Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 28

12/31/14

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

 2 Corinthians 5:8-9 “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Yesterday we talked about true discipleship, being holy (set aside solely for God’s purposes). To be disciples, we must consecrate our lives to Jesus Christ. This means that whatever we do, we do it for His glory. But, what exactly does that mean? Do we have to be one of those people whose every other phrase is ‘glory to God!’ or ‘praise God’ or ‘Thank you Jesus!’? I once met a woman in a restaurant for coffee – she wouldn’t order until she had prayed (loudly) for God to tell her what to get, and then again (loud enough for everyone in the place to hear) “Thank you Jesus, for my hot chocolate! Glory to God! Hallelujah!”

Please understand me – I am NOT against asking Him for guidance when you need it, nor am I against thanking Him for what He provides. But somehow, from the looks of the others in the restaurant, I definitely didn’t get the feeling this was a good way to get people to want to draw closer. Although it may have helped the place in its hot cocoa sales – it must have been really good cocoa!

No, you don’t need to be one of those. God has designed you in a unique way, with the gifts and personality to reach a certain type of people. Some of you are extroverts, and publicly declaring your faith is what fits you. Not only that, but there are people out there who are uniquely designed to respond to that in a positive way. Others are the complete opposite. You will only be comfortable sharing your faith with one person at a time, privately, and only after you develop a relationship of trust with that person. That’s OK too, that will be exactly the kind of witness that person needs.

The question of how to glorify God in all we do has a simple answer – carrying it out may be a bit harder. The answer is, simply, to do everything you do in a way that is pleasing to God. Once you take His name – call yourself a Christian – you become a representative of Him. Sort of like an ambassador to the world. You are, according to the Bible, a part of His body on earth. What you do reflects directly on Him, just as any part of your body cannot act independently. For example, if someone makes an obscene gesture, no one thinks ‘what a bad hand!’, or if a handshake, no one thinks ‘that hand sure is friendly’. The body part is taken as representative of the person to whom it belongs.

The harder part – carrying it out – is only more difficult because in order to know what pleases God, you have to know God. This brings us right back to the critical need to have a deep personal relationship with Him, to read His Word, to talk to Him in prayer. To listen when He speaks to you.

Today when you pray, why not ask His Holy Spirit to fill you, to be so close that you can feel when you’re thinking about doing something wrong – or right. He will let you know what pleases Him. You just need to ask – and listen.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 27

12/30/14

Yesterday we talked about whether it is really possible for us to really be like Jesus. After all, Jesus was perfect – the Son of God. We are mere humans, flawed in many ways. Yet the apostle Peter, referring to Jesus, said in 1 Peter 1:15-16 “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In this passage, Peter was actually quoting from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. God was speaking to Moses, giving him the laws that the Israelites were to follow.

Lev. 11:44-45 “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy”.

This is repeated many times throughout the scriptures. So again, the question is ‘how is this possible?’ The answer lies in understanding what the word ‘holy’ really means. Many people believe it means to be perfect, without flaws, or sinless. If that were true, then not one of us could ever hope to achieve it. The real meaning is consecrated, set apart for a special or specific purpose – dedicated to that purpose and none other.

In that light, what does it mean when we say God is holy? It means He is set apart, He exists for a unique and special purpose, and His entire being is dedicated to that purpose. In the same way, we can dedicate ourselves and our lives to serve God. We can set ourselves apart from the unclean, sinful things of the world, and do everything we do for God’s glory. We can simply follow the first and greatest (according to Jesus) commandment – to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV.

Does this mean we will be sinless – that we’ll no longer be tempted? No, but the battles get a whole lot easier when you’re fighting them with God on your side. Does it mean we have to quit our jobs, sell our homes and become missionaries, or pastors? Not necessarily. There will be some that God will call to be pastors or missionaries. But the vast majority will be called to a different vocation. One will be a laborer, another an executive. One will be a doctor, another a janitor. The idea of working for the glory of God has little to do with what you do, but everything to do with how you do it.

Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Col 3:23-25 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

As you pray today, thank God for the work He has given you, and ask Him to show you how you can use it to glorify Him.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 26

Whoops! Sorry about the longer devotion yesterday – I simply didn’t check the calendar to see that it should have been a more brief  Sunday devotion.  I hope it touched your heart anyway.

Matthew 12:36-37 “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” NIV

I believe that we all need to dig deeper into the concept of true discipleship versus the popular contemporary ‘Christ-follower’. I believe this because I think that words are extremely important – they can make or break an idea, a faith, or a life. The quote above uses the term “empty words”, another version (English Standard) translates this as “careless words”. It seems to me that if we are to be held accountable for all our careless words, we ought to choose our words very carefully.

Here’s the difference. In today’s culture of texting shortcuts (LOL, OMG, ROFL etc), emoji’s and political correctness (so as not to possibly offend anyone), we end up with many watered-down ways to talk about our faith. If the word ‘disciple’ sounds too demanding, we substitute things like ‘Christian walk’ or ‘Christ-follower’ or ‘spirituality’. To be a ‘Christ-follower’ can mean anything from fully committed discipleship to something akin to ‘liking’ someone on Facebook, or ‘following’ them on Twitter. I can hear or read what they have to say, and accept or reject any part of it at any time, for any reason that suits me.

A common blessing given to a rabbi’s disciple in Jesus time was this: ‘May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi’. In other words, may you follow your rabbi so closely (be so much like him) that when he walks you would be covered in the dust from his sandals. But, that choice is not up to the rabbi – it’s up to the disciple. I can follow my rabbi (Jesus) that closely – try to be as much like Him as possible – or I can follow at a distance, listening only when It’s convenient, obeying when I feel like it, and living as I please the rest of the time. But to be a disciple. . . .

THAT takes commitment. It takes the courage to make an all-or-nothing decision. It takes the strength to let go of what I want for myself, and surrender completely to what He wants you to do. It takes the discipline to study His word, talk to Him daily, worship Him in everything we do. It cannot be done from a safe distance. It cannot be done only part of the time. And finally, it cannot be done by any one of us alone.

1 Peter 1:12-13 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

People will often tell you that you can never be like Jesus. After all, He was perfect – we are sinners. He was God’s son, we are ‘only human’. But then we have to ask this: why would Jesus call us to be like Him if it wasn’t possible for us? Unless. . . . .

Think about this question today as you go to prayer. Ask Him yourself – Jesus, is it really possible for me to be like You? And if so, how?

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 25

12/28/14

John 8:31-32 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Yesterday we introduced a new (but probably familiar) term – ‘disciple’. If you’ve been around church at all, it’s likely you’ve heard some form of that word, like discipleship or discipling. Yet many Christians really don’t understand the depth of meaning that word brings with it. We’ve heard of Jesus’ 12 disciples, for example. However, Jesus actually had many more than 12 – He just had 12 that were called to be apostles.

On the other hand, many people today shy away from the word. They say it’s old-fashioned, or that it sounds too demanding. I’ll concede that it is demanding – Luke 14:33 says “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Emphasis added)

Some people prefer to use other terms to describe themselves. ‘Christ-follower’ has been popular in recent years. One group has even published a series of video illustrations, take-off’s on the ‘I’m a Mac/I’m a PC’ commercials, apparently to show how ‘uncool’ it is to identify yourself as a Christian, and how much better it is to simply be a ‘Christ-follower’. You can find an example here: Christian/Christ Follower. Apparently, you don’t need to study Christ’s teachings, or read a Bible, or pray to be “like Christ in how I live my life”. Someday someone will have to tell me how you can be like Him if you don’t know him.

What did it mean to be the disciple of a rabbi in Jesus’ time? A disciple (learner) made it his life’s work to become as much like His rabbi (teacher) as humanly possible. He did everything his rabbi did, exactly the way he did it. He studied constantly so he could learn every teaching, every interpretation His rabbi offered. These were people who devoted their lives to becoming exactly like their teacher. Many gave up their jobs and left their families and homes behind to become disciples. The difference between then & now?

They didn’t look at it as a sacrifice! To be called as a disciple was considered the best thing one could achieve in life. It meant that you were good enough, worthy enough, skilled and smart enough to be just like the rabbi who called you. Sure you had to give up some things, change some things. But it was absolutely worth it!

We look at the same call today – that of Jesus to be His disciples – and start our own cost/benefit analysis. We decide what things we’re willing to give up, what limits we will set on our devotion, yet we want all the benefits. We want comfort when we’re sad, money when we’re broke, healing when we’re sick, and heaven when we die. We are being offered the greatest gift imaginable, for this world and the next, and we still want to negotiate a better deal. There are a number of passages that talk about the cost of discipleship. There are none that tell us that it’s OK to only go halfway.

Now, I know that this is a major life change. That’s why we call it a transformation, or regeneration, or being born again. It really is a whole new life. But in that light, doesn’t it make sense that you can’t live both the old life (for yourself) and the new one (for Christ) at the same time? I know change can be scary, especially a change into something unknown. But I promise you – make this change, commit your life to Jesus – become His disciple – and your new life will be better than you ever imagined. Demanding? Yes. Worth the cost? Absolutely!

Pray today that God would give you a spirit of courage – whatever you need to make that leap and become His disciple.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 24

12/27/14

Proverbs 16:3 “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Well, for the last few weeks we’ve talked a lot about setting goals for your devotions. We said that your goals should be reasonable and measurable. The example was to start at spending 10 minutes in devotions, a combination of prayer and Bible reading/study, 4 days out of seven. These are fairly easy to measure and record, so you can keep track of your progress.

They are also easy to increase. For example, if you accomplish your goals for a month, increase it to 15 minutes each day, or maybe 5 days per week. But, another term we used early on was the phrase ‘meaningful devotional life’. What exactly do I mean by ‘meaningful’? How can we measure it? In fact, why worry about it at all?

To start with, by ‘meaningful’ we mean that your devotional time (your personal time with God) is having a significant impact on your life. You may feel drawn closer to God, or be more sensitive to His presence. You may find that your communication with Him is getting better. Instead of merely praying ‘thanks for the food’, you are telling Him about deeper issues, sharing your joys as well as your burdens. You may find that you are ‘hearing’ His voice more often or more clearly when He speaks to you. Most importantly, you will be growing spiritually – becoming a more mature Christian. Your devotional time is on the way to becoming the high point of your day, rather than a chore you have to do.

To answer the second question, you have to realize that just like physical growth can be measured, so can spiritual growth. For this, we need to start with the foundation the Bible gives us in Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”.

How are you doing in those areas? Are you becoming a more loving person – not just emotionally, but actively doing more for other people simply because you care about them? Are you becoming more faithful in doing your devotions, attending church, or just generally becoming a more reliable person? There are a number of tools and charts that break these areas down into specific, measurable activities. There is a good example at http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&sqi=2&ved=0CDIQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lifeway.com%2Flwc%2Ffiles%2FlwcF_PDF_DSC_Spiritual_Growth_Assessment.pdf&ei=amSdVNGXFYezyQT_lICoCQ&usg=AFQjCNFJjvomR2IRhDgb92AbDUOMkveotg&bvm=bv.820013.

Take the time to work through this. It will give you a good baseline to compare to later assessments. It also helps you develop a plan for specific things you can do to strengthen yourself spiritually.

The third question was ‘why worry about it?’. Simply put, if you do not develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and your personal time is nothing more than a daily chore, it won’t be very long before you stop completely.

Let’s pray together today that this would not happen – that through these devotions and your personal prayer & reading, you would not only be drawn closer to Jesus, but that you would become like Him. A true disciple.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 23

12/26/14

Well, if you’re on track, yesterday was Christmas. As we’ve been talking about developing your devotional life, I thought it would be good to use this and-of-the-year time to check and adjust the goals you set for yourself a few weeks ago. Think of it as making some New Year resolutions. By the way, did you know the practice of making resolutions for the New Year goes all the way back to the Babylonians about 3000 years ago?

Many people keep this tradition each year by making promises to themselves or others about an area in which they’d like to change or improve. According to the US government (http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml) the most popular one is to lose eight, followed by volunteering somewhere and to quit smoking. Sadly, spiritual or religious goals didn’t even make the top 10 on this or any of the other lists I found. I’m not sure if this means people believe they are already where they need to be, or they just don’t want to change in this regard. I am sure it means that Jesus Christ, and our relationship with Him, is simply not at the top of our priority lists in modern-day America.

But the Word gives us a better perspective. 1 Tim 4:8 says “for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Sounds like a good starting point for making resolutions about growing spiritually, doesn’t it?

One problem with the resolutions we make is that they are generally very vague (i.e. I want to lose weight), and so not measurable. Another is that we often make them unachievable (I’m going to lose 30 pounds by February 1st). Then, when we eat that first piece of chocolate cake, we get discouraged and just give up. Please don’t do that, especially with your devotional life. In the beginning of our work together, you were to set some simple goals for yourself, and to make them reasonable and measurable. Now would be a great time to look at how you’ve been doing. If you are consistently not achieving your goal, either change something so that you can, or set the bar a little lower – temporarily.

A new step I’ll ask you to do is to set a longterm goal for yourself. Start by measuring where you are now (baseline) and decide where you want to be by the end of next year. Then, break that down into smaller steps. Maybe you want to read through the Bible in a year. If so, find a reading plan that will guide you to that goal – there are plenty available. There may even be one in the back of your Bible. If your goal is to spend 1 hour per day, 6 days out of 7 in devotions, and you’re only averaging 10 minutes 3 times a week, you may need to set monthly goals that will bring you up in smaller steps. For example, January – 15 minutes 4 times a week, then increase your time by 5 minutes each month, and add 1 day to your plan every 4 months. Keep a record or journal so you can check and adjust every month. One warning though. If you aren’t willing to make your personal time with God the #1 priority, you have failed before you even start. I guarantee many things will pop up to distract or delay you.

As you pray today, ask God to look at you and give you wisdom to see the changes you need that will have eternal impact. Ask Him to help you have the discipline to keep the resolutions you make.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 22

Yesterday we introduced the idea of a covenant relationship. We talked about the fact that in a covenant relationship, we are deeply involved in every area of our lives. This must be the continual, permanent state of the relationship. In other words, we can’t walk away from our covenant partner when we want, and expect that he/she will be there for us when we feel like coming back, or when we’re in trouble.

The history of Israel in the Bible can be pretty much summed up this way. God draws the people to Him and makes a covenant with them. Everything goes well, the people are blessed. As things go well, the people become complacent about their covenant, and drift away from God. When they have succeeded in separating themselves from Him, something really bad happens (usually another people come along, kill and enslave them). They look for God to help them, but He does not. After a time, they realize what they’ve done, and turn back to God. He accepts them, enters into a new covenant, and the cycle starts over.

1 Samuel 4 has a good example of this. Here’s the story: Israel had fallen away, worshipping false gods and generally ignoring God’s commandments. God sent a prophet to get them back on track – they didn’t listen. Instead, on their own, they fought against the Philistines and lost. Then, they went to get the ark of the covenant (which is where God used to be for them) and brought it along. Again, they lost big time – 30,000 of their men died and the Philistines took the ark – the symbol of their relationship with God.

1 Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek. The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 

As the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded.When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.”

10 So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. NIV

What went wrong? They thought the symbol; was enough – like some magic charm they could pull out when needed. What they really needed was the relationship. They needed God to be there with them. Again, pray today about that relationship between you, your people, and God.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 21

By now you should have a good start on establishing, improving or maintaining your prayer life. Remember that this is probably the most critical part of your devotional life, the others being the Bible itself, and 1 or more study helps to increase your understanding. Remember also that prayers should not be limited to your daily devotions any more than they should be limited to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Like anything else, your communication with God will become more & more natural and effective through practice – doing it often. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 says “pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We have looked at these 3 ‘components’ of your devotions separately, spending a lot of time on prayer. Today I’d like us to start tying them together. Each part of our relationship with God is intertwined with the others, just as is any really deep relationship you might have with another person. In fact, when someone you are close to (i.e. your spouse) blocks you from a part of their lives, it hurts, doesn’t it? Even worse, it usually creates suspicion and distrust.

This is because as Christians, we are in what the Bible calls a ‘covenant’ relationship with Jesus, with God. This is the most significant, most committed partnership one person can have with another. The closest thing we have to that today is marriage, which is why it is often called that – the ‘covenant’ of marriage. However, in modern society very few of us actually treat it that way. If we did, divorce would be the rare exception rather than the norm, at least among Christians. So the point is, God must be included in every part of your life. In John 15:4 Jesus said Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” ‘Remain’ means to stay in constant, committed, deep relationship.

For His part, He has promised us that He would be with us at all times (if we choose to honor this covenant He offers us), and has provided His Holy Spirit for us for exactly that purpose. One chapter earlier Jesus said this: “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him,because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:15-17.

Pay attention to the ‘little’ things. Notice the word ‘if’ at the beginning of those verses. IF we want God to be there for us, we must accept and keep our part of the bargain – the covenant. We can choose not to enter into that agreement. IF we do that, there is no reason to expect God’s blessing and protection when we need it. Yes, we are free to choose one or the other. We are not free to modify the covenant, or only accept the parts we like. It’s pretty much an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of deal.

Pray today that God would draw close to you, that He would speak to your heart about that covenant, reassure and enable you to enter into that kind of relationship with Him. If you already are, maybe now is a good time to examine yourself and recommit. Don’t forget to Thank Him for this incredible opportunity.

 

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 20

Before you let the changed number in the title confuse you, this is a new devotion for Tuesday, 12/23. After some thought about how people are using these devotions and how they’re set up, I thought a new system might work better. To get the most out of them, you really should work through them in order, without skipping any. However, many of you are not (yet) doing devotions 7 days a week. I suggested you set reasonable goals, so if for you that’s 4 days out of 7, great. Start at Day 1, and just work through the numbers at your own pace.

On the other hand, I don’t want you overwhelmed on Sunday (or whatever day you worship). So, the Sunday devotions are a very brief encouragement with a prayer relating to you and the day’s worship. I’ll mark those separately as ‘Sunday 1’, ‘Sunday 2’, and so on.  If you have trouble keeping track, mark the numbers on a calendar. I plan to come up with a handy-dandy check sheet very soon to help you.

Today I’d like to wrap up our discussion about prayer as the most critical part of devotions. Yesterday we looked at the reasons God may not even listen to our prayers. Is it possible, though, for Him to listen but just not answer? For instance, we pray for healing of a sick loved one, and they die anyway. We pray for help with the bills, but end up bankrupt anyway. Why? Are we doing something wrong? Not necessarily. Does God just not care? No, God always  cares.

In my experience, most of the times that God doesn’t seem to answer it’s one of 3 things. First, it’s often a matter of timing. We’re like toddlers sometimes – we want what we want, and we want it NOW! We must realize that God sees things very differently than we, from the perspective of eternity – where time does not exist. At least not in terms of minutes, hours, days, years as defined by the rotation of a planet and its revolution around a star, and by the growth, aging & decay of material things (like our bodies). 2 Peter 3:8-9a says “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.”

A second common reason that it seems as though our prayers aren’t being answered is that they simply aren’t being answered the way that we want. For example, we pray frequently for healing. Someone we love is dying of cancer. We want the miracle – the one where they go for a checkup and the doctor can’t find the cancer that riddled their bodies the week before. These miracles do still happen, even in the 21st century. But not always. Sometimes, the person dies anyway. Then comes the question (again) of God’s perspective. What is true, ultimate healing? Is it a temporary cleansing of this feeble, mortal body; or releasing someone from that prison to live glorified for all time?

A third reason is that the answer isn’t always strictly up to God. How often we pray for loved ones to accept Jesus, to become Christians? Do we really expect that He wouldn’t give them the same free choice in the matter that He gave you and me?

There really is one sure way that all your prayers will be answered in the best way possible. That is to pray the way Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest. He asked for what He wanted, but was willing to surrender that to the will of God – no matter what. Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It’s hard though. To pray like that, you really, truly have to trust that His will, will always be better than yours. Are you willing to try? There’s your prayer for today.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 19

Have you ever felt that even though you prayed, God just wasn’t listening? If so, welcome to the club. I think we can safely say that almost every one of us has felt that at some point – and rightfully so. Because it’s true. God sometimes doesn’t listen to, or even hear our prayers.  What? Really? Isn’t God always ‘just a prayer away’?

I know it sounds harsh. We’d love to believe that no matter how bad we are, when we turn to God He’ll be there for us. Sadly, the Bible tells us clearly this is not the case, and it tells us why. The good thing is that it also tells us how to make sure God is  listening wen we pray (which, by the way does NOT mean He’ll do things the way you want when you want).

First, to a God that knows your heart, your motives are important. James 4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” NIV In other words, praying selfishly for your own gain is not what pray is  about. Some of you will remember a ’70s song by Janis Joplin ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches. . . .’. I don’t think that car ever showed up in her driveway.

Second reason – we simply are not living in relationship with God. Isaiah 59:1-2 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [sins] have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear” NIV  Think about this. Why would you expect that you can go through life rejecting Him, but pull Him out and make requests or demands when you feel like it or become desperate?

Third reason – we worship the wrong things – our ‘idols’ that we talked about a few days ago. In Ezekiel 14:3 God said that some people had “set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?” NIV Relationship with God is a package deal. If you want His ear, His protection and blessing, He gets your attention, your worship and your love. He gets to be first (the most important thing) in your life. Period.

So, ho can we be sure God hears us when we pray? Simple – by being in constant, close relationship with Him. By allowing Him to take control of us in every area of life. This means regular, frequent communication with Him (prayer, devotions etc). It means honoring Him in everything er do, whether at home, alone, or at work. Jesus told John “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you” (John 15:7) NIV ‘remain in me’ means a constant, not occasional, relationship.

If you think about it, this all makes sense. Try to put yourself in God’s place. If someone rejected you, dishonored you, put other things ahead of you when you should have been the priority etc, the came to you for something because they had nowhere else to go, how would you respond? How would you feel? Exactly.

Pray today that God would help you to be a person whose prayers will always be heard. Ask Him to ‘remain in you’, and hold on to Him as tightly as you can.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Sunday 3

Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Congratulations! You’ve hung in there for at least 3 weeks – more if you haven’t  (yet) worked your way up to doing devotions every day. If you’ve done these according to the goals you set in weeks 1&2, you should starting to notice a change. Maybe the devotions are getting easier to read, or you’re understanding them better. Maybe they just don’t seem as much like a chore as they did 3 weeks ago. Maybe you’re already finding delight in them, drawing closer to God. Maybe they have sparked a little hunger in you, a curiosity to dig a little deeper. No matter what, stick to it – I promise you’ll never be sorry.

If you’re on schedule, today is Sunday. Be a part of the kingdom today – one that brings joy and love for Jesus & His body (the church). Carry that attitude with throughout the day – just don’t leave it in the pew when you leave church!

Pray that through the music, prayers and/or sermon, the Holy Spirit would send a message  that would speak directly to your heart.

By the way, I’d love to hear how you’re doing, your thoughts on the devotions so far. I’d love to pray for you and with you, that this ministry would bear good fruit in your life. Please send a comment below, or email me at pastorvogel01@att.net. Blessings!

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 18

John 8:33-35 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. NIV

Well, have you been able to wrap your mind around the idea that you belong to God? Keep working on it – it’s an important concept. Especially when you realize that He doesn’t have to treat us the way He does. He’d have every right to treat us as slaves, or even just wipe us off the face of the earth if He chose to. Instead, He treats us as His children, beloved and cared for.

Romans 6:16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaveto sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? NIV

In other words, we don’t have the choice of whether or not to be slaves – we will be enslaved to something or someone. However, what slave has ever been given the right to choose HIs master?! God gives us that choice. Who else in history has done that?

The Bible is filled with stories of slavery. In some cases the slaves were very badly mistreated, but there were others in which the slaves were not. In fact, given the opportunity to be set free, they chose to stay in slavery!

Example – Deuteronomy 15:16 But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, 17 then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your female servant. NIV

Slavery has existed throughout human history, and is still rampant today, although the victims, the perpetrators and the locations may change. I think it’s safe to say that most people find the concept revolting at best. We Americans especially hate the idea because of our own dark history in that area.

But practically speaking, every one of us, if we look at ourselves honestly, could identify to whom or what we are enslaved. It may be a god of addiction (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, even video games or food). It might be a need for relationships, or a certain person. It may even be an ideology or philosophy. It may be ourselves. It can be anything that consumes so much of your life that it takes precedent over other essential parts of life. Maybe you work so much you never see your family. You’ll spend $9 a pack on cigarettes when you can’t pay the electric bill, and so on. If you’re brave enough, keep track of your spending and your time for a month. Whatever you are spending the most time & money on, to the point that it’s causing harm to you and/or others – is your master. And you are its slave.

When you pray today, let Jesus help you see where you are enslaved, and ask Him to redeem you – again. He will, because He loves you as His own child – and only if you choose Him as your Master.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 17

Colossians 1:16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. NIV

Psalm 100:3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. NIV

Hopefully by now we all realize the critical importance of our attitude as we approach Christ’s throne in prayer. I feel the need, though to talk about it from one more viewpoint. This is because I know how we are. We are taught (especially in contemporary US American culture) that ‘it’s all about me’. We simply don’t like to feel that anyone (including God) is ‘better’ than us, more important than us, or has control over us. We don’t like people who make us feel that way. Either that, or we seem to go to the other extreme, feeling as though everyone is better, prettier, funnier, etc than we are. We aren’t just humble, we’re self-deprecating. This means we always put ourselves down. If someone pays us a compliment, we go out of our way to prove we don’t deserve it.

Healthy humility is somewhere between. We can be humble without having to prove we’re worthless, we can be confident in our gifts, abilities, achievements & status without having to prove we’re the top dog in everything. The good gifts you have are from God – use them wisely & joyfully. Your weaknesses are either something you can improve (with work), or something for which you need to seek help. For example, I can’t draw a picture of a sick man without a ruler. If I need something drawn, I get help from my very talented wife Jill. It’s just the wise thing to do. We need to know who we are.

In relation to God, who we are is not really a very pleasant concept to the American ego. Put simply – we belong to Him. Think about it. First, He created us. If you planted seeds, grew trees, used them to build a house on your own land, who would you consider the owner? Well, God created us out the dust (which He also made). We are His creation. His. But then, what did our great and gracious owner do? He gave us freedom.

Sadly, we used that freedom to do all the things that hurt Him. We sinned – over & over. We sinned so badly that we became slaves to sin and to ourselves (as our own ‘gods’). In so doing, we became separated from Him, with no way to get back home. So what did this rejected Creator do? He came Himself in physical form (Merry Christmas) so that He could pay the price to redeem us! To redeem in this context means to pay the price of a slave (as if in a slave auction), to buy him back. So, He owns us – again! And again, He gives us freedom.

1 Corinthians 15:22-23 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. NIV

Today as you go to prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help you reconcile in your heart the idea of belonging to someone, as a slave to a master. At the same time – choose (in your freedom) Who your master will be!

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 16

Yesterday we talked about your attitude toward God when you pray – not so much what to pray, but how. We talked of Him being the King of Kings, the Creator of the universe and all that is in it (including us), and basically said  that we should address Him with proper respect and deference, just as you would if you were to meet with an earthly king or other important person. Instead, many of us talk to Him as though He was simply another person like a friend or coworker. When we do this, in our hearts and minds, we tend to bring Him down to our level. Why?

I can think of 2 reasons. First, if we are on equal planes, I don’t have to be intimidated by Him. When I was a firefighter, I never felt threatened by other firefighters. When I became a Lieutenant, I no longer needed to fear what other Lieutenants could do, and so on. I had the same rights and power as the others. Let’s face it, God can be pretty intimidating – especially that angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament, right? Second, we’re told that our relationship with Him must be deeply personal. How can you be that close to someone who has complete power over you – someone who you may not even be able to call by their first name? So we should be intimate but formal, submissive but strong. This can create problems. When the lines get blurry, we don’t tend to elevate God. In fact, just the opposite. We tend to view Him as not much more important than we ourselves, and in so doing we give ourselves leave to do as we wish, rather than seek God’s will and obey Him. Confusing?

It can be, unless you view your relationship with God in the right context. Instead of using the relationship model of a couple of ‘buddies’, or a supervisor/underling model, try it in the context of the example God Himself gave us in scripture. The model of a family. 

In a family, we should be intimate, but not necessarily equal. The Bible is clear as a bell that a child (even a grown one) should always honor his parents. Exodus 20:12 gives us the first commandment that actually has a promise attached to it: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

We could probably do at least a week on the single word ‘honor’, but I’ll spare you that – for now. There are at least 45 passages in scripture about honoring your parents. There is about the same number that refer to God as our Father. It makes sense to me that God gave us His model of a family so that we can better understand the relationship we are to have with Him.

Can you have a close, intimate relationship with a parent or grandparent while keeping your communication with them respectful, recognizing their biblical authority over you, your biblical responsibility to them? In other words, not talking to your folks the way you talk to your friends. Whether you say father & mother, mom & dad, papa & mama, ma & pa, there is (or should be) a family structure that binds us together while still giving us lines and boundaries.

Pray about that relationship today. Pretend that God is a VIP, and you just met Him for the first time. You’re going to be spending a LOT of time together. How about asking Him what He would like you to call Him. He is Who He is. We can’t change that.What we can change is our relationship with Him.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 15

2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” NIV

When we began to look at prayer as such a critical part of our relationship with God, one of the questions that came up was how to pray. I said that God speaks all languages and all dialects. So in that regard, it doesn’t matter whether you pray in English or Chinese, or with a Bronx accent or a Southern drawl (y’all). God can understand. Sometimes you aren’t able to find any words to pray. Your pain is so deep, so overwhelming that you can barely get through brushing your teeth, yet you need God more than ever before. This is where your relationship with Jesus’ Holy Spirit becomes so important. If you are united with Him as we talked about yesterday, He will know your needs and intercede for you.

Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” NIV

Or, Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” NASB

The key is to live in such close kinship with the Holy Spirit that you can almost read each other’s thoughts and feelings – sort of like an old married couple who can finish each other’s sentences.

Here’s another thought. As much as the language doesn’t matter, the attitude does. Some people have the idea that you can only pray while kneeling or even prone. Others are at the opposite extreme, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were addressing God or their BFF! We sing songs like ‘I Am a Friend of God”, and take that to mean we can talk to Him any way we want. I humbly disagree, and here’s why.

Look at the first verse above. See that little word ‘humble’? Think for a moment about who God is. He is our Creator. We literally belong to Him. When He gave us freedom, and we rejected Him, He died on the cross to redeem us (buy us back – like paying the price for a slave). Only He didn’t keep us as slaves – He gave us our freedom again! He is the Creator of the universe – wonderfully and intricately designed in every detail so that we could live healthy, joyful, abundant lives in it. He provided for our every need and desire. He is our King. He is our Father.

Look at it this way. If you were about to meet the President, or even your favorite celebrity, you’d likely be a bit concerned about what to say and how to address them. I’ve yet to see anyone meet the President with a ‘Hey, B-man, how ya doin’?!’ Yet I’ve heard many people pray that way, (yes, even ‘G-man’), or any of a plethora of nicknames that sound more like you and your buddies at the game than a conversation with (or plea to) the most important, most powerful being in the entire universe!

Today, rather than suggest what to pray about, try really ‘humbling yourself’ before God. Think deeply about who He is, and the fact that you actually have the privilege of a personal audience with Him. If this was the only time you were going to meet the King, how would you act and speak? Good. Do that – because you really are about to meet the King – OF Kings!

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 14

Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” NIV

Yes, we’re still talking about prayer. Think about it. If this is the most important aspect of our devotional life – our relationship with God – we need to understand it as much as possible. Unfortunately many of us simply assume that we are somehow born with the knowledge of how to speak and listen to God. We also assume that there’s no way we could do it any better. Either that, or we feel lost but don’t want to admit it (because others make it look so easy), so we simply never pray aloud our in public, and rarely even in private. We end up not really having a prayer life at all. This isn’t just sad, it’s tragic! If this is you, you’re missing out on the most amazing, wonderful part of your relationship with the One who created and redeemed you. Your Father. The One who loves you more than any human being ever could – ‘warts & all’.

PLEASE don’t let this happen to you. If it already has, you can change it. Think about the person you love most. Imagine that every time he speaks to you they do it in a way that’s either superficial or inappropriate. Our imagine that the only time he talks to you is for about 30 seconds right before Thanksgiving & Easter dinner. Then, imagine that he never gives you a chance to talk yourself, and doesn’t pay any attention when you try. How long would you let such a relationship ( using the word loosely) go on? You may still feel love for that person, but eventually you’d simply give up on a real (meaningful) relationship with him. What if he just said the same thing every time, over & over, like someone who always asks how you are but doesn’t really want to know – they just think it’s the right thing to say?

Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” NIV

Or maybe a bit more clear, from the New American Standard translation (NASB) “7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” 

Remember what we said about using more than 1 translation?

So, what do we learn today? First, prayer must be an ongoing part of your life – even outside of your ‘formal’ devotional time. It takes practice simply to get your mind used to the idea of going to God with things you just would have taken care of on your own before. It’s getting in the habit of just sharing your life with Him – the good AND the bad. It’s becoming dependent on Him as your constant companion – closer than a conjoined twin – because He lives in you. You and He are not just attached – you are one!

Second, your prayers must be meaningful. Don’t just repeat phrases, use flowery language or read prayers out of a book (unless they really say what’s on your heart). Sometimes a 10 second prayer means more than 10 minutes of speech. God’s not keeping score. He just wants to you to share your heart, with His.

Try making that you prayer today, that you and He would truly connect, and that connection would be as deep as your soul.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 13

Before we get started this morning, take a moment to re-evaluate the goals you set for your devotions. Have you been spending the amount of time you set, and the number of times per week? What about content? Are you finding agood balance between the Bible, these devotionals and prayer? Now is a good time to make adjustments our reset goals. If you’ve made your Mark for 2 weeks, increase the goals just a bit. Think of it like weight lifting – add a little at a time. Remember goals should be reasonable and measurable, and made prayerfully.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” NIV

Last week we talked about how often and easily we can be fooled. We think we hear from God, and it turns out to be our own feelings or ideas. Sometimes we simply miss God’s message. Sometimes we just don’t really understand it, or we just doubt. We end up just following our feelings – which by itself can be very dangerous.

Fortunately, God has provided us ways to tell if it’s really Him speaking to us. First, and most importantly, He gave us His written Word. If we don’t recognize that this is the most comprehensive and foundational way God has given us to know Him, we can easily be led astray by false or twisted teachings, misinterpretations, or even our own emotions.

I once heard the story of a woman who came to a Christian friend and asked her to pray for her to know God’s will about a new love interest. “This guy is great” she said. “He’s cute, and smart, makes good money, and we just seem to click together!”

The friend asked “Is he a Christian?”

“No, he’s an atheist.” In response, the friend opened her Bible to 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” She held it out for the other to read. Her response?

“Yes, yes. I know all that. But I just really need to know what God’s will is for this relationship!”

You see, God’s Word doesn’t just apply in some situations, or at certain times. It gives us principles to live by that are timeless. But you really can’t just use snippets of it when you want to prove a point or rationalize something you want to do. You can’t ignore parts of it and stand firm on the ones that suit you.

Example: many people say the Old Testament teachings stopped being authoritative  after Jesus came to earth. But the New Testament hadn’t even been started when Jesus was here. that means every time Jesus talked about scripture, He was talking about what we now call the Old Testament! He referred to its divine authority in Mt. 5:17-18; 8:17; 12:40-42; Lk. 4:18-21; 10:25-28; 15:29-31; 17:32; 24:25-45; Jn. 5:39-47. He quoted it 78 times, from 15 books. He referred to it “The Scriptures,” “the word of God,” and “the wisdom of God.” Apparently, Jesus believed in it!

If you have doubts about how people determined what books were canonical (God-breathed), and eliminated others, I’ll refer you to a good summary article at http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=105&article=91, and urge you to dig deeper from reliable sources.

Funny thing is, if you only live as Christ taught us, you would find that there just is no better way to go through life! All the things we think we will ‘lose’ by living as Christians are nothing compared to the soul-deep joy that comes with living a holy life – that is one set apart completely for God.

Pray today that God would give you complete assurance that His Word is truth – and that you would hunger for it.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Sunday 2

Colossians 3:16 “ Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Well, if you’re still here after the first 2 weeks, give yourself a pat on the back! I hope that this attempt to walk with you into a truly meaningful & rewarding devotional life has been as good for you as it has for me. I look forward to your feedback & comments as this ministry continues to grow. Please alway feel free to share with others – this is a ministry, not a money-making venture.

If you’re tracking with me, today is Sunday. Focus on preparing yourself to receive God’s message for you in church this morning. If you can’t make church, please-please-please find an alternative. Listen to a good message on the radio or internet – many churches stream their services. Highland people can find audio of the sermons a few minutes after the 2nd service ends. Check out www.sermonindex.com and choose by topic or your favorite speaker. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find there.

Pray with me today that God would open our hearts & minds for His message today. He has something special to say to each & every one. Don’t miss yours!

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 12

Yesterday we continued our talk about prayer, the most critical part of your devotional life. We talked about invitations for us to pray in the Bible, and said that prayer must be a two-way conversation. This usually brings up two questions – ‘How am I supposed to talk to Him?’, and ‘How can I hear God?’

The answer to the first one is fairly easy. You don’t need all the fancy, flowery ‘thee’s and thou’s’ for God to understand or listen to you. But, if that’s the way you learned to pray, have at it! God speaks all languages, every dialect. What you need is really in your heart, not your mouth. You need to truly seek Him. There’s a great  illustration at http://youtu.be/npyqZjpM_Xs. Funny, but it makes the point – my favorite kind.

The answer to the other is a bit more complicated, only because God speaks to us in many ways. Let’s talk about some of those. First and foremost, God speaks to us through His Word, the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16 NIV. When you want to make something clear and firm, what do you do? Put it in writing! That’s what He did for us. As Nazarene’s we believe that the Bible is the final authority. Anything that conflicts with scripture, then, is not from God. The trick is to know the Bible well enough to know when something just doesn’t fitor to recognize when someone has twisted the Word for their own purposes. As you spend more time in the scripture, you’ll at least get to a point where something just doesn’t sound right. You’ll know enough to open the Bible and double-check when issues arise – and they do.

Watch the news. Almost daily you’ll see people arguing about things like abortion, homosexuality, or religious tolerance. Public education  is big now – should children be taught evolution or creationism, and how should these be represented (as theories? Hard facts?) What kind of sexual education should the schools be teaching? (None? Birth control? Abortion? Abstinence?)

Many people on both sides will quote scripture to make their arguments. Be very careful. We must always make sure that we know the context of the passage being cited. Who wrote that part, and to what audience? What was going on in the world around them at the time?

If you don’t know the Bible that well, and people can twist it so easily, how can you be assured that it really is God’s Word, solid and eternal? After all, wasn’t it written by (fallible) men, who decided to include what they like and condemn what they didn’t? Actually, that’s not the way it was at all.

Often we think we heard from God, and it turns out not to be true. Other times (maybe more often) we totally miss God’s message for us. Sometimes we’re too busy or distracted to take the time to really understand it, or we just doubt that it is really something from Him. There are ways we can discern God’s communication with us, to know it’s really Him speaking. We’ll begin to look at some of those tomorrow. In the meantime pray that God would give you the gift of discernment, so that you will know the truth when it’s presented to you, and false teaching/unwise counsel when you face these.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 11

Yesterday we looked at prayer as the most important part of your devotional time with God. We saw in several Bible passages that He has invited us personally to come to Him in prayer. Finally, we said that prayer must be a 2-way conversation with God.

Think about it. Have you ever had a relationship with someone who only came to you when they needed or wanted something, who only talked about their problems and then walked away? They never give you a chance to respond, and they aren’t willing to spend the time even to give you a chance to answer. Gets old fast, doesn’t it? So why would God (who made us in His image – that includes our emotions) not feel the same way? Yet that’s the ‘relationship’ many of us have with Him. And yes, it bothers God too. Here’s an example.

Zechariah 7:11-13 (NIV) “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen… So the Lord Almighty was very angry. “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

We call on Him when we have a problem, and more often than not, the problem is physical (someone is sick) or material (money, better job etc.). We fail to even mention that which is most important to God, and that is our spiritual state. Of the 3, that’s the only one that matters for eternity! Then to top it off, when we’re done with want we want to say, we throw out an ‘amen’ and walk away. I can just picture Jesus standing where I left Him with His finger in the air and His mouth open as I ignore Him and turn my attention to something else.

John 6:63 “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”

Two-way communication is essential to a healthy relationship, whether between human beings, or between us & God. We have to realize that if we don’t have that in our relationship with Him, it’s  not because He’s not speaking to us. He is, constantly, in many ways. It’s just that we are either not listening, or we simply don’t know how to recognize his ‘voice’.

Excerpts from Isaiah 55:1-11 (NIV) “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live…” Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon… “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

As you go to prayer today, prepare yourself for a time of listening, as well as a time of speaking. Here’s an interesting experiment. Give Him the same amount of time that you spoke. I’ll bet it will seem like a lot longer – at first. Do it anyway.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 10

The past few days we’ve talked 3 critical elements of your devotional time.  We talked a little about different Bible translations, and how important it is to find one that you can connect with. Yesterday the topic was supplemental material, like study notes, concordances etc. Today let’s look at the 3rd element – prayer. Please realize that this isn’t 3rd because it’s the least important. If I had to prioritize, I’d probably place it first!

Think of it this was. We defined devotions as being your personal time with God. This is foundational if you are to have a relationship with Him. You cannot have a relationship with someone you don’t know, and the deeper the relationship is to be, the more you need to know the other person. God already knows everything to know about you & I – more than we do ourselves. So, it is now on us to get to know Him as deeply and intimately as possible, if we want something more than a superficial acquaintance with Him. We don’t want Jesus to be the guy we say ‘Hi’ to as we pass on the street, but never stop to talk with. We want Him as our closest friend and confidant – even closer than your spouse.

Let’s say you want that close relationship with a person – me. You could read a book I wrote, and learn a lot about me. You could read what others have written about me (supplemental material) and understand me even better. But we’ll never have a relationship until you talk with me. Get it?

Here’s a great thing. Jesus wants that kind of relationship with you so badly that He even makes the first efforts. He reaches out to you in many, many ways. He uses music, nature, other people. He blesses you over & over hoping you’ll recognize the Giver of your gifts. He performs miracles every day, hoping that you don’t simply chalk them up to ‘luck’ or coincidence. He’s given you plenty of written invitations in the Bible.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 is a good example. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Matt 11:28 is also a favorite:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

There are many more.

Try this starting tomorrow. Put prayer first. Before you open your Bible or read your devotional, pray. Invite Jesus to come along side and speak to you through what you about to read or study. Ask His Holy Spirit to give you a deeper understanding than ever before, so that what you read would become more than just information, but a soul-deep, life changing experience.

Finally, we have to remember that prayer is not just a one-sided monologue, us giving our ‘laundry list’ of needs and concerns to God for Him to take care of. We have to listen in prayer as much as we talk – maybe more. More on listening to God tomorrow.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 9

Proverbs 2:2-5

turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.”

Yesterday we said there are 3 critical elements to a strong devotional life. The first was the Bible itself. You’ll need to find a translation that speaks to you in a meaningful way according to your reading skill level and style preferences. The second element was ‘an other reference’, the third was prayer. Today let’s look at some of the supplementary material/books that are out there. Again, we need to find one that is accurate, truthful and fits your reading style.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that everything you read in a given tool is correct. These are NOT scripture (canon) – meaning they are the words of men, not of God. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t a good guide or truthful. It simply means that they are written by men with human (sometimes conflicting) points of view. The Bible  always has the last word. Try to take the good from everything you read. Here are a few of the learning tools that are out there:

1. Study Bibles contain side notes, scripture threads, articles & illustrations designed to help you understand as you read. They can be very handy, as your references are right on the same page. Here:s just one example, there are many others: http://media.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/9780310442417_samptxt.pdf. To view others you might try Amazon.com, search ‘study Bible’, then use the ‘Look Inside’ feature to preview.

2. Topical Bibles are designed to help you find passages on whatever topic you need. For example, if you are considering a divorce, you might want to see what the Bible has to say about it first.  Several on-line bible sites offer this option also, such as  https://www.biblegateway.com/topical/.

3. A reading guide is also a great tool. One of the best I’ve ever read is Adventuring Through The Bible by Ray Stedman. I highly recommend that before you read a section or book of scripture, read the specific chapter about it in this book. You’ll find that you’ll get much more out of it than you would otherwise. You can get printed copies, read it free on-line at https://archive.org/details/AdventuringThroughTheBible , or listen to it as a series of audio sermons at http://www.raystedman.org/bible-overview/adventuring.

4. A concordance is a list of all the key words and names found in the Bible. Look up a word and you’ll find a list of verses where it appears. These are very useful when you remember just a part of something and want to find it. The only caution is that you must make sure that your concordance is for the translation you are using.

5. A Bible commentary is like a commentary on a movie or TV show. The author explains the particular passage in-depth, puts it in context for you etc. This is VERY important, because our world is not the one the Bible authors lived in. Many words have taken on new meanings, or those meanings change when taken out of context. There are many available on-line or in stores, but usually the more contemporary (and so easier to read) are usually not free. Talk to your pastor to find one that works best for you.

Ephesians 1:17-19 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” 

Pray today for wisdom and understanding as you explore new ways to open your mind and heart to God’s Word.

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 8

Yesterday we started to get into the ‘how’ of doing devotions. We talked about using other reference tool along with the Bible. In fact, your devotions should consist of 3 elements. First, you need scripture – the actual Word of God. Second, another tool to aid you in understanding the scripture you are reading. This could be a devotional guide such as a study Bible and/or a Bible dictionary or commentary. The third and arguably the most critical part is prayer.

1 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” ESV. I’ve had many people tell me that they don’t like to read the Bible because it’s too difficult. All the ‘thee’s & thou’s’, and the long genealogies (Joe begat Bob, Bob begat Richard, Richard begat Harry . . . . ). I like to quote an old line “A feeble excuse is better than none”.

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” NIV. The Bible was into many different versions for a reason. If the old style speaks to you and you can understand it, by all means use the King James version. If you’re not a great reader, use one of the ‘easy to read’ versions.

Using some kind of guide will walk you right past most of those long genealogies, pointing out the more important ones. If you want a word-for-word translation there are several available. If you want a thought-for-thought translation, or even an ‘interpretation’ which usually makes for a smoother flow of ideas, use the New Living translation or The Message. The important thing is that the version you use is accurate, and consistent with your faith.

By this I mean that if you are not a Roman Catholic, for example, you might find the extra material in a Catholic Bible (called the Apochrypha) confusing. We as Protestants do not believe that material meets the criteria for being accepted as God’s Word. If you read a Jewish Bible, you’ll find that the entire New Testament is missing! This is simply because they don’t believe that Jesus was really the Messiah, so His story as continued after His birth is not accepted as canon (scripture). Talk to your pastor or check out a good Bible translation guide like this one: http://www.mardel.com/bible-translation-guide.aspx.

John 17:17  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” NIV.

Another great way to choose a version that works best for you, or simply to gain deeper understanding of what you read, is to use a ‘parallel’ Bible. This is a Bible that has 2 or more versions side by side. These are also available on-line or at the bookstore. Here’s an example of a very familiar verse: http://www.biblestudytools.com/john/3-16-compare.html. See the difference?

Let your prayer today begin with asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into His Word in a way that not only gives you a deeper understanding, but touches your very heart.

 

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Day 7

Psalm 1:2 “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

Congratulations – you made it through the first week and you’re still here! Did you make you goals? If so, wonderful! If not, think about why not and make an adjustment – either in your goals or in your devotions. Don’t let Satan beat you up because you fell short – let Jesus take care of him while you draw closer to Him. Someone has said ‘devotions are a duty before they become a delight’. Just stick with it – I promise that the Lord will show Himself to you in ways you never imagined – and it will be delightful!

By now I hope you realize how important – even critical – a solid devotional life is to your walk as a Christian. This week I’d like to give you some ‘nuts & bolts’. All my life I’ve had people tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing as far as devotions. Now that I think of it, they do that in a LOT of areas! Anyway, I want to tell you that there are many ways to spend this personal time with the Lord, and the ‘right’ way is easy. It’s the one that works for you.

Psalm 143:5-6 “I remember the days of long ago;
    I meditate on all your works
    and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
    I thirst for you like a parched
land.”

Although devotions are a very personal thing, there are some good guidelines that should help you evaluate what you’re doing, and develop your own style & methods. First, always remember to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your reading & your prayers. It’s OK to use a guide like this, or devotional book, just be open to reading/exploring more or different scriptures as He nudges you.

How might you do that? First let me say that I’m not generally an advocate of the ‘close your eyes, fan the pages of your Bible and stick your finger in there at random’ method – although I have seen God use that on occasion. I just haven’t seen it bear much fruit as a long-term practice. Often when you read a verse, or while praying about something the Spirit will urge you to look further, to know more about whatever it is you’re dealing with. If you’re old school, you can pull out a Bible dictionary or concordance (which lists all the words in the Bible and tells you where to find them) and start looking up key words.

If you’re doing this or another on-line devotion, you can go to any number of Bible study websites and start searching. Two very good sites are www.biblegateway.com and www.biblehub.com, but there are many. You can search by topic, verse, or key words. If you only remember part of a verse, type it in. Both have many versions of the scripture available as well. Try some side-by-side comparisons – you’ll be amazed at how much more light is shed simply by reading slightly different translations.

Fair warning here – the more you do this, the hungrier your soul will become for the Word of God. It will start as a duty – stay faithful and it will become a delight. Make that your prayer today – that God would guide you through His Word, and that it would make your heart leap for joy!

 

Devotions For People Who Don’t Do Devotions – Sunday 1

If you started with me at the beginning, today is Sunday. So, I just want to encourage you to attend a church service this morning – wherever the Lord leads you. Here are a few things the Bible says about it:

Hebrews 10:25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Finally (I love this one) Psalm 132:7 “Let us go to his dwelling place;
    let us worship at his footstool!”

Pray thanks today for the ways in which God touched your heart and life this past week, and ask Him to prepare you for a worship time that is truly pleasing to Him.