MONOLOGUE OR DIALOGUE?

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” [1 Samuel 3:10 (ESV)]

snowy egret 0 tri-colored heronWhen friends moved into an apartment in a brand-new senior living community, I asked the wife how she liked it. While she liked their new home, she admitted being tired of meeting new people—and everybody there was new to the community! She then confided that it wasn’t the new people that exhausted her; it was having to listen to her husband tell their latest acquaintances the same old stories she’s heard him recite for the last thirty plus years! As nice as he is, I’m not sure I could have lasted three years, let alone three decades, with her loquacious husband. We’ve vacationed with this couple and her husband is best taken in small doses!

My conversation with her spurred me to ask another friend if she experiences the same thing with her equally outgoing and chatty husband, a man who is always ready to start conversations with strangers at the drop of a hat. She, however, hasn’t grown tired of meeting new people and hearing many of her husband’s same old stories. Oddly, I don’t think the difference lies in the wives’ attitudes—it lies in the men.

The first husband rarely pauses in his banter to listen to anything his listeners have to say. If they do manage to get a word in edgewise, he doesn’t let whatever has been said redirect his monologue. When he’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Conversing with him is more like listening to a long soliloquy or an operatic aria. He’s the star of his show and everyone else is his audience. Of course, his wife is tired of listening to him (as are many of his friends).

The second husband, however, is a wonderful conversationalist because he’s a good listener. While he may start the story, he draws in his listeners as he speaks. He asks questions, listens to their answers, and responds to their replies. His isn’t a solo performance; it’s an exchange of thoughts and ideas. He values what others say as much as what he has to say. Granted, he may tell many of the same old stories but, since others become involved in their telling and share their stories as well, there is always a new twist to them. Conversing with him is like being actors in the same play or singing together in a choir—everyone participates in the show.

Thinking of those two men, I wondered what it’s like for God when we come to him day after day in prayer. Does he ever tire of hearing the same thing over and over? When we pray, are we like the first husband? Do we approach God, time and time again, with the same old thanks, complaints, petitions and intercessions without waiting for his response? Do we focus our prayers on what we want rather than what God wants for us? Or, like the second husband, do we come to God as anxious to listen as to speak, as ready to learn as to explain, and as willing to change as to ask for change? When Samuel was just a boy, God spoke directly to him but we don’t read about Samuel giving God his two shekels’ worth in return. Samuel responded that he was ready to listen and, for the rest of his life, that’s what he did as he passed on God’s word to the Israelites.

While hearing is easy, listening is not and we can only hear God if we have a heart that listens. We expect God to listen attentively to us when we pray but I’m not so sure we do a very good job of listening in return. Since it’s difficult to hear anyone else when we’re doing the talking, perhaps we should follow the Psalmist’s advice to be still and know that He is Lord. I’m sure God is never at a loss for words but, if we’re not quiet, we won’t hear His voice! The Greek philosopher Epictetus said we have two ears and only one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Did I hear a heavenly “Amen!” to that?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak. [James 1:19 (ESV)]

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! [Psalm 81:8 (ESV)]

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YOUR KINGDOM COME

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)]

Remember that the same Christ who tells us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” had first given us this petition, “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Let not your prayers be all concerning your own sins, your own wants, your own imperfections, your own trials, but let them climb the starry ladder, and get up to Christ Himself, and then, as you draw nigh to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, offer this prayer continually, “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son.” [Charles Spurgeon]

sunflowerIt wasn’t until I read Charles Spurgeon’s paraphrase of “Your kingdom come,” as “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son,” that I truly gave serious thought to what it means to pray, “Your (or “Thy”) kingdom come.” Although we say it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, what exactly do those three words mean? After all, that was God Himself giving His disciples a guideline to prayer and there certainly couldn’t be a better teacher! Since there are over seventy references to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament and this petition immediately follows praising God’s name in Jesus’ prayer, the coming of God’s Kingdom clearly was important to Him.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection opened the doors to God’s Kingdom. Yet, it is only when Jesus comes again at the end of the age that God’s Kingdom will reign with power and authority. While this petition is for the fulfillment of the Kingdom with Christ’s return, it is much more than that. As we pray for the coming of Jesus in the future, these three words also are a petition for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in the present. They are a prayer that the gospel message will be preached to and accepted by all so that the whole world will be made Christ’s Kingdom and filled with His glory. We’re asking God to reveal Himself in such a way that His kingdom is visible here on earth and that He will open the hearts of those we encounter and to whom we witness.

Praying that God’s Kingdom will come is also an acknowledgement that He is our sovereign king and the ruler of our lives. Even though the Kingdom will not be complete until the second coming of Christ, we can experience it today. This leads into  the next petition of “Your will be done,” in which we ask Him to enable us to do what is pleasing to Him. May we be genuine, faithful, obedient, and capable servants of His Kingdom!

Although my lips frequently speak the words, ”Your Kingdom come,” until considering Spurgeon’s words, I barely understood their magnitude. In my personal prayers, I have neglected praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom—the day when Jesus will return and all things will be restored. Although I remember to pray for pastors, missions, and missionaries, the expansion of God’s Kingdom here and now and the role I should play in that expansion has never been on the top of my prayer list either.

If the coming of His Kingdom is God’s priority, perhaps it should be ours as well. Moreover, we should prove the truth of our prayers by putting our words into Kingdom-promoting action. Let us be like the Apostle Paul who, “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” [Acts 28:31]

We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. [John Calvin]

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)]

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PRIORITIES

And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. [Luke 12:29-31 (NLT)]

bee on cloverIn writing about keeping the main thing the main thing, I mentioned the sisters Martha and Mary. Hospitality was highly valued in Jewish life and, as the host, Martha’s character and reputation depended on how well she managed her household and served her guests. Offering hospitality to a famous teacher was a great honor and, to show her devotion to Jesus, Martha seemed determined to make the most of it by preparing a lavish feast for Him. Unlike her sister, the contemplative Mary defied the customs of her day; rather than helping in the kitchen, she took the place of a disciple and sat at Jesus’ feet

Instead of keeping her eye on the main thing—which was Jesus—Martha was distracted by all that she was doing. The word usually translated as distracted is periespato. Meaning to be drawn away, troubled, or over-burdened, this is the only time it was used in the New Testament. The King James translation of this word as “cumbered” probably is a better picture of her state of mind. It wasn’t that a distracted Martha forgot to put out cups for the wine. She was weighed down and encumbered because she’d saddled herself with things of secondary importance and lost sight of the main thing.

Not needing an elaborate banquet or a perfectly set table, Jesus told Martha not to be concerned over the details. Explaining that there only was one thing about which to be concerned, He said Mary had found it. The exact identity of that one thing, however, is unstated. We understand Jesus’ words to mean that the Kingdom of God takes precedence over anything in the house, that sitting at the master’s feet and listening to Him is more important than chores, and that the Lord has first claim on our time.

Martha often is criticized for her concern with earthly matters while Mary is praised for her concern with spiritual ones. Let’s remember, however, that Jesus never said Martha had chosen something bad—just that Mary had chosen something better. In a way, these two sisters illustrate the two approaches to the Christian life mentioned by the Apostle James: faith and works. Rather than being mutually exclusive, they are complementary. Worship should lead to service, not replace it, just as service should lead to worship. Just as Martha lost sight of being with Jesus while serving Him, we must never allow our work for Him to eclipse our relationship with Him.

Our love for and service to the Lord must be intertwined and we shouldn’t neglect the one for the other. Nevertheless, when our work for Him takes away from spending time with Him, we must choose the better thing—being with Him is more important than serving Him. Let’s keep the main thing—our relationship with Jesus—the main thing.

Everything begins with the right priorities, and right priorities begin with God. [Woodrow Kroll]

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

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Please Pray for the People of Afghanistan

I am forwarding this request from Franklin Graham. Please join with us in making today a day of prayer for the people of Afghanistan.

Dear Friend,

Thousands of people, including up to 15,000 Americans, are desperately trying to escape from Afghanistan after the country’s fall to the Taliban.

These Islamic extremists, who have now taken Afghanistan back by force, have a history of brutality, including beheadings and public executions. Time is short and the need is urgent, and that is why I am calling for a day of prayer this Sunday, Aug. 22.

With the Taliban blocking access to the airport and all exit routes, this is a life-or-death situation for Christians and other religious minorities, and all those who worked with or for America over the past two decades. There is no hope for these people to get out safely—apart from a miracle from the hand of God—and that’s what we need to pray for.

Samaritan’s Purse is doing what we can through partners working to help people get out of the country. It is a difficult and tragic situation. Will you please join me in praying for God to intervene in a mighty way?

Sincerely,

Franklin Graham
President, Samaritan’s Purse

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. [James 5:16 (NLT)]

CRUEL WORDS

I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. [Psalm 120:1-2 (NIV)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesFeeling wounded by an unwarranted condemnation, I was struggling with forgiving what to me were slanderous words. The peace that accompanies true forgiveness eluded me as the memory of the accusation haunted me. In comparison to the betrayals, deception, and abuse I’ve managed to forgive in my 74 years, this barely qualified as a misdemeanor. Nevertheless, my integrity had been called into question. Wounded in a way I never expected, I struggled to forgive.

I kept scratching at those hurtful words the way a child does a mosquito bite and, every time I did, it just got worse. Granted, there are far worse things than a false accusation but, sometimes, it’s the little things that are hardest to forgive. That my accuser hadn’t apologized helped fuel my resentment. Bringing my problem to God, I asked why I couldn’t let this slight go. Why was I allowing someone else to make me miserable over what really wasn’t worth losing sleep over?

As I prayed about it, God brought me to Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 120 and his words about slander: “Those who have felt the edge of a cruel tongue know assuredly that it is sharper than the sword.” Aimed at our sense of honor, slurs and disparagement can be shot privately, polished up, and delivered with subtlety; nevertheless, they are tipped with poison. “We could ward off the strokes of a cutlass, but we have no shield against a liar’s tongue,” continued the famed 19th century preacher.

Pointing out that stirring up the allegation only makes it spread, Spurgeon continued: “Silence to man and prayer to God are the best cures for the evil of slander.” The Apostle Paul tells us that, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” [1 Cor. 4:12-13] Heeding the words of both Charles Spurgeon and Paul, I chose silence and prayer. My best response to the attack was quiet integrity rather than any of the sharp retorts filling my mind because the only One who needed to know the truth about me already did!

As for that missing apology—when Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, He never set an apology as a prerequisite! As Christians, we are to have forgiving hearts, regardless of the circumstances. We must forgive with as much grace as God has forgiven us! We can’t do so on our own power but we can with God’s! As I resolved to be a peacemaker, God empowered me to forgive the offender.

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness: he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. [Matthew 5:9-11 (NIV)]

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SHOW US

Always celebrate, never stop praying; in everything be thankful (this is God’s will for you in the Messiah Jesus). [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NTE)]

green heronEarlier this week, I wrote about the ten Boom sisters giving thanks in their horrible circumstances. Because of the physical pain I’ve been experiencing these last several weeks, I know how easy it is to talk the talk but how hard it is to actually walk it. Indeed, when you’re hurting, giving thanks in all circumstances is far easier said than done.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, however, doesn’t say we must give thanks for everything; we are to give thanks in everything and there’s a big difference between the two. Knowing that God’s love and mercies never cease and that we are His well-loved children, even though we don’t welcome our circumstances, we can be thankful in them. Even when we can’t see His purpose in our present situation, we know that God is intimately involved in them and is working for our good through them. We can be thankful that we are not facing our affliction alone. Jesus was with Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in Ravensbrück, He’s here with me, and He’s there beside you wherever and whatever you’re going through. Knowing this enables us to give thanks in all circumstances!

While writing about Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, I remembered Betsie’s response to Corrie when she asked how they could live in the deplorable conditions of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Rather than answering her sister, Betsie immediately started to pray, but she didn’t ask God to change their situation. Instead, she simply asked God to show them how to live in their present one; “Show us. Show us how,” she prayed.

Recalling Betsie ten Boom’s prayer of “Show us,” I realized that, along with discerning God’s purpose for my pain and giving thanks in my circumstances, I needed to ask Him to show me how to function in my new normal. If given a choice, I wouldn’t have selected back and neck pain from life’s menu but my pastor friend wouldn’t have chosen stage-4 cancer nor would my sister have selected MS. The ten Boom sisters wouldn’t have chosen a concentration camp and none of us would have selected a pandemic. As unwanted as they were, however, they were what we got. Let us graciously accept them as we ask for God’s guidance and the power to live in them. Someday, it all will make sense. Until that time, as we wonder how we can function in our difficult circumstances, we can pray Betsie’s prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” God answered me and He will answer you!

There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is—that is the rest of victory! [Alan Redpath]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

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