Posts Tagged 'fear'

Me Worry?

9e96fe1b1357b419f4b43967c62b7705The secret of living an anxiety-free life isn’t a secret at all; it’s found in the Bible.  The cat was let out of the bag some 2,000 years ago, so if you’re still one of the millions of American Christians lugging around cares, anxieties, and worries, you have no one to blame but yourself!   Here’s the alternative to anxiety:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:7 | NIV84)

You may be thinking, “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work.”  If it didn’t work, then you’re doing it wrong.  The Bible is a book full of guarantees, not hit-and-miss advice.  Let’s take a look at 1 Peter 5:7 in context and you’ll discover what you may be doing wrong.

Broadly speaking 

First things first.  This letter, as all New Testament letters, was written to Christians.  So at the very outset we realize that the admonition to “cast all your anxiety on him” applies only to Christians.  The non-believer cannot possibly do that, therefore he cannot possibly enjoy a life free from anxiety.  Put another way, if you are a Christian and experiencing anxiety then you are living like an non-believer!  How pathetic is that?

Narrowing things down a bit more, this letter wasn’t just written to Christians but Christians who regularly attend church.  Ouch.  So if you are a Christian but don’t regularly attend church, then you can cast your anxieties all you want, but nobody is there to catch them.  The dirty little secret is that you must be in regular fellowship with the Body of Christ in order to receive so many of the promises made to you.

There aren’t very many verses in the New Testament about the necessity of attending church.  Ever wonder why?  It’s because Paul, Peter, John, and the other New Testament writers all assumed that Christians would be in church.  The thought that you could call yourself a Christian yet not fellowship with other believers within the context of a local church was completely foreign to them.  The one verse about church attendance most of us ignore is found in Hebrews:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:24-25 | NIV84) 

It seems some believers were getting into the habit of laying out of church, and that’s the reason for this piece of advice.  But notice something else:  Regular church attendance is important so that its members may “encourage one another.”  This encouragement can take many forms, but as verse 24 says, we should be in church so that we may “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  In other words, we learn how to live righteous lives by being in church.

Back to 1 Peter, in the previous chapter we read this:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.   (1 Peter 4:12 | NIV84) 

Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering at the hands of non-believers; they were facing some persecution on account of their faith.  In his opinion, that was the norm, not the exception.  Everybody suffers sometimes, but Christians can count on encountering some “extra” suffering because of their relationship with Jesus Christ.  Not just the norm, it is God’s will. That doesn’t mean God delights in His people suffering or that He necessarily causes suffering.  But remember Job?  He got it:

But he knows the way that I take;when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.  (Job 23:10 | NIV84) 

Like gold that is being purified, so Christians are being purified – not in a fiery furnace but in the furnace of affliction.  Ultimately God is far more concerned with our eternal state than with our present state, although He is certainly concerned about that, and He will use whatever means He has at His disposal to help us along in our growth toward Christian maturity, even if that means allowing some persecution to touch us.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?   (1 Peter 4:17 | NIV84) 

It’s not easy being a believer, and it’s even harder for the disobedient believer.  If we faithful Christians have a hard time, imagine how difficult it is those who ignore the Word of God?  In chapter 5, Peter takes aim at some select people within the church, starting with its elders.

Conduct of the pastor 

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  (1 Peter 5:1-4 | NIV84) 

In the church, the job of the pastor is a simple one:  shepherd God’s flock.  The shepherd had a threefold duty: to provide pasture, paths to the pasture, and protection along the paths to the pasture. The pastor, and by extension the elders of a church, is to preach and teach God’s Word, provide opportunities for his people to learn God’s Word, and to show by both his preaching and his example how to live God’s Word.  He is to do this willingly, not as one forced to or so that he may get a big fat paycheck.  And he is to somehow protect the sheep under his care.  He does that by praying and interceding for them, sometimes confronting them and admonishing them to shape up.  The pastorate comes with many joys and disappointments, laughter and frustration, but in the end, we who find ourselves behind a pulpit week after week will one day stand before the Chief Shepherd and explain why we did what we did, and though our earthly compensation may be slim from time to time, a crown of glory will be ours.

Some people think the pastor has it made.  He doesn’t.  His is a career of submission; submission first and foremost to God and God’s will, then to himself – to the sense of his own calling – and finally to the church under his care.  And to be sure, the pastor would be adrift without the support and direction of his elders.

Conduct of the people 

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.  (1 Peter 5:5-11 | NIV84) 

The church of Jesus Christ ought to be marked a “humble, mutual submission.”  That makes sense since the pastor is to submit himself to God first and foremost.  The people should learn from his example and submit themselves to God but also to their fellows within the congregation.  This submission doesn’t involve letting other members trample all over you, but rather it suggests caring for each other and taking the position of humble service – a willingness to meet their needs, whatever those needs may be.  It means putting their needs ahead of your own.  If that sounds hard – or impossible – that’s because it is.  In the natural, we can’t live like that.  But Christians are supernatural people, not natural people.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  (Ephesians 5:18-21 | NIV84) 

When you’re filled with the Spirit, you can do precisely what is impossible for those without the Spirit to do. And here’s the rub.  Casting your anxieties on God is all part of submitting to Him.  Or, to look at it a different way, you and I often cringe when we hear the word “submission” because it carries with it very negative connotations.  For example, we submit to the IRS when we pay our taxes.  Only a moron enjoys paying taxes, and ignorant morons think they need to pay more.  In the middle of the night, when we drive through town and we’re the only car on the road and we hit every single stop light, we submit and stop even though there are no other cars!  Sounds silly when you put it like that, doesn’t it?  Yet casting your cares on God sounds equally silly, especially for, say, young parents who live anxiety filled lives as they raise their kids.  They’re anxious about germs, fevers, shifty neighbors, an inadequate school system, and so on.  In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that anxiety is seen as a virtue; as part of being a responsible parent. It’s not.  it’s a sin and it’s an insult to God when you are anxious about anything.  It’s telling God that you don’t trust Him.  And those grey hairs and tension headaches might just be the light hand of His subtle judgment, as He tries in vain to show you the benefit of submitting to Him on this.  God is not some cold, calculating federal bureaucracy or law enforcement agency that you need to fear or loathe.  He cares for you, and that’s why He wants you to be obedient and once and for all cast your anxieties on Him.

He is the “God of everything,” after all.  He is sovereign.  It doesn’t matter what you are anxious about – your kids, your health, your future, your whatever – God is absolutely sovereign and in the know.  Don’t let the circumstances of your life pile on top of your faith.  Keep your cool.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  (1 Peter 5:8 | NIV84) 

Get that?  Be “self controlled and alert.”  Don’t be a fool.  Don’t give in to your anxieties, and recognize who your enemy is:  the Devil.  When you stubbornly  refuse to cast your anxieties on God, you are playing right into the Devil’s hands; you’re giving him a foothold in your heart.  Don’t do it!  Get a grip!  Keep your head!  Think before you get all anxious.  Then think again, and give your anxieties to God.  It’s the smart way to live.  You’ll be happier, you’ll live longer, you’ll be easier to live with, and most importantly, you’ll be living in obedience to God’s will.

The “All” Psalm

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Psalm 34 is one of those psalms that Christians quote verses from all the time without knowing exactly which psalm they’re quoting.   In that sense, it’s we might call it “the anonymous psalm.”  But it’s also the “all” psalm, and you’ll see why shortly.

This is really a psalm of deliverance; deliverance from all kinds of things, including fear, danger, trouble, and affliction.  The historical context behind Psalm 34 is interesting and can be found in 1 Samuel 21:10 – 15, where David pretended to be crazy before King Achish of Gath.  Achish may also have been named Abimelech.

That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath.  But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ” ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”  David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.  So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.  Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?  Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”  (I Samuel 21:10 – 15  TNIV)

Bless God all the time

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  (Psalm 34:1  KJV)

The psalm begins on a positive note, and one that hymns and gospel songs have echoed.  Matthew Henry makes a succinct observation on verse 1:

If we hope to spend eternity praising God, it is fit that we should spend much of our time here in this work.

He’s right, of course.  If you’re a Christian yet find it difficult spending a few moments in praise of God, then you’re in big trouble!  You’ll never make it in Heaven!  But does this mean engaging in the singing of worship choruses all day long?  Does it mean blessing God even when you don’t feel like it?  Or praising Him when your car breaks down or your microwave oven ignites and catches on fire?

Let’s look at what David is saying we should do.

First, he says we should “bless” the Lord.  The word “bless,” barak, essentially means “to kneel before.”  But the idea is not so much posture but attitude.  We are to acknowledge God.  We are to thank God.  We are to praise God.  Now, depending on your circumstances, it would be just plain foolish to thank God for your house burning to the ground.  Or for the flat tire.  But you should always acknowledge Him; take time to remember that He is always with you, even in those bad situations.  Always acknowledge His presence.  Always acknowledge His abilities to help you and meet whatever need it is you have.

And you should never stop praising God.  There are all kinds of reasons for praising God, and if you can’t think of any at the moment, then you are truly the most miserable of creatures and probably beyond help!  This verse helps a lot, and if you can keep in the front of your mind, you’ll always be praising Him:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  (James 1:17  KJV)

When you take a look at your life; at all the good things in it and realize they all came from God, why wouldn’t you praise Him?

But what if you have a truly miserable existence?  If you honestly can’t praise God for what He’s done for you, then you can certainly praise Him for who He is!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3 – 6  KJV)

There is never a time when you can’t bless the Lord!

God delivers from all fears

I sought the Lord , and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.  (Psalm 34:4  KJV)

The first three verses of this psalm can be considered a kind of general introduction. At this verse, though, David gets personal.  This is his personal testimony about something God did for him.  Despite his faults and failings, David was never shy about telling others what his God did for him!

Have you ever stopped to think about all the things people are afraid of?  But did you know that fear is the opposite of faith?  It’s a sin, and there is no virtue in fearing anything.  Now, it’s good to respect certain things, like the ocean or fire or grizzly bears.  You’ll live longer.  But fear has NO place in the Christian’s life.  Purkiser was absolutely right when he wrote:

Fear and an attitude of faith in the goodness of God are contradictory moods.  “The fear of the Lord” destroys all unnatural fears and anxieties.  

I believe that to be true.  A healthy fear of God should cancel out any other fears you may  have.  If you, like so many people today, struggle with fear, then do what David did:  seek the Lord!  When you do that, verse 5 comes to pass in your life:

They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.  (Psalm 34:5  KJV)

When you take the time seek God – to look to Him – your very countenance will change.  You won’t look fearful or anxious.  You’ll be encouraged and you won’t be let down or disappointed.

And ye shall seek me, and find me , when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13  KJV)

Struggling with fear?  Anxious about something?  Let God deliver you from those things once and for all!  Moffatt translates verse 4 like this, and it’s how you will look when you look to God:

Look to him, and you shall beam with joy.

That’s what Christ-likeness is all about.  When we adopt His character and allow His perfect personality to overtake ours, we will shine with His presence and “beam with joy” regardless of what’s going on in the moment of our lives.

God will save you from all your troubles

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him , and saved him out of all his troubles.  (Psalm 34:6  KJV)

The “poor man” here is David; this verse is autobiographical.  King or pauper.  Rich or poor.  Trouble makes all men the same!  All the resources in the world can’t chase away fear or create lasting satisfaction.  Spiritual poverty afflicts most everybody, even some Christians.  It’s sad that so many believers allow themselves to think that they are spiritual paupers; that they actually lack the things they need.  Does any Christian seriously think that God would ever withhold anything from him, if he needs it?

For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.  (Psalm 84:11  KJV)

If you believe that, and you should since it’s in the Bible, then start living like it!  If you truly believe that God gives you what you need, then you’ll walk fearlessly and courageously.  Years ago, we used to sin a chorus that went like this:

This smile on my face wasn’t always there the struggles use to get me down,

Hassles and problems from every direction use to make me wear a frown.

In the midst of the storms I found a deep contentment to help me face this night and day 

You see the world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away!

That’s how we should be living our lives!  The attitude we all need to adopt.  It’s Biblical!  You should be living in obedience to the Word.  You’ll be happier, and the people around you will be happier.

The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.  (Psalm 34:17  KJV)

I love this verse; it’s so matter-of-fact.  There’s no ambiguity or question.  When a child of God calls out to God, God hears.  Period.  Do you know what a singular privilege that is?  To know without any doubt that God hears your prayers?  There’s no begging involved.  Or convincing.

But there is something else here; an inconvenient truth tucked away in these verses.  The assumption is we will have troubles.  Apparently many.  God, for reasons that seem good to Him, allows them to come into our lives, but the promise is that when we ask Him, He will deliver us from them.  Of course, that deliverance may or may not be immediate.  We always have to trust that whatever is going on is not going to harm us and that in some way we will actually benefit from the trouble.  Sounds crazy, but it’s a profound truth Joseph well understood:

As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  (Genesis 50:20, 21a  TLB)

And of course, Jesus made it clear that trouble would be the lot of Christians:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33  KJV)

And that’s really the secret, isn’t it?  To be of good cheer when it doesn’t make sense to be.

God delivers you from all evil

Many evils confront the [consistently] righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  (Psalm 34:19  AMP)

Like it not, if you are among the “consistently righteous,” then you have a following.  But it’s probably not the kind of following you want!  If you’re a Christian and trying to live the good life – the righteous life – you might as well be walking around with a target painted on your back.  The demons have you in their sights and they want to take you down.  That’s evil.  That’s what David is talking about here.  God will deliver you from that kind of evil.  You have nothing to fear from this world or the world beyond for God takes care of His own.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.  (1 John 4:3, 4  KJV)

Again, that’s a statement of fact:  You  have overcome the “spirits” that are not of God.  It’s an accomplished fact.  There is not doubt.

And when you feel overwhelmed, you call out to God and He will deliver you.  Period.

God preserves even your body

Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.  He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone; not even a finger gets broken.  (Psalm 34:19, 20  MSG)

Some Bible scholars believe these verses allude to Jesus and the fact that He died without any broken bones.  That’s probably forcing an interpretation onto this psalm that isn’t warranted.  The power of these verses is that they applied to David, though the specific incident isn’t known, yet they also apply to all believers.  God loves and saves His people from a myriad of trouble.  In fact, God cares so much that He won’t even let a finger get broken!   It’s a statement of the caring concern that God has for His people.

Now, you may wonder:  “If God cared that much, why not keep all trouble from ever getting close to me in the first place?”  That’s a good question.  But I keep going back to Joseph.  All the awful things that happened to him were for a very specific reason.  Of course, at the time he didn’t know that there was a reason.  But he never gave up on God; he never lost faith.  And we shouldn’t either.  God’s ways and purposes are seldom clear.  They become clear in hindsight, but not always.  That’s why we need faith.  That’s why we need to stay in the Word.  It gives meaning and perspective to what we may be going through.  And as one commentator noted:

I’d rather have a thousand afflictions and be delivered out of them all, than half a dozen and get stuck in the midst of them!

 

The Right Kind of Fear

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Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:16 – 18 NIV)

When the prophet Malachi was in business, his nation was in bad shape. 50,000 exiles had returned to Judah from Babylon (538-536 b.c.). The temple had been rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel (516 b.c.) and the sacrificial system reinstated. After being back in the land of Palestine for century, the ritual of the Jews’ religious routine had become cold and empty; they were merely going through the motions. The hardships they endured led to hard heartedness toward God’s great love for them and to a widespread departure from His law by both people and priest. The people felt they deserved better. They believed they had been short-changed by God.

The mission of the prophet Malachi was to deliver stern rebukes to the people and priests and to call them to repentance. The prophet reminded them that in spite of the hardships now, future blessings were in store for the faithful. The big theme of Malachi’s book of prophecy is that God loves His people even though they sin and their worship was not what it should be. The behavior the “the Lord’s people” brings to mind a few statements made by Jesus in Matthew:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16 – 18 NIV)

In other words, even though Malachi’s people were doing everything they were supposed to be doing in regards to their religious obligations, they were doing everything wrong.

Their hearts were not in it. They had become spiritually lazy. They had become hypocrites.

But not everybody in Judah had become a religious slacker. There were, in fact, some who still feared the Lord and who actually paid attention to the prophet’s messages. There weren’t many, but there were some. There were some whom God paid attention to because they were paying attention to Him.

We can learn a lot about the kind of people God takes notice of and pays attention to by looking at this paragraph in Malachi 3. We can also learn some important things about the Lord, as well.

Three things about God’s people

A great many people claim to be Christians. Sometimes they go to church. They take Communion. They talk about God’s blessings and how much they love Him. But are they really Christians? Are they true believers? You may wonder what business is it of ours to question and judge the veracity of another’s faith. Actually, we’re supposed to be doing just that. One of the biggest problems in the Church today is that we don’t! Too many Christians are way too trusting. Jesus said this:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NIV)

Uninformed people love to say, “The Bible says we’re not supposed to judge.” That’s clever but wrong. The Bible says not to judge another’s heart or motives. Paul said this:

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:15, 16 NIV)

But most importantly, he also said this:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 NIV)

So, then, to help you judge correctly, here are three important things unique to the Lord’s people.

They are reverent. True believers reverence the Lord. They fear God. What does that mean? Martin Luther struggled with the idea of “fearing God,” and he famously came up with a distinction between a the right kind of fear and the wrong kind. The wrong kind of fear he referred to as servile fear. This is a dreadful fear; the kind of fear a death row prisoner has for his jailer, the guards, the date of his execution. It’s a feeling of fright that comes between two people. This is the wrong kind of fear. It’s not the kind of fear we should have for God.

The right kind of fear Luther called filial fear. It comes from the Latin concept of the family. This is the kind of fear we need to have toward God. It’s the fear a child has for his father. It’s not that a child is frightened of his father, it’s that he respects him and wants to please him. He’s not scared of being punished but afraid of disappointing his father. This is why God wants us to think of Him as, among other things, as our Heavenly Father. That’s one aspect of our relationship with Him. True believers want to live lives that please their Heavenly Father. They are concerned that they are not. True believers hold this reverence for God and take it very seriously. They have a healthy awe and respect for the majesty of God.

They are thoughtful. The KJV looks like this:

...them that feared the Lord…thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:16b KJV)

True Christians actually think about Jesus when they’re not in church. They engage in conversations of a spiritual nature. They talk about Scripture during the week. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a faith that is not just for Sunday morning? True believers can, and that’s how they live.

One time, a small group of disciples was walking along the road to Emmaus, talking about Jesus. Here’s what happened:

As they talked about those things, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them. (Luke 24:15 NIrV)

When Jesus is on your mind and part of your conversation, He’s right there, in a very real way. When Jesus is on your mind, you take care in where you go, how you speak, and in the attitudes you hold. Thoughts of Jesus’ nature and character will help to shape your nature and character. Jesus is never far from the thoughts of a true believer.

They aren’t ashamed of Jesus. Malachi wrote that those who fear God “talked with each other.” What were they talking about? It certainly wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t sports. The context is clear. True believers talk to each other about godly things. This is very closely related to the above point. A true Christian isn’t afraid to bring up his faith and he isn’t afraid of who’s listening.

Those who love the Lord, love each other, feel close to Him and talking about Him is natural and brings them joy.

Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. (Psalm 66:16 KJV)

If your faith is important to you, how can you NOT talk about it?

Those three points are three important aspects of the Christian life. But we can also learn some things about God, too.

Three things about God

The Lord is interested. Malachi wrote:

…and the Lord listened and heard…

There is a common view of God that is wrong and dangerous. It says that God is real but that He is afar off; He made the material world but leaves it alone. Nothing can be further from the truth. God is vitally concerned with His creation, especially with man. God pays attention to man; He hears what man says and takes it to heart. That makes you want to watch what you say, doesn’t it?

The Lord is interested and He does care and He does step in to help. But there is a caveat. This help isn’t for everybody:

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 AV)

Only those whose hearts are completely His does the Lord watch over and help.

The Lord is careful. Who knew that the Lord has a “scroll of remembrance” in Heaven? He makes note of those who belong to Him. Over in the New Testament, we read about, not a scroll of remembrance, but a Book of Life:

My true companion, here is what I ask you to do. Help those women. They have served at my side. They have helped me spread the good news. So have Clement and the rest of those who have worked together with me. Their names are all written in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:4 NIrV)

Deeds are important and so are words. According to the Bible, every word is noted because by his words a man is justified or condemned.

But here is what I tell you. On judgment day, people will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. By your words you will be found guilty or not guilty. (Matthew 12:36, 37 NIrV)

Now maybe you understand why true believers freely talk about the things of God. They’ve been justified and forgiven. They’ve experienced the justice of God firsthand. True believers have been found “not guilty.”

Let Christ’s word live in you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct each other wisely. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing with thanks in your hearts to God. Do everything you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NIrV)

The Lord is faithful. The Lord makes it clear that His people are His “treasured possession.” Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd, said this:

And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the Last Day. (John 6:39 TLB)

The faithfulness of God is beyond compare. He is far more faithful to us than we are to Him. Jesus said that He would never leave or forsake us. In our darkest hour, He is the light that shows us the way. He may be depended upon when everyone else has given up on us.

When a person fully understands what he has in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, how can he be anything other than a genuine, true believer?

 

Fear Not, 9

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Daniel 10:12

Daniel was a man blessed by God. He was statesman, saint, and prophet. And in some ways he was a strange man. At least by some standards. By the time chapter 10 of the book that bears his name rolls around, Daniel is pushing 90. Fifty may be the new 30, but 90 is old by anybody’s reckoning. In all, over seven decades has passed since his deportation from the land of Judah. Two years had gone by since Cyrus had decreed freedom for the Jews who had been living in Babylon, now Persia. Many of them had left the Empire to return to the ruins of Jerusalem to begin the arduous work of rebuilding the city of David. Many chose to remain in Persia, and among those who stayed behind was Daniel.

Four years before chapter 10, Daniel had his now-famous vision of “the Seventy Weeks.” Here, he has another vision during a prayer vigil. We’re not sure what prompted Daniel’s season of prayer or what he was praying for. It may well be, as some scholars have speculated, Daniel was praying for the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem. It was a struggle for them to rebuild the city. Dangerous, too. It makes sense that Daniel would take the time to intercede on their behalf.

Let’s take a look at what happened when Daniel prayed.

Daniel’s prayer vigil, 10:1-3

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. (Daniel 10:2-3 NIV84)

Whatever it was that weighed down the prophet’s heart, it was serious enough that he not only prayed but fasted too. Not only that, he didn’t bathe for three weeks, either. At that point, his neighbors probably went to prayer, too.

Stop and think about Daniel’s situation. He’s an old man and it’s almost certain he had retired from his career as a statesman/diplomat/politician. Most people, when they retire, want to lead a life of ease. They want to travel and do all the things they couldn’t do when they were raising a family and working all the time. Daniel may have retired from public service, but he hadn’t retired from his faith.

And neither should we. Just because you get old and retire, if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that in today’s economy, that doesn’t mean you stop being active for the kingdom of God! It’s admittedly hard to spend time in prayer when you’re working all day and raising a family. So how fortunate is a person who isn’t punching a time clock and who’s kids are grown and out of the house? All that free time to devote to spiritual pursuits! At least, that’s how it should be.

We old timers tend to accuse the younger generation of being selfish and self-centered, but maybe we should stop and look at ourselves and the time we have left. Have we become so preoccupied with living what we *think* is the good life that we’ve factored God out of it? How many weekends, for example, do you plan on some activity or other that causes you to miss church?  Good question.

No, church doesn’t save a soul, but it is the visible Body of Christ and you, whether you like it or not, are accountable to it. What many Christians lack is not a confession of Christ, but a commitment to His Body.

Fortunately for Daniel, he was committed and disciplined.

Appearance of the Glorious Man, 10:4-11

When we read these verses, we are reminded of what John saw in his vision while in exile on Patmos (Revelation 1:10-20). The descriptions of the Person both men saw are so similar, who can doubt they saw the same Man? He didn’t identify himself to Daniel, but He did to John:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18 NIV84)

On April 24, 534 BC by our calendar, Daniel was privileged enough to have been given a vision of the pre-incarnate, transfigured Christ before either Moses or Elijah saw him. Daniel needed to see the glorified Christ to encourage him.

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. (Daniel 10:5-6 NIV84)

In the past, Daniel had seen wild, crazy animals, spirit beings, huge statues, and long weeks in his dreams and visions. Now he sees a man. But not just any man. Daniel sees THE Man: the glorious Son of God.

Christians are so blessed – blessed beyond Daniel, in fact. Daniel had a once-in-a-lifetime vision of Christ. For us, we have His constant presence in our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet we take Him for granted to the point where we don’t even notice that He is right there with us, all the time. We’ve become so lackadaisical when it comes to the Divine Presence in us. How sad for us.

Here’s how Daniel reacted to the vision:

So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. (Daniel 10:8 NIV84)

His servants didn’t see a thing but were terrified, nonetheless. The presence of God can do that sometimes. There are limits to what a human being can bear when it comes to a spiritual encounter, and apparently Daniel hit that threshold. He was completely overwhelmed.

That’s when our Lord spoke these reassuring words to the prophet:

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (Daniel 10:12 NIV84)

This “do not be afraid” is for anybody who has ever prayed for the needs of others. We’ve all done that. And we’ve all had the excruciating experience of waiting for that need to be met. The need could have been anything: healing, deliverance, or financial. We pray. And we wait. And wait. And we wonder. What the Glorious Man told Daniel should serve as a great encouragement to we who wait.

Your prayer is heard immediately

Yes, in spite of what it feels like, the very moment you pray, that prayer is heard in Heaven. There is absolutely no lag time, even if the answer to your prayer seems delayed.

Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding…your words were heard… (Daniel 10:12 NIV84)

“The first day.” That’s important to note. According to the Daniel’s own words, he had been praying and fasting for three weeks. Three weeks is a long to for a person to keep on praying for something and, as in Daniel’s case, fasting. Obviously Daniel had no idea his prayer had been heard on “the first day,” for if he had he would surely have stopped praying and eaten a sandwich.

Does that mean our prayers are heard on “the first day” we pray them? Verse 12 gives what may be considered a condition:

…humble yourself before your God… (Daniel 10:12b NIV84)

It’s safe to say that a prayer offered in a humble spirit is heard when it is prayed. There’s not a lot of humility in the Church of Jesus Christ today! Listen to how some Christians pray. It sounds like they’re ordering God around sometimes!

Humility isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a requirement!

He has showed you, O man, what is good.And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV84)

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:10 NIV84)

Daniel must have been a humble man, therefore his prayer was heard immediately. You should be too, if you want your prayers heard the moment you pray them.

Something else about Daniel’s character overflowed into his prayer. Notice:

…you set your mind to gain understanding… (Daniel 10:12b NIV84)

Daniel’s mind was fully engaged while he was praying

He wasn’t daydreaming. He wasn’t vainly repeating some time-worn liturgical prayer somebody else prayed generations ago. He didn’t babble before The Lord. Daniel used his reasoning mind as he prayed. Whatever it was he was praying for, he was thinking about the need; he was trying to understand the need even as he was praying about it.

Delays in answered prayer are not always God’s fault

Depending on your denominational persuasion, that statement may have caused your head to explode, so hang on while it’s explained.

Sometimes, answers to your prayers are delayed because you’re not ready for the answer. You may have an earnest desire as you ask God for such-and-such a thing, but God knows you aren’t ready or fit for the answer. God may require you to wait for some reason; perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned. Maybe your faith needs to be stretched a little so it will grow and be stronger. This is not a denial of your prayer, just a delay.

In Daniel’s vision, the delay was a bit more nefarious:

But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 (NIV84)

The answer to Daniel’s prayer was sent immediately, but it was delayed – it was blocked. The angel of the Lord was prevented from delivering the message Daniel had been praying for. Now, this is an amazing verse, and we learn a little about what “spiritual warfare” is all about. It also throws some light on what Paul wrote to his Ephesian friends:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12 NIV84)

That word Paul used, “struggle,” is a key element in Paul’s theology of “spiritual warfare.” He wrote a similar thing to the Romans:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Romans 15:30 NIV84)

Here Paul used the word “struggle” again to describe how he was praying. The KJV uses the phrase “strive together,” and that gives a slightly different flavor, but essentially puts across the same idea of the Greek word sunagonizom, from which we our English word, “agonize.” This idea of “agonizing in prayer” leads to the obvious question: Do you? When was the last time you “agonized in prayer?” This shouldn’t be confused with the notion of begging God for something. That’s not agonizing, it’s humiliating. No believer needs to beg his Heavenly Father for anything, any time. But to “agonize in prayer” is to take your prayer to the next level. Today, prayer is such light thing. Most of us are exhausted after just three or four minutes of praying. Or we pray like we hear our preachers praying: in the KJV language or following some liturgy. Real prayer is not prayed according to rote or memorization. It’s not trying to impress God by taking on a holy tone, using unusual words and phrases. Prayers shouldn’t be profound, they should be from the heart. To “agonize in prayer” means that you humbly realize He is your only hope. You have no one else to turn to. It means to be persistent; to keep on praying until the answer arrives. Maybe the answer will be, “Stop praying.” But maybe the answer will be like what Daniel was told. He was given the reason for the delay and then the answer to his prayer.

Daniel persevered for three weeks. We have a hard time persevering for a few minutes. We modern Christians would do well to take a lesson from old Daniel. Let’s learn how to “agonize in prayer.” Let’s persist in our prayers three days, or three weeks, or thirty weeks if need be. We should never give up on a prayer request until we see the answer or, as happened to Moses and Joshua, we are told to stop praying. Spiritual conflict in prayer is far more common than you may think, so persevering is virtal. One preacher from bygone era wrote:

Many a lost battle would have been won if perseverance had been practiced a little longer on the part of the combatants.

Daniel was fearful that his prayer had gone unheard. You don’t have to be. Fear not. No matter how it seems to you, your prayers are heard and will be answered. But you need to be aware that there is a spiritual world swirling all around you, and you need to keep that in mind as you pray.

 


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