Sunday, November 5, 2017

God at Work in Our Work

I have been reading through the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians in my devotions recently, and what rich books these are! A few interesting themes have stood out to me as I’ve been studying them, and God has been encouraging my heart with these truths as I seek a balance in my life between working and trusting in God, between acting and waiting on God. How can we know whether what we're working for or pursuing in prayer is truly God’s will and whether our desires are His desires for us?

In the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, there is a close connection between our work and God’s work. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Paul expresses his thankfulness to God for the believers’ work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in chapter 2 verse 13, he thanks God for their acceptance of the Word of God, which is at work in them.

In 3:8, he talks about the believers “standing fast,” and in verses 12-13 He asks God to make them increase and abound, and to establish their hearts in blamelessness and holiness. To establish something can mean either to make it firm and stable or to show the proof or genuineness of it, to confirm or verify it. While the believers are actively standing fast and working out their faith, God is the one making them firm, confirming the genuineness of their faith, and causing them to grow in holiness.

God’s work in us involves moving our hearts towards that which He desires for us and confirming the desires that He gives to us. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 we again see Paul giving thanks to God for the growing faith and love of these believers and their steadfastness. And then a few verses later he prays that God might fulfill their every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, for His glory and through His grace (1:11-12). As God does His work in our hearts, He gives us desires that align with His will for us, and then he gives us the grace to work towards those things and fulfills those desires. When Paul commands the believers in Philippi to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, he reminds them that the only reason they can do so is because God is the One at work in them to give them both the desire and the ability to do His will (Phil. 2:12-13).

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Paul thanks God for His sanctifying work in the believers by His Spirit and then goes on to admonish them to stand firm and be obedient to what they were taught. He later encourages them that God is the one who will comfort their hearts and establish them in every good work and word, because of His love and through His grace.

In both 2 Thessalonians 1:12 and 2:14, we see that the purpose of both God’s work and our work is that God might be glorified in us and that we might obtain the glory of God. We can compare this to passages like Rom. 8:29, which tells us that God’s ultimate purpose for us is to be conformed to the image of His Son; or 2 Cor. 3:18, which shows us God’s work of transforming us from glory to glory by His Spirit; or Eph. 1:6, 12, and 14, where we see that God’s primary purpose for our salvation is the praise of His glory.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 we again see the interconnectedness of God’s work and our work as His children. Paul encourages the believers that “God is faithful” and “will strengthen and guard [them] from the evil one,” and he prays that God will direct their hearts to His love and the endurance of Christ. Right in the middle of these verses, he says that he is confident in them, that they are doing what he commanded them to do. We can be obedient and confident as we seek to do God’s will, because God is faithful and will direct our hearts towards His purposes for us and strengthen us with His grace to accomplish those purposes!
I'm reminded of Psalm 90:16-17, where again we see God's work and our work side by side. Here Moses prays that God's work would be made evident to His servants and that they might see His glory, and then ends with asking God to show His beauty in us and establish the work of our hands.

We can be encouraged in our daily lives with the knowledge that our efforts are not in vain as we let God direct us, because He is the one Who establishes and confirms our work and causes it to be fruitful for His glory! It is His grace that enables us to do what pleases Him and accomplishes His will in and through us.

“Therefore my dear brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Cor. 15:58

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Refocus and Renewal

For those of us who are teachers or students, a new school year signifies a fresh start after a time of renewal and refreshment over the summer. Sometimes over the summer, I pull out old ideas that have been forgotten or disused and remind myself of things that I would like to be doing but that have been neglected amidst the daily distractions of life and work. The need for renewal and refocus is not so much a need to learn something new, but to regain perspective and be reminded of what is truly important. 

I recently had the opportunity to go to a ladies retreat with some women from my church, appropriately called a “Renew Conference.” This year the sessions centered around the character of God, and we focused on His ability, knowledge, and goodness through the lives of Sarah, Job, and Joseph.

In the life of Job, we get an inside look at why Job was suffering as he was, and we are told that God was sovereignly using it for His own purposes. We are shown the dialogue in heaven between Satan and God and learn that Job was entrusted with this suffering by God Himself in order to prove the genuineness of Job’s faith and ultimately to bring great glory to Himself.

Job, however, was not made aware of this, and nowhere in the book do we see that God ever revealed to Him why he was suffering. In fact all throughout the book we see evidence that Job is asking the question “Why?” and never does receive an answer to this question. In fact, for 37 chapters God is silent while Job’s friends accuse him without cause and while he pours out his anguish and questions to God.

At the end of the book, when God finally speaks, it is not to answer Job’s questions or to vindicate him, but to redirect his focus away from his situation and his own righteousness to God’s presence, power, and infinite knowledge. He had heard about God and had knowledge about God, even fear of God, but now his understanding of and faith in God was being tested. Through his suffering, he was not learning any knew theology about God, but God was bringing him back to the fundamental truths of who He is and the fact that He cannot be neatly fit inside the box that we try to put Him in according to our finite understanding. He is so much bigger than that and is beyond any comprehension that we think we have of Him.

There are times in life when our circumstances do not seem to match with our view of God, and that can lead to confusion, discouragement, and even anger. Sometimes we don’t ever get an answer to why God is allowing something hard in our lives, but when we are consumed with WHO, rather than WHY, we have truth we can cling to in order to take our focus away from ourselves and the situation and towards the One who has perfect knowledge and sovereign control over it all. Even more than that, He is the One who has promised to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28-29), and this should be enough for us to trust Him even when we don’t understand.

A very interesting passage that has many similarities to the book of Job is Psalm 44. This psalm starts off with the psalmist declaring that he has heard about God (similar to what Job said in Job 42:5), about all that God had done for His people in the past, and His mighty works on their behalf. But then we see the psalmist struggling to reconcile what he knows about God with what he sees currently in his own life and the lives of his people, much like Job struggled to make sense of what was happening in his life in light of what he knew about God. God appeared not to be keeping His promises, to be silent, even to be asleep (Ps. 44:23)!
Through the confusion and the questions, Job was able to persevere as he waited for God’s answer, because he was clinging to the hope of seeing God (Job 19:25) and of knowing that God was at work in his life to bring about a beautiful end result (Job 23:10). As I wait, I should be consumed with knowing Him better and finding out what He wants to do in my life through the circumstances He has wisely and lovingly brought into my life. As I spend time in His presence, I can claim His promises and expectantly wait for Him to work!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Learning to be Served by Jesus

Last Sunday my pastor preached a sermon from Mark 10:45 – a familiar verse in which Jesus says that He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life for us. Jesus was using Himself as an example of how the disciples should be seeking to serve one another. However, my pastor made the point that any disciple of Jesus must first learn how to be served by Jesus before we can serve God or others in any way that is acceptable to God. Jesus’ service for us is in fact continuous and on-going, and we are in constant need of being served by Him! So I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be served by Jesus and have come across a number of interesting passages that relate to this.
Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. In this passage, we see that God’s grace brought us salvation through Jesus, who redeemed us and purified us. This grace through Jesus is what enables us now to live in a way that is pleasing to Him, all the while looking forward to the return of our Savior who makes all this possible!
Titus 3:4-8 - But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. In this passage, we see that Jesus is the manifestation of the kindness and love of God for us, as well as His mercy and grace. It is also through Jesus that the Holy Spirit is poured out on us who believe, through Whom we are regenerated and renewed. And it is only those who have thus been served by Jesus who are now given the ability and the command to engage in good deeds.
1 Peter 1:18-22 - knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,  but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart. Here we see that it is only through Jesus that we can be believers in God, through the precious blood that Jesus shed for us. Only after our souls have been purified through Jesus can we love others as He has loved us.
1 Peter 2:24-25 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. Jesus served us by bearing our sins so that through Him we might live to righteousness and be healed. And now He continues to serve us as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls!
1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. Jesus served us by dying for us in order to bring us to God and make us alive in our spirit. Again we see that it is only through Jesus that we can have life or draw near to God!
Hebrews 2:14-18 - Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Jesus served us by taking on our flesh and dying, in order to destroy the Devil and to make it possible for us to be freed from death forever! And now as our merciful and faithful High Priest, Who can sympathize with our weakness and temptations, He helps us in our temptations.
Hebrews 7:25 - Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Jesus not only provided eternal salvation for all who come to God through Him, but He serves us continually by interceding for us before the Father!
Hebrews 9:26-28 - …but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. Jesus came the first time to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many, and He will return again to provide the ultimate fulfillment of our salvation!
Hebrews 10:5-10 - Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’”… By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Jesus came to serve us by doing the will of the Father, which provides for our sanctification through the offering of Christ in our place!

These are merely a few of many passages that tell us how Jesus served and continues to serve us! We are desperately needy of being served by Him, and apart from His work we could have no hope of salvation and no ability to be pleasing to God! At this special time of year, let us be ever grateful for our Savior, and let us daily recognize our need for His grace and help!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christlikeness and the Glory of God, Part 2

This wasn’t originally going to be a 2-part post, but since my last post God has brought to my attention a few other passages that tie in really well with the glory of God and our becoming more like Christ, so I thought I would share them! I am sure that there are many more beyond these, but here is a little of what I’ve been meditating on recently.

First of all, a look at Romans 8... Most of us can probably quote verse 28, which reminds us that God is using all things for good in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. But the next verse is very important in the context of understanding just what this purpose is that He has for us. It tells us that He has predestined those who are called to become conformed to the image of His Son. Therefore, all that God allows into our lives is a part of His good purpose to make us more and more like Christ – His ultimate goal for every believer! God’s sovereignty is seen very clearly in this passage, in that He is the one calling, conforming us to the image of His Son, and causing all things to work together towards that end in our lives.

With that in mind, I want to jump back to 2 Corinthians 3:18 for a minute. This verse is about how God through the Spirit is transforming believers into the image of His Son. This happens as we behold His glory, and the primary place where we can behold His glory is in His Word. The more we are in His Word, and the more we gaze upon His beauty as revealed there, the more we are changed to reflect that glory, that is, the more we become like Christ – God’s ultimate purpose for us! So there is a spiritual seeing that is necessary, an ability to behold God’s glory, in order for renewal and change to take place, and this is increasing, progressive.

Then down in chapter 4 verse 6, we are told that God is the One who has opened our spiritual eyes so that we might see His glory in the face of Christ. In verse 7, He has placed this glory within weak vessels like us, so that it would be His glory in Christ that would be displayed through our weakness. He may allow us to be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, so that through our weakness and suffering the life of Christ might be manifested in our body (verses 10-11). As Christ is revealed through us and more people are pointed to Him, more praise is given to God, and He is greatly glorified (verse 15). For this reason then, we can persevere through suffering and all manner of physical weakness, because that is the very thing that God is using to change us and produce in us the image of His Son – an eternal weight of glory that makes the sufferings of this life seem light and brief in comparison (verses 16-17). And then in verse 18, there is once again an emphasis on what we are choosing to look at, or focus on. If our focus is on temporal, physical things, we will lose heart and become discouraged. But if our focus is on who God is and His eternal purpose for us in Christ, it will completely change our perspective on the trials we are facing now.

Finally, there are a couple of interesting verses in 1 Peter that tie right in with this, too. Peter is writing to believers who are facing trials and encourages them in chapter 4 verse 13 to continue to share in Christ’s sufferings, so that they might rejoice at the revelation of His glory, of which they would be partakers. In chapter 5 verse 4 he encourages them to keep their focus on what is to come, when Christ, the Chief Shepherd, will appear, and they will receive an unfading crown of glory. And in verses 10-11, he wraps us his epistle to them with this encouragement: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Wow! These are encouraging words indeed for anyone who is going through suffering. God has called us to eternal glory, and suffering is a part of His work of perfecting us and producing the image of Christ in us! He will be faithful to complete this work in us until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christlikeness and the Glory of God

As Christians, we know that we have been created and called to glorify God with our lives, to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But what does this really mean? What is the glory of God anyway?

As I’ve been doing some personal study on this topic recently, I’ve been struck by the connection I find between the Person of Christ and the glory of God. Really this should not be surprising, but here's a little of what I've been pondering…

In John 17, we find the well-known prayer of Jesus before His arrest and crucifixion. Multiple times in this passage He refers to glorifying the Father. In verse 1, He prays, “Glorify Your Son, so that the Son may glorify You.” How does Jesus glorify the Father? In verse 2 He speaks of giving eternal life to all that the Father had given Him, and eternal life is defined in verse 3 as knowing God and Jesus Christ. In verse 4, Jesus states that He has glorified the Father by completing the work that the Father gave Him to do. The purpose of Jesus’ life and work on earth was to glorify God by making Him known to all who would be saved. Once that work was complete, Jesus could be restored to the glory that He had before the incarnation. Jesus did not become less than God when He became a Man, but He laid aside the independent use of His divine attributes and became fully dependent on the Holy Spirit. Once His work on earth was complete, He would once again be glorified, fully displaying the nature and attributes of God without limitations. Thus the glorification of the Father is directly tied to Christ completing His work on the cross, being exalted to the highest place, and being worshiped as Lord by all men (Phil. 2:9-11).

In John 17:10, Jesus states that He has been glorified in His disciples, and in verse 22 He says, “I have given them the glory You have given Me.” What is this glory? Later in verse 24, Jesus prays that His disciples would be with Him to see His glory which the Father had given Him. In one sense the disciples had already experienced the glory of God, as Jesus was revealing the nature of God to them, and they were glorifying Jesus by making Him known to others and reflecting Him. But they would not fully see or know God’s glory until they were in the presence of Jesus once again, able to experience fully Who He is, and be made fully like Him (1 John 3:2). This is what Jesus prayed for them, and for us!

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul speaks of all who are believers in Christ beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord and being changed into that same image from glory to glory. Only the Holy Spirit can remove the veil from our hearts so that we can see the glory of Jesus, Who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). The greatest gift of the Gospel is being able to see and savor God’s glory as revealed in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus said in John 17:3, “this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent – Jesus Christ.”

The more we who are in Christ behold who He is through the mirror of His Word, the more we are transformed into His image, thus having a greater capacity to reflect His glory. In contrast to the fading glory that Moses’ face reflected after His encounter with God, we through the indwelling Spirit can reflect more and more of God’s glory as He changes us more into the image of His Son! Throughout this life, we are seeing and beholding dimly the glory of Christ, and so we reflect His glory dimly, though increasingly so as God continues His work of transforming us into the image of His Son, until one day we will see Him face to face in all of His glory, and then the process of being made like Him will be complete (1 John 3:2)! Because Christ is in us, we have the hope - the guarantee - of future glory, of becoming mature in Christ and made like Him (Phil. 1:6; Col. 1:27-28; Rom. 8:28-30).

Closely connected to 1 Corinthians 3:18, Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 directly links the riches of God’s glory to the believer’s strengthening through the Spirit. As we spend time beholding God’s glory and learning more of Who He is, He transforms us through His Spirit. As we grow in true understanding of the love of Christ and what He has done for us, we are filled with Christ, in Whom is all the fullness of God (Col. 1:19; 2:9), and we are able to bring more glory to God through Christ, which is the ultimate goal of our salvation (Eph. 3:21)!

So, there can be no separation between the glory of God and Christ! Christ is the radiance of the glory of God, because He is the exact representation of the nature of God (Heb. 1:3). My ability to glorify God is directly connected to being in Christ, because being given the Spirit of Christ guarantees that one day I will be made fully like Christ. In this process that we call sanctification, with the end goal being glorification, God is doing the work of making me more like Christ, but I have the responsibility to grow in Christ by continually renewing my mind though the truth of God’s Word and putting on the new nature that has been created like God, in righteousness and purity (Eph. 4:20-24). As I strive to become more like Christ, I will be reflecting more of the nature of God and thus bringing greater glory to Him! And ultimately it is God who is able to keep me from falling and to present me blameless before Him in glory someday (Jude 1:24)! Praise be to God for such a glorious hope that we have in Christ!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reflections on Wonder - Thoughts from Ravi Zacharias in "Recapture the Wonder"

I have recently been reading a book by Ravi Zacharias, entitled Recapture the Wonder. The book is well worth reading in its entirety, but in this post I just want to summarize the key themes of the book, in which Ravi explores what wonder really is, why it is so often lost after childhood, and how it can be recaptured and retained perpetually.
What is wonder?
We see amazing and wonderful realities all around us in creation, and children seem to be possessed with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them. Ancient philosophers reasoned that as children grew to adulthood wonder was replaced and dispelled by knowledge. But are wonder and knowledge in fact mutually exclusive? Ravi asks, “Can it not be our hope… that the shadows and beliefs of childlikeness become only greater and more wonderful when dispelled by knowledge?” (pg. 19)
Ravi defines wonder as “that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle. It sees in the ordinary the extraordinary, and it finds in the extraordinary the reaffirmations for what it already knows. Wonder clasps the soul (the spiritual) and is felt in the body (the material). Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal.” (pg. 20)
Ravi says that “wonder is one of those ‘possessions’ that needs disciplined guarding and thoughtful guiding (pg. 56) and that “our estrangement from wonder is because of our misdirected search” (pg. 57). He goes on to look at some of the places that we mistakenly look for wonder and that end up leaving us empty and desolate.
How then can wonder truly be recovered?  Having looked at the misdirected search for wonder, Ravi suggests 4 keys that are essential for recapturing true wonder. The first is gratitude.
“Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave…. It is the transformation of a mind that is more grateful for the giver than for the gift, for the purpose than for the present, for life itself rather than for abundance. It values a relationship rather than any benefit made possible by the relationship. Even more, it is the capacity to receive, rather than the gift itself, to trust even when the moment is devoid of immediate fulfillment. It is more than happiness. It is more than peace. In short, where there is no gratitude, there is no wonder.” (pg. 88)
“At the cross, Jesus gave the final and ultimate gift of unmerited favor…. Gratitude fills the heart when the gift has been understood, and wonder fills the soul when gratitude is expressed to the fullest…. The heart celebrates the privilege of knowing the Giver who will withhold no good thing from them who love Him” (pg. 93-94)
The second component of wonder he suggests is truth. “If gratitude impels the sense of wonder, truth compels the mind in its convictions…. The world of an adult must move from what is merely fantastic to what is fantastically true…. If you want to know what truth is, look at Jesus Christ…. To know Him is to know the consummate expression of wonder. It is defined in Him.” (pg. 95, 102)
Ravi points out that both gratitude and truth are ultimately inseparable from the Person of Jesus Christ. “Just as gratitude requires someone to whom we can be grateful, truth requires someone because of whom truth is possible. In both instances, personhood is indispensable to wonder.” (pg. 104-105) And there is a third component of wonder that is equally tied to personhood.
“The third component of wonder [is] to understand and experience love…. (pg. 110) The idea that God loves us can easily become a theoretical statement…. We forget the immensity of the truth that God loves us just as we are, in the frailty and the struggle with which we live. Understanding this must more than inform the mind; it must stir the heart with emotion. That is the understanding that feeds wonder (pg. 114).”
“True love is a thing of the heart and must be raised to what God intends it to be. It can never be fully expressed until it has been given first to God…. How does one enjoy love? By being totally sold out in the heart to God Himself.” (pg. 123)
The final component of wonder is hope, or what Ravi calls a “convinced sense of security” – knowing who we are in Christ and living in the eternal security that we have in Christ. Ravi says, “Not only is wonder attached to [recognizing] my individual uniqueness but there is also an eternal perspective. By rising from the dead, Jesus confirms within your heart and mind that while surrounded by death and the limitations of time, there is a reality that stretches beyond the now to the very presence of God. The wonder of time can only be understood in eternity.” (pg. 124-127) Our hope for eternity rests fully on our relationship with and identify in Jesus Christ! 
So we see that every element of wonder – gratitude, truth, love, and hope - is centered in the Person of Christ and our relationship with Him! “…wonder is fulfilled in the culmination of gratitude, truth, love, and hope. When we recognize in our hearts our gratitude to God, when we live by His truth, and when we enjoy His love, our hope is strengthened till the day we see Him in the purity of our being as we encounter the pure presence of God.” (pg. 133)
How then is wonder continually sustained?
Ravi moves next from the necessary components of wonder to the disciplines by which wonder can be retained in our lives. The first is the discipline of studying God’s Word.
“[We must] learn to treasure this Word and look through it to the source of all life… heaven and earth may pass away but His Word abides forever. We may change, but His Word does not change because it is true for every stage of life, in every circumstance. It keeps us in touch with the new. It keeps us real in our expectations, promising not a trouble-free trip but God’s presence in every trial. It keeps our feet in tune with our head and provides strength for the journey, all the way.” (pg. 151)
Closely connected to studying is the discipline of reading. Ravi points out, however, that “there is more to reading than the Word alone” (pg. 151). He challenges us to consider whether our reading has been shallow or deep. “If wonder is to be retained in our mind, reading and reading well is indispensable to the imagination and the heart. Good reading is like looking for something you have lost and finding it, but in the search finding something else that had also been lost. That is how wonder is constantly replenished.” (pg. 153)
The third discipline Ravi says we must learn to cultivate is the discipline of reflection. He suggests that this is one of the primary reasons why God instituted the festivals for the nation of Israel. “Wonder is retained by wise pondering. Unless we learn to think and reflect on things above we will reflect the hollowness of a world moving fast but slow to think.” (pg. 156)
Reflection requires making time to listen in a world full of noise.  Ravi says, “…at the end of the day if you have spoken but not listened, you have spent without income and sooner or later an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. Wonder enriches you when you take the time to reflect and to ponder the greatness of our faith in Jesus Christ.” (pg. 159)
In addition to reading and reflecting, Ravi challenges us to cultivate the habit of discussion. In fact, good discussion can fuel reflection as we sharpen each other and interact on a deep level with others. He encourages us to “plan time with those who think well, who think deeply, and who think about things that really matter…. [Find] a group of people committed to deepening their walk with Christ and who are disciplined in study and interaction.” (pg. 160)
Finally, Ravi challenges us to consider that “wonder can never be retained apart from learning the discipline and delight of prayer. In the closet of our lives lies the fullness of His riches. In the secret place lie unmined treasures…. The discipline of praying is the seedbed of retaining wonder. For here God brings our wills into alignment with His, enabling us to face both the grim and the triumphant and put them in the context of the greater story. Prayer is not the means of bringing our wills to pass but the means by which He brings our will into line to gladly receive His will.” (pg. 162)
Ravi sums up the themes of the book with this statement:

“The components of gratitude and truth, love and hope bring the realization of wonder. The disciplines of study, of reading and reflecting, of dialoguing in depth and praying with belief sustain the wonder. In short, wonder is captured in one word – worship. When we have learned what worship is, we have experienced what wonder is…. [In worship] the emotion, propelled by the will, touches deep into the imagination to lift the spirit into the very presence of God…. He is the one who lifts [our] sights and [our] heart through the wonders that are all around to the greatest wonder of all – Himself.” (pg. 164-166)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Awe-Inspired Confidence

We all go through seasons of uncertainty and confusion in life, times when what God is doing just doesn’t seem to make sense. I have been meditating recently in the book of Habakkuk, because my pastor has been doing a series in it, and there are wonderful truths in this small book to encourage us during times of waiting or questioning.

The book starts off with a series of questions by Habakkuk, in which he is open and honest with God about his struggle with God’s seeming indifference and toleration of wrong (1:2-4). The Chaldeans – a notoriously wicked and violent nation – have attacked the nation of Israel, and God’s people have great reason to fear for their homes and families. Why does God seem not to be listening? Why does God not do something?

Then, when God does respond to Habakkuk’s questions, His answer is even more perplexing! He tells Habakkuk that He has in fact raised up the Chaldeans – this wicked and violent nation – to accomplish His purposes (1:6)! This then leads to more questions by Habakkuk. He points to God’s eternal nature, His holiness, and His sovereignty. In essence, he says, “Ok God, so You have chosen a nation to punish Your people, and You are sovereign. But why this nation? Why a nation who is even more wicked than Your people? Where is the justice in that, Lord? What about Your holiness? Will You allow them to keep slaughtering nations mercilessly?” (2:12-17)

In response, God declares that there is a future judgment for the Chaldeans as well. They will have to face the wrath of a holy God, even though He chooses to use their evil for His own purposes. In the end, all the nations must acknowledge God and will be silenced before Him (2:20). And right in the middle of the sentence against them we find this declaration: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). Thus we see God’s ultimate purpose in punishing His own people, in using a wicked nation as His rod of discipline, and in ultimately bringing every nation to its knees before Him – that His glory might be manifest in all the earth!

It’s as if this reminder then stirs up the prophet’s own memory of God’s awe-inspiring works, and for 15 verses he describes vividly God’s awesome splendor and frightening power (3:1-15). His prayer is for God to accomplish His own work and make it known once again (verse 2).

Having paused to ponder and recount the deeds of the Lord and His majesty, Habakkuk trembles in awe before Him, knowing that he has no other response than to quietly wait for God to act in His time (3:16). And with that sense of awe comes a confidence in God and a recognition that He Himself is of supreme worth and entirely satisfying, even if all else is lost! Regardless of the outcome, Habakkuk can end with a triumphant declaration that he will rejoice in the God of His salvation!

How is this possible? Only because, having struggled openly before God with his own doubts and confusion and having had his focus turned back to God’s glory, he was once again in awe of God more than in awe of the circumstances around him.  And when God is seen for Who He truly is, when His glory is valued as the greatest worth of all, then our hearts can be truly satisfied and confident in Him alone!

So, even though the economy collapses and I lose everything, even though my health fails, even though I lose those that are dearest to me, even though I see no visible fruit of my labor and prayers for people, even though “he” doesn’t write to me or ever show an interest in me again, and the list could go on… still, I can rejoice in God as long as He is my focus, because He is supremely valuable, entirely trustworthy, and completely satisfying! What a beautiful reminder from an obscure Old Testament prophet!