Read an Excerpt
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?"
Jesus has a wonderful way of restoring us when we fail Him! He does not humiliate us. He does not criticize us. He does not ask us to make a resolution to try harder. Rather, He takes us aside and asks us to reaffirm our love for Him.
Peter miserably failed his Lord when he fled with the other disciples from the Garden of Gethsemane. Later, he publicly denied that he even knew Jesus. Peter must have wondered if he had been capable of being Jesus' disciple when he was unfaithful to Jesus in His most crucial hour.
As you begin a new year, you may be painfully aware that you have failed your Lord in many ways. Perhaps you were not faithful. Perhaps you disobeyed His word to you. Perhaps you denied Him by the way you lived. Jesus will take you aside, as He did Peter. He will not berate you. He will not humiliate you. He will ask you to examine your love for Him. He asked Peter, "Do you love Me?" If your answer, like Peter's, is "Yes, Lord," He will reaffirm His will for you. If you truly love Him, you will obey Him (John 14:15). Jesus does not need your resolutions, your recommitments, or your promises to try harder this year. If your resolve to obey God last year did not help you to be faithful, it will not make you successful this year. Jesus asks for your love. If you truly love Him, your service for Him in the newyear will be of the quality that He desires.
Woe Is Me!
So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts."
An exalted view of God brings a clear view of sin and a realistic view of self. A diminished view of God brings a reduced concern for sin and an inflated view of self. Isaiah may have been satisfied with his personal holiness until he saw the Lord in His unspeakable glory. Isaiah's encounter with holy God made him immediately and keenly aware of his own unholiness and the sinfulness of those around him. It is impossible to worship God and remain unchanged. The best indication that we have truly worshiped is a changed heart.
Have we so conformed ourselves to a sinful world that we are satisfied with unholy living? Have we sunk so far below God's standard that when someone does live as God intended, we consider that person "superspiritual"? If we only compare our personal holiness to those around us, we may be deceived into believing that we are living a consecrated life. Yet when we encounter holy God, our only response can be "Woe is me!"
You will not see those around you trusting Jesus until they recognize a clear difference between you and the rest of the world. God wants to sanctify you as He is holy. When God deals with you, there will be a radical degree of purity about your life that is absolutely different from what the world can produce. The world, including those closest to you, will be convinced you serve a holy God by your consecrated life.
Making a Difference
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not
defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies.
Would you dare to believe that God, who called you to Himself and equipped you with His Spirit, could work mightily through you? Have you made the connection between the time and place in which you live and God's call upon you? World events never catch God by surprise. He placed you precisely where you are for a purpose.
Daniel did not let the temptations of his day interfere with his relationship to the Lord. He knew that to make his life useful to God he must be obedient in all things. Regardless of what the most powerful king in the world commanded, Daniel refused to compromise what he knew God required of him.
History is replete with examples of Christian men and women who believed that God would work through them to make a significant difference for His kingdom. God placed Esther strategically in the king's court at a crucial time when she could save the lives of God's people (Esther 4:14). God placed Joseph strategically to become the most powerful adviser to the pharaoh in Egypt and to save Jacob and his family from a devastating drought (Gen. 41:39-40).
Are you allowing your surroundings to determine how you invest your life? Or are you letting God use you to make a difference in your generation? Ask God to reveal His purposes for you and His will for your life today.
Trembling at God's Word
But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word.
Do you tremble when God speaks? When was the last time you were physically affected by the reality that almighty God just spoke directly to you? John lost all physical strength when God spoke to him (Rev. 1:17); Paul fell to the ground when Christ met him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4); Moses trembled when God spoke to him (Acts 7:32); and Peter, when he realized who Jesus was, "fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, `Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!'" (Luke 5:8).
Have you lost your sense of awe that the Creator still chooses to speak to you, His creation? Do you approach the reading of your Bible with a holy expectation, listening for the life-changing words that God has for you that day? Scripture says that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). There are things you will see and hear out of your fear and reverence for God that you will not experience in any other way.
As you study your Bible, you may sense that God has something to say directly to you through the verses you are reading. Take a moment to consider the awesome reality that the God who spoke and created a universe is now speaking to you. If Jesus could speak and raise the dead, calm a storm, cast out demons, and heal the incurable, then what effect might a word from Him have upon your life? The possibilities should cause you to tremble! The next time you open God's Word, do so with a sense of holy expectation.
Ritual or Relationship?
Neither did they say, "Where is the Lord,
Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness?"
Christianity is an intimate, growing relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a set of doctrines to believe, habits to practice, or sins to avoid. Every activity God commands is intended to enhance His love relationship with His people.
God designed worship for us to see Him in His glory and to respond appropriately; for many it has degenerated into "religion," one more meeting to attend out of habit. God established the sacrificial system so that we, His people, could express our love to Him; but we often diminish our gifts to our Lord into futile attempts to appease Him and to pacify our guilty conscience. God gave us prayer so we could have conversation with Him, but we often distort this by "saying prayers" and hurrying off without ever listening to what is on our Father's heart. God instituted His commandments as a protection for those He loves, but the commandments can become a pathway to legalism rather than an avenue for a relationship with our Father in which He protects us from harm.
Religious activity apart from fellowship with God is empty ritual. The people of Jeremiah's day were satisfied to have the ritual without the manifest presence of God. They became so comfortable with their "religion" that they didn't even notice God's absence. Is it possible to pray, to attend a worship service, or to give an offering yet not to experience the presence of God? It certainly is possible! And that has been the sad commentary on many a Christian experience. Don't settle for a religious life that lacks a vital relationship to Jesus Christ. When God is present, the difference will be obvious.
God Looks for Clay
"O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?"
says the Lord. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand,
so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!"
God knows how to bring salvation to your family, your friends, your community, and your world. Accordingly, He looks for those who will allow Him to shape them into the instruments He requires to do His divine work. Clay has no plans of its own, no aspirations for service, nor reluctance to perform its given task. It is just clay. Moldable, pliable, totally submissive to the will of its master.
At times we excitedly announce to God: "I've discovered my strengths and gifts, and now I know how I can best serve You!" At other times we inform Him, "I am aware of what my weaknesses are, so I know which tasks I'm not capable of doing for You." Yet this is not characteristic of clay. God is not limited to working with our strengths (2 Cor. 12:9-10). He can mold us into whatever kind of instrument He requires. When God's assignment demands humility, he finds a servant willing to be humbled. When His work requires zeal, He looks for someone He can fill with His Spirit. God uses holy vessels, so He finds those who will allow Him to remove their impurities. It is not a noble task, being clay. There is no glamour to it, nothing boastworthy, except that it is exactly what almighty God is looking for. Compliant, moldable, yielded clay.
If your tendency is to tell the Father what you can and cannot do for Him, submit to His agenda and allow Him to shape you into the person He wants you to be. Like clay.
We Live by Revelation
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.
The world operates on vision. God's people live by revelation. The world seeks grand and noble purposes and goals to achieve. People dream up the greatest and most satisfying things in which they can invest their lives. Institutions establish goals and objectives and then organize themselves to achieve them. God's people function in a radically different way. Christians arrange their lives based on the revelation of God, regardless of whether it makes sense to them. God does not ask for our opinion about what is best for our future, our family, our church, or our country. He already knows! What God wants is to get the attention of His people and reveal to us what is on His heart and what is His will, for God's ways are not our ways! (Isa. 55:8-9).
Whenever people do not base their lives on God's revelation, they "cast off restraint." That is, they do what is right in their own eyes. They set their goals, arrange their agendas, and then pray for God's blessings. Some Christians are living far outside the will of God, yet they have the audacity to pray and ask God to bless their efforts!
The only way for you to know God's will is for Him to reveal it to you. You will never discover it on your own. When you hear from the Father, you have an immediate agenda for your life: obedience. As the writer of Proverbs observed: "Happy is he who keeps the law."
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly
abundantly above all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works in us.
At times we feel as if we could impress God with all we are trying to do for Him and His church. Yet God has yet to be impressed with even the most grandiose human aspirations (Ps. 8:3-4). You will never set a goal so big or attempt a task so significant that God does not have something far greater that He could do in and through your life. Saul of Tarsus worked harder than anyone else to impress God with his efforts, only to discover that his greatest achievements were but rubbish compared to God's will for his life (Phil. 3:7-8).
Our problem is that we become too easily enamored with our own plans. If we are attempting to do noble or difficult things, we assume that we must be experiencing the maximum potential for our lives and that God must, therefore, be pleased with us. Until we have heard from God, we cannot even imagine all that our lives could become or all that God could accomplish through us.
We need to remind ourselves that the Father sees the "big picture," that His power far exceeds our limited imagination. We must set aside our own agenda, however lofty. We must never become satisfied with our own dreams, for they are finite at best. When we follow God's direction we will witness things happening in our lives that can only be explained by His powerful presence. How could we be satisfied with anything less?
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight,
He went out and departed to a solitary place;
and there He prayed.
It was common knowledge among the disciples that they would find Jesus praying during the early morning hours. When they needed Him, they knew to go to the place of prayer. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he led his cohorts to Jesus' place of prayer.
Every time the Lord Jesus faced an important decision, He prayed. When He was being tempted to do things by the world's methods instead of the Father's, He prayed (Matt. 4). When it was time to choose His disciples, He prayed the entire night (Luke 6:12). If the Son of God required a night of prayer in order to determine the Father's mind, how long might it take us in prayer to clearly determine our Father's will?
Because Jesus was so often surrounded by crowds, He knew He must find a quiet place so He could clearly hear His Father's voice. Jesus had many people seeking to influence the direction of His life. His disciples wanted Him to go where the crowds were (Mark 1:37). The crowds wanted to crown Him king (John 6:15). Satan tempted Him to make compromises in order to draw a following (Matt. 4:3, 6, 9). Jesus knew that His mission was not to attract a crowd, but to remain obedient to His Father. It was prayer that set the agenda for Jesus' ministry (Luke 6:12). Prayer preceded the miracles (John 11:42-43); prayer brought Him encouragement at critical moments (Luke 9:28-31); prayer enabled Him to go to the cross (Luke 22:41-42); and prayer kept Him there despite excruciating pain (Luke 23:46). Follow the Savior's example, and let your time alone with God, in prayer, set the agenda for your life.
When God Speaks, It Is So
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
When God speaks, nothing remains the same. At the beginning of time, God spoke, and a universe was created out of nothing. God followed a pattern when He created the earth: He spoke; it was so; it was good (Gen. 1:3-4). This pattern continued throughout the Bible. Whenever God revealed His plans, things happened just as He said, and God considered the result "good" (Phil. 2:13). God doesn't make suggestions. He speaks with the full determination to see that what He has said will come to fruition.
Whenever Jesus spoke, what He said came to pass. Lepers found that a word from Jesus meant healing (Luke 5:13; 17:14). The blind man discovered that a word from Jesus meant sight (Luke 18:42). Through a barren fig tree the disciples saw that a curse from Jesus meant destruction (Mark 11:20). The sinner experienced forgiveness through a word from Jesus (John 8:11). How many attempts did it take Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead? Only one (John 11:43). There was never a time that Jesus spoke that what He said did not happen.
What happens when Jesus speaks to you? Have you been reading the words of Jesus in your Bible without experiencing His word that transforms everything around you? Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they assumed that knowledge of the written Scriptures would give them life. They were satisfied with having the words instead of experiencing the person who spoke the words (John 5:39). How powerful a word from God is to your life! As you read your Bible and pray, listen to what God has to say to you about His will for your life.
Sowing Seeds of
But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward.
There are many ways to invest our lives, but none offers greater reward than devoting ourselves to the pursuit of righteousness. Every area of our lives should reflect the holiness of God that is ours by salvation: our thoughts, so that nothing we think about would be inappropriate for a child of God; our actions, so that our lives demonstrate that we serve a holy God; our integrity, so that we are above reproach in all our relationships.
Are you taking God's righteousness in your life for granted? Righteousness is something you must allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life. Instead of sowing holy thoughts, are you allowing evil and sinful thoughts to grow in your mind? Are you allowing lust to grow unchecked within you? Does enmity, bitterness, jealousy, or unforgiveness remain in your life? Jesus said if we seek first God and His righteousness, everything else will follow (Matt. 6:33).
There is great reward in sowing righteousness. What are you presently doing to plant holiness in your life? (1 Pet. 1:15). How are you putting righteousness in your mind so that your thoughts are holy? How are you cultivating righteousness in your relationships so that you maintain your integrity? Are you instilling righteousness in your activities so that your life is above reproach? If you want to harvest righteousness in your life tomorrow, you must plant seeds of righteousness today.
The Key to God's
"That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me,
and I in You; that they also may be one in Us,
that the world may believe that You sent Me."
God often speaks of human relationships as a part of His mission to redeem a lost world (John 13:20; Matt. 25:40). One reason He gives for a husband and wife to live in unity is so they can produce a "godly seed," that is, children who love and obey God, who can be used in God's mission to bring redemption to a lost world (Mal. 2:14-15). Similarly, the church is the body of Christ. A church cannot be on mission with the Father in our world if its members are waging war with one another (1 Cor. 12:12). There is a crucial connection between our relationships with others and the salvation of those around us.
We might assume that during Jesus' prayer before His crucifixion, He would have prayed that His disciples would have courage, or would remain faithful, or would remember what they had been taught. Yet He asked that His followers would remain united in their love for one another. Jesus understood that it is spiritually impossible to love God but not love others.
A test of your love for God is to examine your love for others. Our tendency is to say, "Heavenly Father, the problem is not between You and me. I love You with all my heart. I just don't love my brother." And God says, "That is an impossibility. You cannot love Me without loving the ones for whom My Son died" (John 13:34-35). Your life will not convince those around you of the reality of Jesus if you cannot live in unity with your fellow Christians.
The Penetrating Word
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than
any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul
and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner
of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Does God's Word ever cause you discomfort? When you read the Bible, does what you read make you uneasy? Do you find, when you listen to sermons, that the Scripture seems aimed directly at you? You are experiencing the reality that the word of God is alive and can read your thoughts and judge your intentions.
When God's Word speaks to you it is always for a purpose. God knows your heart and knows what you need to do to bring your life into conformity to Christ. If you have a problem with sinful talk, the word that comes to you will address the tongue. If you are struggling to forgive, God's Word will confront you with His standard for forgiveness. If pride has a stronghold in your life, God's Word will speak to you about humility. Whatever sin needs addressing, you will find you are confronted by God's Word on the matter.
One way you can escape the discomfort of conviction is to avoid hearing God speak to you. You may neglect reading your Bible and stay away from places where it is taught. You may avoid those whom you know will uphold the truths of Scripture. The best response, however, is to pray as the psalmist did: "Search me, O God, and know my heart" (Ps. 139:23). Regularly allow the word of God to wash over you and find any sin or impurity (Eph. 5:26). Always make the connection between your life and what God is saying to you through His word. Make a habit of taking every word from God seriously, knowing that it is able to judge your heart and mind.
Warfare ... or Discipline?
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.
There is a tendency among Christians to view anything unpleasant that happens to them as the result of "spiritual warfare." When a difficulty arises, many immediately ask God to remove their distress. The problem is that their predicament may have nothing to do with Satan or with spiritual warfare. It may appear far more glorious for us to explain our hardships as Satan's determined attacks against us, rather than admitting that we are merely reaping what we have sown and are being disciplined by our heavenly Father (Gal. 6:7).
What is often mistaken as Satan's attack may actually be chastisement from our loving Father. If you have neglected your role as spiritual teacher to your children, God may allow them to fall into sin. If you have been dishonest at work, God may correct you by letting you face the consequences. It would be foolish to pray that God would ease your discomfort. God is disciplining you in order to gain your attention and bring necessary change to your life. How tragic never to make the connection between your problems and God's discipline. God's discipline will not help you if you dismiss it as Satan's doing or spiritual warfare. Not every hardship you face is the chastisement of God, but Scripture indicates that God will discipline you.
If you misunderstand God's chastening, you may actually blame Him for not answering your prayers or failing to protect you from Satan. Meanwhile, God is warning you of the danger you face because of your sin. Are there difficult circumstances in your life? Could it be the discipline of God? God, whose nature is perfect love, will correct you because He has your ultimate good in His heart.
Compelled to Serve
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power.
One mark of revival, during which God comes to His people in power, is that God's people are compelled to offer their lives for His service. Many churches lack people who are willing to get involved in carrying out God's redemptive work. The mission fields are crying out for Christians to go and share the gospel with those who've never heard it. What we need is not more pleas for volunteers, but an outpouring of the power of God. When God comes among His people in power, there is never a shortage of volunteers or resources for His work!
When Christians today are asked what aspects of the Christian life are most important to them, missions is not usually ranked as a priority. This is because we have lost track of why God called us in the first place. We were not saved from our sin simply so that we would qualify for heaven. God delivered us so we would have a relationship with Him through which He could carry out His mission to redeem a lost world.
Only the power of God can free us from our natural self-centeredness and reorient us toward the mission of God. There is no need to pray that God would come in power. That is the only way He ever comes. We need hearts that are so responsive to Him that He will choose to demonstrate His power through us. Is your heart so filled with love for God that you are watching for the first opportunity to say with Isaiah, "Here am I. Send me!"?
God's Eternal Perspective
I will make you a great nation; I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
Big assignments require big characters. God will give you a responsibility in proportion to the size of your character. In Bible times, a person's name represented his character; to know someone's name was to know what the person was like. That's why God changed the name of some when He transformed their character. For example, the Lord wanted to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram, yet Abram's character was too weak for such a great task. God said He would make Abram's name great so that He could make him a blessing to future generations. Then over the next twenty-five years, God developed Abraham's character to match the name He had given him.
God sees your life from His eternal perspective. He will take whatever time is necessary to grow your character to match His assignment for you. If you have not received a divine commission lately, it may be that your character needs maturing. Are you impatient to begin your work before God has refined your character? A small character will fail in a large responsibility every time. Don't be too hasty to get to the work. Character-building can be long and painful. It took twenty-five years before God entrusted Abraham with his first son and set in motion the establishment of the nation of Israel. Yet God was true to His word, and thousands of years later people continue to be blessed by the account of Abraham's life and by his descendant, Jesus.
How is God building your character? Do you sense He has a task for you that will require a far greater man or woman than you presently are? Will you yield to God as He works in your life to prepare you for your next assignment?
"Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.
First be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift."
It is useless to give offerings to God while you are at enmity with your brother. Jesus said that His followers should be reconciled with anyone who has something against them. The world seeks reconciliation on limited terms. Christians are to be reconciled, whatever it takes.
You say, "But you don't know how deeply he hurt me! It's unreasonable to ask me to restore our relationship." Or, "I tried but she would not be appeased." Jesus did not include an exception clause for our reconciliation. If the person is an enemy, Jesus said to love him (Matt. 5:44). If he persecutes you, you are to pray for him (v. 44). If she publicly humiliates you, you are not to retaliate (v. 39). If someone takes advantage of you, you are to give even more than he asks (v. 41). The world preaches "Assert yourself." Jesus taught, "Deny yourself." The world warns that you will be constantly exploited. Jesus' concern was not that His disciples be treated fairly but that they show unconditional love to others regardless of how they are treated. Men spat upon Jesus and nailed Him to a cross. His response was our model: "Father, forgave them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
If there were ever a command that is constantly disobeyed, it is this mandate to be reconciled. We comfort ourselves with the thought, "God knows that I tried to make things right, but my enemy refused." God's Word does not say "Try to be reconciled," but "Be reconciled." Is there someone with whom you need to make peace? Then do what God tells you to do.