First and Last

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

Revelation 22:20

This is the last recorded prayer in the Bible. In difficult and stressful times we are inclined to desire His coming just to be away from our current circumstances but that is just one side of the coin. The other side is a desire to be with Jesus and His righteousness. He is coming to bring an end to sin and death and to take His own to be with Him forever. Just as He did in His first coming Jesus will do so at just the right time, not early and not late (Galatians 4:4-5). Our desire is for Jesus to reign in righteousness and peace but that will only happen when Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom. Then the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). From the beginning it has been God’s desire to dwell with and in His creation. Our desire is to dwell with God just as it is His desire to dwell with us.

The above prayer, the last recorded, contrasts greatly with the first recorded prayer in the Bible: “So he [Adam] said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Instead of desiring God’s presence Adam and Eve fled God’s presence. Disobedience will always do that. More than once I avoided my parents as long as I could because I had been disobedient to them. It is the nature of fallen man to not want to face his disobedience and guilt but to try to escape the presence of God. This is the exact opposite of what he should do. Jonah, one of the more notoriously rebellious men in the Bible also wanted to escape the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3, 10) but God kept after him.

Between the first recorded prayer (the desire to escape the presence of the Lord) and the last prayer recorded in the Bible (the desire for God’s presence to return) something of tremendous significance happened. That something was Jesus Christ’s first coming to save mankind from sin and death and to restore his proper relationship with God. At Easter we give time to remember and reflect on just how He accomplished that. Instead of fleeing His presence we should draw near to Him because His forgiveness is the only way of taking away our sin and restoring our relationship with God. The book of Revelation reveals that many would rather die than seek forgiveness. However, there will be many who seek and receive forgiveness through Christ.

The Bread of Life

“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”

John 6:26

It wasn’t long after Jesus had miraculously provided meals for five thousand men plus women and children from a boy’s lunch that many of the same crowd caught up with Him again. Jesus perceived that their desire was for another free lunch and not to hear His teaching. Sadly, their desire was only for what would fill their tummies and not their hearts.

We need to be on guard of our own hearts to ensure that we don’t default into only wanting what Jesus gives without wanting Him. This is one of the reasons many human relationships break up. People often enter a relationship with expectations of what they will receive. When those expectations are not realised or are no longer met, the relationship collapses. If we come to Jesus with incorrect expectations, when they are not met, we will cease to follow Him. We must be careful how we present the Gospel so as not to give incorrect expectations.

There are many temporal benefits Jesus Christ brings but they are all inseparable from Him. John wrote, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). The “life” is Christ’s life in us, that is, eternal life. Many people want heaven and eternal life who do not want Jesus but that is absolutely impossible.

To evaluate whether we really want Jesus or just the benefits He brings it would be profitable to evaluate our prayers. They may reveal that our main concern is for temporal matters such as food, clothing, comfort and health but not for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom or for Christ’s glory.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). When we are with Jesus in heaven we will realise the foolishness of many of our earthly pursuits and anxieties. Our highest priority is to know Jesus Christ. In contrast to pursuing Jesus for these earthly needs Jesus encourages us to pursue that which will never be taken from us. Following His lament that the crowd only followed Him for food He said, “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:27).

Captive of Love

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are.”

John 17:11

We are very grateful that John has recorded the words of this prayer of Jesus. So much is packed into just one prayer such as the glory of God to be restored to Jesus and revealed in His disciples. The relationship between Father and Son is also revealed as is equality of person of the Father and Son with differing roles within that equality. Our focus for now is the keeping of Christ’s disciples.

Whenever we have a doubt about our possession of eternal life it is because we believe that our salvation and favour with God is in our hands. It is not! As Peter also wrote, we “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

The words “keep” and “kept” in John 17:11-15 have the meaning of being protected from an outside force and of being held captive for one’s protection. On the one hand Jesus is praying that the Father will protect His disciples from Satan’s power and influence (v 15) and on the other hand Jesus is saying that He will keep His disciples as a captive of His love in Himself (v 12).

Both aspects of this reveal that we who have trusted in Jesus Christ are absolutely secure. Any thought that causes us to doubt that security comes when we start thinking that our salvation is obtained by our own effort or faithfulness and not as the free gift of God in Jesus Christ and His faithfulness.

As we read through the Gospel accounts we frequently note the disciples’ lack of belief and understanding and yet Jesus kept them all (v 12). We will have areas of doubt and unbelief from time to time – but Jesus affirms that He will lose none who are His. As Peter affirmed, we are kept by the power of God – and not by our own ability or strength of faith. If our salvation, and being kept saved, was by our own effort then there would be reason for grave concerns.

Jesus has prayed that the Father would set watch over His disciples and protect them from all enemies, including Satan (vv 11, 15). When we fear what Satan or people may do to us we are forgetting this prayer of Jesus. We are protected from all enemies and kept as captives of Christ’s love by Him.

The Whispering Voice

“It happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying …”

2 Samuel 7:4

Generally we would have a high regard for the prophet Nathan especially for his courage in pointing out King David’s sin as recorded in chapter twelve. But at this point he got it wrong. In the previous verses we read that David had expressed to Nathan his desire to build a house for the Lord. David had a house of cedar and it seemed reasonable that the Lord should also have such a place to dwell with men instead of the “tent.” Nathan responded to David’s desire without seeking counsel from the Lord and got it wrong.

However, he had ears toward the Lord and that night, in the quietness of his home and heart, the Lord corrected him and gave him the words he should speak to King David.

Since the advent of radio, television and telephone our evenings have not been so quiet that we might hear the quiet gentle voice of the Lord. These electronic creations have their place and can be helpful but they can also blot out the voice of the Lord. We live in an age of noise. Mobile phones are always at hand and, for many, play music or games whenever it is not being used for phone calls or texting. We live in an environment of noise.

It should be of no surprise then that few hear the voice of the Lord. If we want to have conversation with our spouse, a family member or a friend we will shut out noise as much as possible. We should do the same for conversing with the Lord, that we might hear Him.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12 we read of one of Elijah’s encounters with the Lord. Elijah stood on the mountain and felt the wind, an earthquake and a fire, but the lord was not in any of them. “After the fire a still small voice” or a delicate whispering voice came to Elijah. God has trouble getting our attention if we have constant noise so He may have to try more intensive, less comfortable, ways to get our attention.

Fortunately for Nathan, he was not engrossed with his phone, he was not watching his favourite TV show or movie, and his Hi Fi was not blasting his ears. Had he not heard the whispering voice of the Lord, his incorrect confirmation to David would have proceeded against the will of God. The Lord has a word for you but will you hear it above the noise in your world?

Seek His Counsel

“They did not ask counsel of the Lord”

Joshua 9:14

Like Joshua and the other leaders of Israel we may act without seeking the Lord’s counsel and, if we do, we don’t wait for a response. Following the Lord destroying the walls at Jericho Israel’s leaders urged Joshua to send what they rationally calculated to be enough men against the city of Ai. They were severely routed with the loss of thirty six lives. It might not sound like much of a loss but it meant thirty six families without a husband or a father because they did not ask counsel of the Lord. Israel was humiliated, Joshua’s leadership questioned and the Lord’s name blasphemed among the peoples of the region.

Satan is a liar and a deceiver and he has had plenty of time to hone his skills manipulating people. Once again Joshua and his leading men relied on their own rational assessment of the situation regarding the Gibeonites and did not ask counsel of the Lord. They were deceived and their leadership was again called into question by their own people (v 18). The deception meant that they could not fulfil the commandment of the Lord and they would have a constant reminder of their failure in their midst.

The presumption that the Lord is with us and will give us the victory, as we perceive victory, is all too common among professing and genuine Christians. In the current attack on Jesus Christ and His church many, but not all, Christians are trying to win a spiritual battle using the secular world’s practices. Perhaps the first point of error is the one that Joshua made; he did not ask counsel of the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-12 expresses the way we should follow.

  1. We will ask the Lord’s counsel, trusting his counsel and not our own judgment (vv 5-6)
  2. We will trust His counsel even when it seems to us to be wrong (v 7)
  3. We will trust His counsel even when we don’t appear to have sufficient resources (vv 9-10)
  4. We will trust Him when He chastises us for not previously asking His counsel (vv 11-12)

The above implies that a response is waited for and received. We cannot win the battle by secular means. Joshua and Israel discovered this and we must learn from their error. Ask the Lord’s counsel, wait for His response and, even if we don’t like His answer, trust Him.

The Secret Place

“The heavens declare the glory of God” Psalm 19:1

Returning to Perth by air this week I was again struck by the beauty of the upper surface of the clouds. From beneath, clouds are shades of grey and reasonably level. From above, where the sun is upon them, they are pure white and shaped like bundles of cotton balls. Off on to the horizon and beyond this beauty exists but for the most part it was unseen by any person and possibly even less recognised as God’s handiwork. Largely hidden from the eyes of people, day after day and for millennia, God has been expressing Himself in such beauty. It is only in the past hundred years that people have been able to see the clouds from above yet it has been unrelentingly showing off the glory of God.

For even less time we have been able to see the beauty and variety of creatures that live below the seas at depth. Some had been caught in nets or found dead on the shore but multitudes of new creatures of extraordinary appearance are now being discovered in the depths of the oceans. For millennia these creatures have been expressing the beauty and wisdom of God without any person observing them. Perhaps more than at any time since God brought “every beast of the field and every bird of the air … to Adam to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19) we are closer to discovering all the living creatures that God has created. All that time since the creation these creatures have expressed God’s glory even though many have not been seen by people until recently.

As we look up into the night sky we marvel at the majesty, beauty, wisdom and power that has created all that exists in the heavens. Mankind has discovered more distant heavenly bodies with each new telescope and marvelled at their beauty but they have all been present since the creation expressing the glory of God, whether seen by people or not.

We may be inclined to think that God is only glorified by things seen by people. However even the things unseen by people glorify God. Jesus told His disciples, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

People who follow Jesus do reveal and express the glory of God publicly but perhaps the time we glorify God most is in the secret place for there we have no need to play the hypocrite. There we can be honest with God since nothing is hidden from Him. Like all the things of creation that are rarely if ever seen by people it is perhaps our time alone with Him that glorifies Him most. It is when we are alone with God that we worship Him from a pure heart. “Do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Writing Scripts

“You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord” Jeremiah 42:20

The small, unprotected and disorganised remnant of Judah that remained in Judea must have felt vulnerable and unsafe. Those who had obeyed the Lord and surrendered to the king of Babylon were safe but removed from the land. Of those who had not obeyed the Lord most were now dead and only these few remained.

The armies of Babylon had gone home but they still felt that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them and they were at risk. Since everything Jeremiah had prophesied had come to pass they went to him and asked him to seek the Lord’s counsel.

They promised that they would obey the Lord regardless of “whether it is pleasing or displeasing” (v 6) but the Lord knew their hearts and was determined to reveal their hypocrisy. What is revealed is that they had already chosen what they would do and were just seeking the Lord’s confirmation. This is often the way people relate to God when they do not have a genuine personal relationship with Him.

We need to be careful that we do not follow the example of these people. When we pray we should make up our minds to do as He reveals regardless of the response. Let us be sure that we have not already settled our direction before we hear the Lord’s response to our prayer. If we have, we will make up scenarios or accounts of events that will seemingly justify our actions even when contrary to God’s revelation and word to us. True prayer allows the Lord to respond as He chooses with the full intention of obeying whether it seems pleasing to us or not.

The people who came to Jeremiah with this request received a wonderful response – stay where they are and God would be their provider and protector until all Israel was brought back. If they chose to disregard and disobey the word of the Lord, contrary to their promise, they would suffer the very thing they sought to escape.

They had already made up their minds and instead of believing God’s revelation concerning past events and their current situation, they invented their own version that would make their decision look reasonable (44:16-19). In so doing they called God a liar (43:2). The Lord’s response to these people was, “Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves” (44:7). It is so illogical for people to choose against the revealed will of God. One can only wonder at how often we have rewritten our own history so as to put ourselves in a good light when in fact we are disobeying the word of the Lord.

The issue was not so much about where they should be physically but where their heart is toward the Lord. The same is true for us. The Lord will also test our heart motives in prayer. He doesn’t do this to harm us but to reveal where our heart really is so that our relationship with Him may become more intimate. God’s warnings were for Judah’s good, as they are for us, so let us take Him at His word and not try and write our own scripts.

The “Would Have Beens”

“He would have fed them with the finest wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” Psalm 81:16

We may often ponder what might have been if we had made a different choice or acted and spoken differently but there is a certainty about these words: “Would have been.” This Psalm is a prayer for Israel to return to the Lord. Things would have been much different had they heeded the word of the Lord that had come through His prophets.

“Hear, O My people … O Israel, if you will listen to Me” (v 8) and “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (v 13). Had Israel heeded the Lord the nation would have been immeasurably better off. The Lord would have subdued their enemies and provided abundantly for them. Instead, He has allowed their enemies to have power over them and their land had been much less fruitful than it would have been.

Nothing can be done about the past except, hopefully, to learn from it. The Word of God will let us know what would have been had we been more willing to hear and conform to the will of God. The person without Christ will merely reflect on what might have been but God’s Word opens the door to realise that we have at times missed the perfect will of God. In His grace, as a loving Father, God has kept us through those times and not disowned or abandoned us.

Let us come to the Lord confessing our failure to hear and heed His word and determine in our hearts that, by His gracious enabling, there will be no more “would have beens” in our lives and plenty of “have beens!”

We discover His will for us through reading and studying the Bible combined with prayer and life experiences that the Lord sends our way. The temptation is to do that which seems right in our own eyes without seeking His will and way.

Vance Havner writes, “I suspect that much of our praying to be used is selfish and underneath it is the sneaking desire to make our mark and be recognised.” Our desire may be to glorify ourselves so that we and others think better of us but Peter writes that we are to live so “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

The key question we must ask with regard to all things in our lives is, “Is God glorified or am I?” If we are really honest before the Lord the answer might not be as we had hoped but this is an opportunity to grow in grace. Then He shall satisfy our hearts.

Ask Anything

“Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” John 14:13-14

These verses have been abused by some with the result that they have been led to believe that Christianity doesn’t work. When we read them it is important to read them in their context but also to read every word. There is a qualifier and the desired outcome given so that we might not misunderstand the limitations that apply to the invitation to come to the Father with our requests that carry a guaranteed positive response.

We are invited to pray always and in all situations and for everything but we are not given blanket assurance of a positive response.

The qualifier is “in my name.” After all, I am a child of God. No father who loves his child would give his child everything that they ask because some of their requests might result in harm.

Some years ago I was employed by a company that gave me the right to sign cheques up to a certain value without a second signature. However, there were limitations given not only in value but also the need to comply with procedures and instructions. It was not my money and it was not my name on the cheque. I was under delegated authority and I was required to act within the authority given.

In a similar way, when Jesus says “ask anything in My name”, He is saying that we must have authority from Him for the specific request, and we must abide by the limitations He has imposed if we are to have assurance of a positive outcome. When we fulfil the requirements He will do it. The outcome will be that “the Father [is] glorified in the Son.

We see an example of this kind of delegated authority in 1 Samuel 25 when David sent men to the foolish Nabal. “David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name’ (v 5). “So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited” (v 9).

The young men only had authority to speak the words that David had given them. They were acting in his name under his authority.

While we readily see that there are limitations, we can also see that there is a huge scope for prayer. The scope is revealed in the Bible – we need to read and soak it up in order to know the multitude of things for which we may ask that are according to the will of God and therefore have an assurance of a positive response.

We could pray in accord with 2 Peter 3:9 or with the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 and many other prayers and invitations to pray. If it is in the revealed will of God we may ask with confidence of receiving that for which we ask (1 John 5:16).

By all means, pray with regard to everything – and in everything give thanks – because God wants to commune with us and He does answer prayer. In God’s grace he has revealed some matters for which we may pray and have an assurance of His positive response. That will encourage us to pray such prayers.

Constrained by Christ

“I also withheld you from sinning against Me” Genesis 20:6

As a youngster growing up and in my teens there were many temptations to sin, not that I recognised them as such at the time. There were things that others were doing that I wanted to do as well but there often seemed to be a limit as to how far I could go. It was more than just conscience. There were physical barriers such as opportunity, interruptions or distractions at key moments. There was also the risk of being caught doing what I knew to be wrong and in other cases the matter was simply not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. That is not to say that I did not indulge in sin. There is not one of the Ten Commandments that I did not disregard at some time if we use Jesus’ application of the commandments that He gives in the Sermon on the Mount.

Even so, as I look back on my life I am well aware that there was a hand limiting my indulgence in sin. At the time it caused me frustration and even anger but now as I read this verse I am so very grateful to God for the merciful and gracious resistance He gave to my lustful self-seeking passions. No doubt His resistance also flowed from praying parents but in this passage we find that it appears that no earthly person was praying for Abimelech. God took the initiative by making Abimelech, his wife and all his servants impotent. Then he spoke to Abimelech in a dream explaining the reason and the solution.

Perhaps as you are reading this article the Holy Spirit is bringing to mind occasions when He put something in the way so that you did not venture down a particular path of sin. As I look back I now wish that He had done so much more. Perhaps part of the answer as to why God has not always kept us from sin can be found in this account of Abimelech.

He was told to restore Sarah to Abraham but he was not forced to do so. However, the way he chose to respond would have a consequence. If he did not restore Sarah to Abraham he and his entire house would die. God had a plan for Sarah and Abraham and He would not be thwarted. If Abimelech did restore Sarah, Abraham would pray for him and he and his entire house would be healed.

We suffer consequences when we disregard God’s word or do not obey Him. God will perform His will with or without our cooperation – but it will be far better for us to join with Him and do as He asks. When we do, there will be a better outcome for our children, grandchildren and others we love.

Let us give a little time each day to thank God for the times He kept us from unwitting and witting sin.
Let us praise Him for His kindness and great grace toward us even before we believed.
Let us humble ourselves before Him and magnify the name of Jesus – because it is only by His shed blood that He is able to forgive and cleanse us, and still remain just.