in television—or too distracted by sin to spend one hour with Jesus.

And now you have this situation in your life—and you wonder—“If I’d only prayed more and spent less time surfing the web—if I’d only read my Bible more and spent less time watching sports—if I’d only thought about Jesus more than I thought about  _______!”

Consider these words spoken by Jesus to his disciples. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

First, It Was a Personal Question.

How many disciples were in the garden with Jesus? There were three—Peter, James, and John. But Jesus was especially disappointed with Peter.  So He singled Peter out with this question. Jesus asked the question to an individual. Perhaps He will ask that same question to you.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 

Did He single you out as you read it? Did He call your name? As soon as you saw the verse, did you somehow know that Jesus had put His finger on your heart?

Why Peter? Why call his name? Why question him? Do you know the last thing that Jesus said to Peter before they went into the garden?

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permissionto sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” Luke 22:31-34

This is not only a Personal Question, it is a Question About Prayer.

There was something Jesus knew that Peter didn’t know. Peter needed to pray because of a situation that was coming into his life. One hour spent with Jesus would make all the difference in the world in how He handled it.

Has the Lord called you to pray recently? Has He urged you to adjust your priorities so that you could spend time with Him? Now, I am not talking about time at church. Time at church is not the same as time with Jesus. Do you think Jesus called you to pray because of something He knew that you didn’t? There is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome.

This was a personal question, directed specifically to Peter. And it was a question about prayer. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?”

Couldn’t you—of all people—you who I warned—you who I personally prayed for—couldn’t you have spent one hour with Me—rather than sleeping—rather than surfing the web—rather than talking on your cell phone—rather than….

Not only was it a personal question, not only was it a question about prayer:

It Was A Question About Priorities.

How would you like to take a two week all expenses paid retreat with just one other person? Those two weeks would make all the difference in the world in how you looked at life—in the way you handled your problems—in the way things turn out for you in the future.  Can you give up two weeks?  Can you spare the time?  Can you afford it?  Would you be willing to spend two weeks with Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, or some other financial or business entrepreneur who could give you business or financial insight? You might. But what do any of those people know about the needs that are going to arise in your life and family. How can one of them alert you to some impending crisis that is just around the corner of your life? 

The two week opportunity I am talking about is absolutely free. There’s no travel involved.  You won’t have to take a day off work or spend any time away from your family. All you have to do is to commit to spend One Hour with Jesus. One hour every day for 365 days. Do that and in the course of a year you will spend the equivalent of 15 days, 24 hours a day with Jesus.

Is Jesus asking you for that commitment? Remember, there is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome. So how do you need to adjust your priorities so that you can spend time with Jesus?  Why? Why is it so important? Why was it important for Peter?

Jesus said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

This Question Concerns the Protection Of Your Life And Your Family.

Jesus only recently warned Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift him like wheat. Do you know what happens when wheat is sifted? The impurities come to the surface. Everything that is ugly and dirty comes to light. Is that what Satan has planned for you? Is that what he plans to do to your family? Could that be why Jesus has called you to spend time in prayer? Watch and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. Jesus knew what was around the corner in Peter’s life. He knew that a disaster was coming—a failure of Peter’s faith—an embarrassing, humiliating, heart-breaking failure.

But Peter didn’t have to fail! Peter could pray! He could spend an hour with Jesus. But Peter didn’t pray. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t adjust his priorities.

Why didn’t you pray? Why haven’t you answered the Lord’s call to prayer? Will you answer it today, before Satan sifts you and your faith fails, and things that are ugly and dirty come to the surface of your life for all the world to see?

The warning that Jesus gave Peter is a warning that most of us have turned into an excuse. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I know I ought to pray. The spirit is willing—but I just can’t seem to spare that hour of sleep—or give up that hour of television—or sacrifice that hour of spare time. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

How did Jesus know that ? Because He was flesh, just like you and me. He was flesh for forty days in the wilderness, and when Satan came to sift Him in His weakness, His spirit said no to Satan’s suggestion to turn stones to bread. And His spirit said yes to God.

He did that every day. Many times He sacrificed sleep getting up a great while before day to go out to a lonely place to pray. Jesus knew that Peter would have to say no to sleep to watch and pray. But he didn’t. He slept and didn’t pray. And just hours later, Peter was in a courtyard where Jesus was taken to be questioned. Satan was there waiting for him.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk ]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

That was the situation that Jesus warned him about. That is why Peter needed to adjust his priorities so that he could spend one hour with Jesus. Now, what situation exists in your life that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus? What situation has caused things that are ugly and dirty to surface in your life—that might never have surfaced if you had spent one hour with Jesus?

What situation has entered your life that when it happened you felt as if you were looking squarely into the face of Jesus—and you—like Peter wept bitterly because you fully understood that it might have been different—it might never have happened—if only you had spent one hour with Jesus.

You must adjust your priorities so that you can spend ONE HOUR WITH JESUS.

Finally, This Is A Question That Probes The Heart Of Your Relationship With Lord Jesus.  

Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the group, and He said, why could you—you of all people—you men of all men—you who have I have shared so much of my life with—why could you not spend one hour with Me.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart concerning his personal relationship with Him. Let me ask you some final questions? When is the last time you spent even five minutes with Jesus? Maybe its been a while. Are things messed up inside you? Are there personal and spiritual disappointments that are directly related to your failure to spend time with Jesus? Only you can answer that question. 

Now let me ask you another question: Are things broken in and around your life? Relationships? People? Your Finances? Your home? Your job? Would those things be broken if you had spent time with Jesus instead of spending time_________? Last question: Could things be different, if from today you began spending time with Jesus? If what you have been doing is not working, why not try spending one hour with Jesus.

Photo by Agê Barros

When Your Soul Has Had Enough

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

The book of Psalms is a study of the highs and lows of life. Many of those moments occurred in the life of David. We are privileged to know about them because David laid them before the Lord in prayer. Apparently, he often went to some quiet spot, where he could be alone with his harp and pour out his heart to the Lord. An old guitar has been therapy for me. Sometimes I sit down with one of David’s Psalms or with some other passage of Scripture and bare my own heart before the Lord. (In a spot where no one can hear me but Him, of course.)

But Psalm 88, is not written by David. This is one of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah, the singers of the Old Testament. I think it is normal that those assigned to sing might write a Psalm. But this Psalm is unique out of all 150. It is believed to be the saddest. Now does this mean that the guys who wrote it lost their faith or lost hope in God? If you had a chance to read my journal, you would find that there are some days that I seem deeply discouraged. I expect this is one of those times for these men—or perhaps just for the one man who retreated to some lonely place and wrote it. There is a sense of frustration. 

It seems whoever wrote it had been praying for some time, apparently in the midst of difficulties that left him spent both physically and spiritually. He is overwhelmed. His prayer is a cry of desperation, and an urgent plea for God’s intervention.

O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. Psalm 88:1-3 (The last word is variously translated, grave, death, and in The Message,the edge of hell.”)

Do the words of this Psalm meet you where you are?

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

That statement started me on a search through the Bible looking for similar expressions.  In Psalm 119:28 ,the psalmist said “My soul weeps because of grief.” It just reminds me that there are times when trouble goes soul deep.  Is some present crisis having an impact on your soul?

In Isaiah 38:15, as Hezekiah dealt with a life-threatening illness, he related his own bitterness of soul.  Experiences that sour the life can also sour your spiritual life.  Later,  in that same chapter, Hezekiah came to the realization God was Sovereign over his circumstances. So he prayed, “Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.  Isaiah 38:17

In Lamentations 3:17, in the rubble of what was left of war-torn Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.”

Sometimes trouble sweeps into the life of a family, leaving them physically and financially devastated. Like a raging tornado, it took just a matter of seconds for their whole life to be in shambles. The emotional and spiritual trauma that follows leaves them feeling as if the storm is still raging.

Job describes what life is like for the person in bitterness of soul.  It is a continual misery.  It is one calamity right on the heels of another. I sigh when food is put before me, and my groans pour out like water. 25 For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. 26 I cannot relax or be still;I have no rest, for trouble comes. Job 3:24-26 HCSB

There are periods of life when trouble seems relentless.  It won’t stop coming.  Are you in one of those periods?  Has the strain taken a toll on your relationship with God? Five times, in the book that bears his name, Job describes himself as being in bitterness of soul.  

Psalm 88 is the cry of a man who has gone about as far as he can go under the weight of difficulty and discouragement. At the point of absolute despair, he cries: O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before Thee.  Let my prayer come before Thee, Incline Thine ear to my cry!  For my soul has had enough troubles…  Psalm 88:1-3

Mary was told that a time would come that she would endure a sorrow so deep that it would be like a sword that pierced her soul. Have you had a sorrow like that in your life?  Do you have one now? Have you experienced some soul piercing sorrow?

As we near Mother’s Day, I think about a woman in the Bible named Hannah. She was childless.  She prayed and prayed for a child, but no answer came. An adversary ridiculed her constantly because she was barren. Finallly, when she could stand it no longer, she cried out God. When Eli the priest saw her praying, he thought she was drunk. She replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  1 Samuel 1:15 She was praying out of her great anguish and sorrow. Her soul had had enough.

Peter said that we should be alert to all the different passions and desires within us because they can wage war against the soul. Spiritual defeat can lead to spiritual despair.  When Jesus was in the garden, He prayed saying that His soul was very sorrowful, even to death.  Mark 14:34

If something can bring sorrow to the soul of Jesus, who am I to think that there are not times when my own soul will be overwhelmed. It is clear that the Lord understands when my soul has had all it can stand and teeters on the edge of collapse.

Two expressions in Psalm 107 describe the plight of a person overwhelmed by difficulty. Their soul fainted within them, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.  Psalm 107: 5b-6

Their soul melted away in their misery.  They reeled and staggered like a drunken man. They were at their wits end.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distresses.  He caused the storm to be still so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:26b-29

Is that where you are?  Is your soul about ready to melt and faint away? Are you at your wits end? The Psalmist cried out in Psalm 88:3  “My soul has had enough troubles.”  He was at his wits end.  He desperately needed the Lord’s intervention in his circumstances.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 31:7 I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul.  

God said to the prophet Jeremiah, who often found himself spiritually exhausted, 25For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”  Jeremiah 31:25  (ESV) In The Message, that verse reads:  I refresh tired bodies; I restore tired souls.  

Is that what you need God to do for you? Your soul has had enough!  You’ve gone about as far as you can go and carried about all you can carry.  Now you just need God to carry you.  

I was two feet tall when I was born. Well, I was 24 inches long. In other words, I was a rather large baby. Before I reached elementary school, I was nearly five feet tall. I remember the day my dad told me that I had was just too big for him to carry. That hurt. I was a little boy on the inside. When life overwhelms me, I get that feeling all over again that I and my problems might be a little much for God to carry. After all, I am a grown man now! Doesn’t God expect me to be able to carry myself and my own problems?

Thankfully, I and my problems never get too big for God to carry. I love the promise God gave to Isaiah, “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

If you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, find a quiet spot. Relax your body, and rest your soul into the arms of God. He knows when your soul has had enough before you do. He is willing and able to carry you.

Photo by Ali Yahya

Washing the Fence

In 2007, we bought an acre of land at the end of a cattle farm and built our first house. A few years later, a white vinyl fence was erected along the edge of our property. It looked so nice. But after that fence had been up for several years, it began to look pretty dirty. So, I set aside a Saturday morning to wash that fence. I wanted my property to look nice and the fence to be restored to its former glory. So, I got my hose and my bucket, some brushes and some bleach, and I went to work.

I learned some interesting spiritual lessons that day while I was washing that fence. That fence became a picture of my own life and my relationship with the Lord. Before I share what I learned, let me remind you of what Jesus said to the Pharisees.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so that the outside of it may become clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.    Matthew 23:25-28

As a pastor, I fall into the category of being a “religious leader”. I understand how easy it is for hypocrisy to creep into one’s life and take the place of a genuine relationship with God. I have a public life that everyone can see. There is also a part of my life that, other than myself, only God sees. That is true about us all. Now, let me tell you what God showed me while I was washing the fence.

First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about but the two sides of their lives. Of course, Jesus didn’t use a fence for his example. He used a cup and a tomb. Either of these can be clean on the outside and not be clean on the inside. An unwashed cup can easily happen. No one wants to drink from a dirty cup. But a whitewashed tomb is a deliberate effort to put a pretty appearance on something one knows to be filled with death and decay. My fence was a picture of my life. While the whole fence needed to be washed, one side was considerably dirtier than the other. I suppose there are times when that is true about you. However, it should be particularly concerning, when we knowingly polish the outside in an effort to hide what’s within. First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other.

Second, when my Saturday morning fence washing project started, I had to ask myself a question. Did I want both sides of the fence to be clean, or just the part that the public could see? I could let the fence have the perception of being clean to the public, while leaving other parts, not so visible, to remain dirty. 

What about in our spiritual lives? There is the outside that people see and the inside that only you and God know. Do you want both sides to be clean or just the part the public can see? I had to make the decision about my fence. But I also had to make it about my life.

I know we shouldn’t be concerned so much about what other people think, but when you are a pastor, that is pretty important. That is your witness, your reputation, and your character in the presence of other people. First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see.

Third, once I started that Saturday morning project, it took longer than I thought, because the fence was far more dirty than I knew.

I anticipated it would take me a couple of hours. But it took the whole day to wash both sides of that seventy-five-yard-long, three-rail fence. Likewise, there are depths of depravity within us that will go undiscovered unless we tackle the task of cleaning both the outside and inside of our spiritual lives. How long has it been since you washed both sides of your spiritual fence?  When you get down to the task of addressing the need for spiritual cleansing, you will discover that a simple rinsing will not wash way the filth that clings to your heart and soul. Your heart may be far more dirty than you know.  First, the fence had two sides, and one side was dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew. 

It was so dirty, that washing that fence turned into an exhausting process. I was physically spent by the time I finished. I made the following commitment to myself at the end of that long day. The next time I wash the fence, I will ask for help.

A clean heart and life require the washing work of the Lord Jesus. You simply can’t do it on your own. You can give the appearance of being clean, if your concern is only what the public can see. But be warned, the filth on the inside has a way of making its way to the surface.  My mom has a problem at home. A fungus infected the wood on the underside of the house. It was not something we could see. Nor was it something the public could see. We first learned of it when the floor collapsed in one of the rooms. Hidden sin causes dry rot of the soul. Eventually, there will be a collapse that will show up in the outward life. 

Cleaning your heart and life will require the help of the Lord Jesus. In Psalm 51, David asked for God’s help to cleanse his heart. He said, “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Only God could create a clean heart for David. Can your heart be restored to its former purity and glory? Not by your hand. You will need to ask for help.

First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew. Fourth, I made a commitment that the next time I cleaned the fence I would ask for help.

When we built our house on that acre of pasture, an electric fence kept the cattle out of our yard. A few years later, another owner purchased the cattle farm. One day, as he was passing by our house, he saw our grandchildren playing in the yard. Concerned that they might be hurt by the electric fence, he had the white vinyl fence built on the property line. He said, “It will be safer for your grandchildren, and it will make your property look better.” He was kind and generous to do such a thing, and I appreciated it a lot.

Now you understand one of the main reasons I wanted to wash the fence. It belonged to someone else. I wanted the owner of the fence to be pleased. That is the final lesson I learned. My fence belonged to someone else and so does my life. I have a responsibility to keep my life clean, not just because I want the public to see it. God is the owner of my life. I want my life to be clean to His eyes and pleasing to Him.

Is that true about your life? If not, what steps do you need to take to conduct a thorough spiritual examination? When you do, you will find that your spiritual fence has two sides and one will be dirtier than the other. You will have to decide if you want the whole fence to be clean or only the part that the public can see. Be prepared when you start the process, because it may take far longer than you know. Be willing to ask for help, because this is not something you can accomplish on your own. The cleansing you need will only be accomplished with the help of the Lord Jesus. And always remember, your life belongs to someone else. He has been gracious enough to give it to you, and He expects it to be clean.

Photo by Scott Webb

The Way Back to God

Perhaps the most evil couple in the Bible was a husband and wife named Ahab and Jezebel. They worshiped idols rather than the One True God. They hated God’s people as well as God’s prophets. As King and Queen, they sought to turn the nation away from God. The judgment of God came upon their lives in graphic fashion. Nevertheless, their legacy continued in the lives of their children and grandchildren. Wherever their descendants went, they were a contagious and contaminating influence. One example is their daughter, Athaliah. She married Jehroam, the king of Judah. Jehoram’s father was the godly king Jehoshaphat. However, Scripture records his departure from the ways of God due to the influence of his wife, Athaliah.

Her evil influence infected the king and the nation. It was likely due to her influence that Jehoram killed all his own brothers once the throne was secure in his hands. Jehoram and Athaliah reigned only eight years as king and queen. Then Jehoram died a horrible death due to the judgment of God that fell upon him. The Bible records that he departed with no one’s regret. 2 Chronicles 21:20

After his death, Athaliah continued to spread the contagion of evil. Her youngest son, Ahaziah became king in his father’s place, only because all her older sons were killed at the hands of an enemy. The Bible summarized Ahaziah’s life in this way, He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly.  2 Chronicles 22:3

Later, Athaliah would lose some of her grandsons as a result of the continued outpouring of God’s judgment against her evil influence. Even her youngest son, Ahaziah, fell victim to God’s wrath. Nevertheless, her heart never skipped a beat in her devotion to evil.

Why was Athaliah so devoted to evil? Why was it that she had such animosity toward the Lord? Certainly, it was in part due to the influence of her wicked mother and father, Ahab and Jezebel. But perhaps it was also reflected in the name they gave her, the name Athaliah. It means, afflicted of the Lord.They raised her with a hatred for God built into her own name. Now, because of her great wickedness, her whole family was afflicted by God’s judgment.

Even then, Athaliah didn’t change. In 2 Chronicles 22:10 we read, Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah. She killed the remainder of her own grandchildren so that she could be the sole ruler of the land. For six more years, her wicked influence held sway over the land of Judah and over the lives of God’s people.

However, in the providence of God, there was one little grandson spared from Athaliah’s wrath. His name was Joash. He was hidden from Athaliah, and carried to the safety of the house of God. There he grew up under the protection, nurture, and influence of a priest whose name was Jehoiada.

From this point forward, there are three characters who will be our concern. First, there is Athaliah, whose name means afflicted of the Lord. She represents the influence of evil that often infects the life of God’s people. Is there an Athaliah in your life?  Is there some evil influence that spreads like a contagion in your life? That influence will seek to remove every connection to God you have in your life, seeking to be sole ruler. 

The second character that will concern us is this priest, Jehoiada. It is important for you to be aware of the meaning of his name. His name means “The Lord Knows.” So, let me say up front, if there is an Athaliah in your life, the Lord knows.

Third, there is the little boy Joash. Joash represents the rightful king who must be placed on the throne. His name means: The Lord has bestowed.

Every day that Athaliah ruled the nation, all she had to do was to look at the temple of God and think about the priest who stood there as the leader of God’s people. Every time she did, she would remember that Jehoiada meant—the Lord Knows.  The Lord knew every evil plan in her heart.  He knew how she and her parents had devastated His people and allowed His house to fall into disrepair.  But the Lord also knew that the tables were about to turn, and this woman, Jezebel’s daughter, whose name meant, afflicted of the Lord—would soon be deposed and destroyed by the sword of the Lord.

Jehoida was a man who remained faithful to the Lord during one of the most wicked periods in the nation’s history.  The first thing that this faithful priest did to lead these people back to God was to call the people and the king to a covenant of commitment.

Then Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king, that they would be the LORD’s people.  2 Chronicles 23:16

Remember, these were a people whose lives had been governed by Athaliah, that contagious influence of evil. Their own lives had been infected by that influence. Some of them, like the people of Elijah’s day, became unfaithful to the Lord. Now came time to make a new covenant and a new commitment.

This was a turning point in their history.  It was a day of decision.  The challenge of Jehoiada, for both king and people, was that they commit themselves to be a people of the LORD alone.  

Only then can we truly call ourselves His people. Is it time to renew that covenant in your church? Is it time to renew it in your life? We have a tendency to try to steer our lives in the direction of our own choosing. When that happens, we usually wind up in the ruts of the past because we always choose the path of least resistance. Not so with Jehoiada. In his mind and in his heart, the LORD was the only one qualified to lead His people. He was priest, Joash was king, but the LORD would be their leader.

There was a second step that Jehoiada took that set the people of God on a course to Revival.  And all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down, and they broke in pieces his altars and his images, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.  2 Chronicles 23:17

Can you imagine the contradiction that must have existed in that community? On one side of town was the house of Baal.  On the other side of town was the house of the LORD.  Without a doubt, there were people who were involved in both.  Jezebel took the holy things from the house of the LORD and began using them to facilitate worship in the house of Baal. Athaliah, like her mother, was a worshipper of the false god Baal. There were those among God’s own people who followed her lead.

Jehoiada sought to lead God’s people to a new commitment.  Remember, his name means “the Lord knows.”And the Lord did know!  He knew who spent more time in the temple of an idol than they spent in the temple of the Lord.  

For them to be the Lord’s people that temple of idols had to fall. Its presence needed to be removed from that community, and its hold over their lives needed to be broken.

But what about your life?  Is it your sincere desire to belong to the Lord?  Is it your sincere desire to be a person after His heart? Do you claim Jesus as Lord of your life, while at the same time holding idols in your hearts, having made your heart a temple of worship for idolatry?

There was a time when God confronted the people of Ezekiel’s day with the two-sided nature of their commitment.  Outwardly they gave all the appearance of being committed to the Lord. But God gave Ezekiel insight into the secret lives of God’s people.  And this is what God said:“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?…. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations.”’ Ezekiel 14:3; 6

Do you have a split-personality spiritually?  The time has come to choose which you will follow and who you will serve?  Idols have no business in the sanctuary of the Lord.  Your heart is that sanctuary. You see, the Lord knows!

Not only did Jehoiada lead them in casting down their idols:He led them in a return to true worship.

Moreover, Jehoiada placed the offices of the house of the Lord under the authority of the Levitcal priests, whom David had assigned over the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses—with rejoicing and singing according to the order of David.  2 Chronicles 23:18

When worship becomes routine, it faces the danger of becoming a ritual.  The people who are more apt to succumb to that danger than others, are those who are the most involved.  When worship becomes routine and ritual, the heart no longer has a part in what happens.  When you separate the heart from worship, that is the beginning of a great compromise.  

The first thing you compromise is the quality of your own commitment.  Whereas there might have been a time when you couldn’t teach or preach or sing or pray with the presence of sin in your life it comes to the point where it no longer stings your heart to do so.    

The second thing you compromise is the character of the worship itself.  It is trivialized by your attitude and your actions.  Those most likely to be guilty, are those who are most involved.  That is exactly what had happened in the time of Jehoiada.

Jehoiada recognized that in his own life and in the lives of others.  So he made it a point to bring the service of God’s house back to the order God intended.  Jehoiada brought heart back to worship so that it would be more than empty ritual.  Jesus said, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. John 4:23

Do you worship in spirit and in truth? Did you know that the Lord seeks that kind of worship from His people? Does your singing and your service and your praying spring from the passion of a heart that stands on tiptoe reaching for God, or is it ritual?

The reforms led by Jehoiada sought to address more than just form and function.  Because of his leadership there was a renewed emphasis on holiness.

He stationed the gatekeepers of the house of the Lord, so that no one would enter who was in any way unclean.  2 Chronicles 23:19

Are you in any way unclean? The absence of holiness excluded the people of the Old Testament from worship.  In the Old Testament, the idea of clean and unclean was more ceremonial and outward in nature.  In the New Testament, it is not related to what you touch or what you eat but who you are.  It is related to outward acts but also to the thoughts and intents of the heart.  

Because we no longer understand holiness of the heart, we no longer value holiness of the life.  My heart is to be the sanctuary of God.  I am not to allow anything into my heart that is in any way unclean.  Are you guarding the gates of your heart and mind?  

God’s people drifted far away, but there was still a way back to God.  Where are you in your relationship with the Lord? I remind you of the man who led this effort—the man Jehoiada.  His name means the Lord Knows. Does the Lord know where you are? Is there a way back for you?  In the book of Jeremiah, this is what God said to His people:Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.  Jeremiah 6:16

What if we followed the path by which Jehoiada led people back to God? What if you and I made a new covenant of commitment with the Lord?  What if we removed the idols that stand in the sanctuary of the our hearts?  What if we returned to a worship that sprang from the heart rather than from routine and ritual?  And what if we once again began to walk the path of holiness?  

One other thing they did that was key to what needed to happen. They placed the Rightful King on His Royal Throne.

Over a six-year period, Jehoiada quietly, but very deliberately, raised the little boy rescued from that family.  Rescued as a little one-year old boy, he was now seven.  He was not old enough to lead a nation, but he was young enough to listen and learn from Godly counsel.  The day came when they took this little seven-year-old boy, put the crown on his head, and set him on the throne of the kingdom. The same day he was crowned, Athaliah tore out in a fitful rage to take the life of this little grandson who was her only rival to the throne. 

There will always be an Athaliah who seeks to hold sway over the people of God.  An Athaliah is anything or anyone that influences away from God—who seeks to introduce us to idols that rise up to take the place of God in our hearts and lives. Some of you have an Athaliah in your life—something that for years has determined where you stand with God.  The time has come to deal with that Athaliah once and for all—to put that influence in its place so that your life is ruled by God and God alone.  

For this brief period of their history, these people had a king on the throne—but God was once again their sovereign. As a result, all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet.  For they had put Athaliah to death with the sword.    2 Chronicles 16:21

Is the King on the throne of your life? Isn’t time you placed Him there, allowing Him to have control of your life? These are the essential steps God’s people must take if we are to make our way back to God. We must make them individually and we must make the corporately. Whatever the situation is in your life, whatever it is that reigns on the throne of your heart, I remind you… the Lord knows. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao