Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God, Are You Still Listening?

...Hope For Imperfect Prayers
Does God really listen to our prayers? Does he really hear us when we cry out to him?
Sometimes we pray for a long time about big things, like a health issue or a prodigal child or a difficult work situation, and things don’t get better. We wonder if God’s been paying attention.
I prayed for my wife regarding a life-threatening disease for 27 long years. We prayed and prayed, but her condition only worsened. Why aren’t you answering, God? How could it be true that you have “heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Psalm 116:1)? It doesn’t feel like you have “attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
Perhaps my faith wasn’t strong enough. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Such questions assaulted me like a tribunal of vicious accusers. They wore me down, leaving me doubting and discouraged.

Persist in Prayer

“How many of us can say we’ve prayed single-mindedly for something huge we were looking to God for?”
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I continued to look to God’s word for encouragement. There was certainly no shortage of it. For example, Jesus told the people “a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). This was the story of the persistent widow who only received an answer because she kept coming and asking — she refused to give up. Jesus then asked, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:7).
Is that the sort of persistence in prayer that’s required? Many of us who have prayed for years for the same thing have sometimes lost heart amid the ups and downs of waiting for God. And then we’ve wondered how God could possibly answer our inconsistent prayers. This is how the accuser can use God’s word to discourage us.

Faith in Prayer

Jesus is also clear that faith in prayer is vital. He’s bold in his promises about what will happen when we pray in faith. Jesus said,
“If you have faith and do not doubt . . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21–22)
How many of us can say we’ve prayed that single-mindedly — without doubting — for something huge we were looking to God for? If we had, this passage tells us that we’d have seen the answer and been left rejoicing rather than discouraged due to our doubts and double-mindedness (James 1:6–8). Many of us likely feel like we’re lacking that kind of faith.

Never Good Enough

So what do we do when important passages like these leave us struggling with self-recrimination rather than encouraged amid lengthy battles in prayer? Will God only answer our prayers when we measure up to such impossible standards like praying day and night or having faith to move mountains? Such teachings might leave us thinking that we’re just not good enough.
But perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to realize. Perhaps the liberation we long for from that tribunal of accusers is that very admission: We are not good enough! Our prayers aren’t good enough. And there is nothing in our life with God for which we are good enough!

Boast in Your Weakness

Yes, God certainly looks for faith. Yes, we must persist. Yes, earnestly seek God to believe and endure. But even as we do, we recognize that we’ll always be deficient in faith and deficient in persistence on this side of heaven. Yet, this should not hinder us from embracing the reality that when “this poor man cried . . . the Lord heard him” (Psalm 34:6).
“Because Jesus has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.”
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We need God’s help to endure in faithful prayer when things are not going well. The most confident and steadfast saints put no trust in the level of faith they attain, but only trust that Jesus himself is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). They know that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Prayerful saints trust Jesus to be our “advocate with the Father,” who covers our sinful inconsistency and unbelief with the very blood he shed for us (1 John 2:1–2).

Jesus Fills What We Lack

This gives us boldness as we persist in crying out to God, even though we know that our prayers are never good enough. God more than makes up for our inadequacies when our trust rests first in the person of Jesus, rather than first in our own disposition in prayer. Yes, the disposition matters. But the decisive factor is God’s riches of mercy and grace to meet us in our need.
And speaking of God’s mercy, God certainly did answer all those prayers for my wife, when in his perfect timing, she finally received a kidney transplant in 2015. We are daily grateful for God’s gift of life to us!
We aren’t good enough, but Jesus is. And because he has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's all in a Name


I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle to trust God  especially when things aren't going very well. That's why I was so encouraged when I found in Psalm 9 a beautiful summary of the secret to trusting God.

In this psalm of praise to God, King David wrote that "those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you." (Psalm 9:10)

It's all there, packed into that one little verse: A life-changing declaration followed by its own confidence-inspiring explanation; "this can be you because this is true" sort of statement. It's the kind of pronouncement that it'd be good to meditate on every day. And the focus is entirely on a name  a very important name of the One we're meant to continually trust, even when times are tough.

To begin with, we can see that it's the people who know God's name whom David singles out. They're the ones whom David describes as decisively choosing to trust God. Why is that? Why would simply having a name to call someone, even if that someone was God, give me reason to trust them?

David explains that in the very next statement, beginning with the word "for" (which could just as easily been translated "because"), and in his explanation, he very clearly chooses the name, LORD, as the name he has in mind for God: "...for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you." David is essentially saying, Those who know God as Yahweh will most certainly trust God! In English translations of the Old Testament, when the name, LORD, is spelled in all capital letters, it's a reference to the Hebrew name, Yahweh (Jehovah in English). Other Hebrew names for God in the Old Testament are Elohim (spelled "God"and Adonai (spelled "Lord"), each carrying their own emphases and meanings, and each used in specific contexts for specific reasons. But Yahweh is by far the most commonly used name in the Old Testament, and that is the name David used here because it's the name that spoke most loudly of God's trustworthiness and faithfulness.

David knew that Yahweh was the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush when God said, "I AM WHO I AM... Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you... The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exodus 3:14-15). It was in this context, when God first revealed His name as Yahweh, that He said, "I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites... a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17). 

In other words, Yahweh was a name packed with promises to David's listeners  promises that they knew God had kept! And the name, Yahweh, was the name God gave in order to enter into a forever-covenant with His people  a covenant that He would never break, for it would be against His holy nature to do so. That makes Yahweh the name for a covenant-keeping God who is eternally faithful, always with us, never forsaking us. It's also encouraging that the name Yahweh is derived from the repetition of the words "I AM." The repetition of these words in His name is meant to assure us that God is, in fact, very real, and that He does not change, and that He will always be exactly who He knows we need Him to be, whatever we're facing!

The writer to the Book of Hebrews must have had this in mind when he wrote that "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). 

David certainly understood this as he wrote Psalm 9. And if we truly know God's beautiful name  and all it represents in the context of the many bold promises and covenants He has made in that name throughout His Word  we too will be inspired to trust this God who has never yet forsaken those whose hearts are set on Him.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, April 28, 2017

Knowing your Place

Today as I read Psalm 99, I felt like God gently put me in my place. Verse five says, "Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He."

Sometimes I come to God like I know better than Him. Sometimes I come to God like I know exactly what He ought to do about something I want. Sometimes I come to sit with Him, and He with me, as though we're sharing His throne.

But it's important for me to remember that even though He may call me friend and brother, and even though He has delegated spiritual authority to me, He is still the King of kings and the Lord of lords ...and I'm not.

So when I come to worship Him, it's better to worship Him humbly "at His footstool" rather than as a know-it-all wanna-be trying to squeeze beside Him on His throne as I tell Him the way things ought to be.

After all, "Holy is He" and holy I'm not. And exalting the LORD ought to include humbling myself.

Psalm 99 goes on to repeatedly promise that God answers the prayers of His people, even those whom He had to forgive for grave sins! But the inference remains that He prefers to answer the prayers of humble worshipers.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

R.E.G.R.E.T. can be beaten! Don't let it beat you!

I personally find regret one of the greatest enemies of my soul. Regret attacks without mercy at our weakest moments. All it takes is the slightest sense of failure and regret jumps in and kicks us when we're down, sometimes pile-driving us into an utter sense of hopelessness that we'll ever be able to change. It's one thing to feel an initial sense of regret that leads us quickly to repentance, but I can allow regrets over the smallest of infractions to linger for days or even weeks, robbing me of peace and joy. So you can imagine how life's larger blunders affect me. And what makes it worse is that I can sometimes want to go there. Yes, there's something twistedly appealing about beating myself up with that soul-bruising rod of regret to punish myself for some self-declared inexcusable fault.

But it's all pride and vanity, and we must not allow such regrets to rob us of our joy in the present or our hope for the future because of our pointless self-reproach regarding the past. Regret can be beaten! Even the most persistent regrets can be slain! So if you too want to grow stronger in your battle against vain regrets, try using the following acronym to turn the very thought of the word "regret" into something positive!

Every time regret attempts to sabotage your confidence in God, this acronym defines how you can respond. When we rehearse this acronym, God will consistently rescue our souls from the seductive snare of regret.

R.E.G.R.E.T.
Re-live the Gospel
Encourage yourself in the Lord
Get low
Remember Romans 8:28
Ears to the Lord
Take action

Re-live the Gospel: Begin by decisively reminding yourself of the glorious good news of Jesus Christ! Timothy Keller urges us to do this every time we find ourselves feeling the need to prove our worth through our performance. It's like we want to put ourselves on trial to prove ourselves whenever we fail, when in actual fact, for those who know Jesus, the trial is over and the verdict is in! Jesus demonstrated our value by dying for us! And so every time regret causes us to question our worth, "re-live the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned." When regret haunts us, we must remind ourselves of the many wonderful truths of the gospel of Jesus!

Encourage myself in the Lord: Then, remind yourself of who God is and of His ever-reliable promises. In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men returned to Ziklag where they'd been living, and found that the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and taken away their wives and children! Verse 4 says, "Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep" and verse 6 says that "David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him" in their grief. David was their leader, and I'm sure he must've had regrets about how his leadership had led to this tragic outcome. But verse 6 goes on to say, "But David strengthened [or encouraged] himself in the LORD his God." To do this, David must have turned his thoughts to the truths he knew about the God who had faithfully led him this far. He likely encouraged his soul with thoughts of God's promises and thoughts of God's unchanging character. Focusing on who God is and on all His promises is a sure way to lift our perspective and encourage our soul in regrettable circumstances.

Get low: Then, own up and bow low before God. God's word is clear: If we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:10). We all fail at times. We all commit regrettable blunders. And the faster we own up to them, acknowledging our sins and our limitations, the sooner God will release His grace to us. Getting low reinforces the fact that the only thing we truly have to boast about in this life is that Jesus died for us and makes us both willing and able to follow him each and every day. We can't even boast about the times we get things right because we only do so by the grace of God. And when we get things wrong, and regret assaults our soul, the best thing to do is to "agree with your adversary quickly," admitting that we are truly regrettable pieces of work without Jesus, but that Jesus has made us brand new creations, fully accepted by God despite our blunders and regrets!

Remember Romans 8:28: Then, remind yourself of this central truth: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." The beauty of this verse is that "all things" means all things  even our regrettable blunders and mistakes. We therefore need to remember that God, in His wonderful wisdom, is able to take every poor choice made by those who truly want to walk in a loving relationship with Him, and weave them into the tapestry of His sovereign design for our lives, causing those poor choices to work together with His perfect contributions to our lives for our good and His glory! God is the great Artist who redeems every smudge we make with the skillful brilliance of His brush. 

Ears to the Lord: Then... listen. For every regret in our hearts, we must take time to listen to what the Lord wants to say to us. Just because God can cause all things to work together for good, and just because He loves us despite our blunders, doesn't mean God has nothing to teach us through it all. We must turn our ears heavenward as we look to God's Word (the Bible) and wait on the Lord in listening prayer so that we can learn the lessons of every one of our regrettable failings, trusting God to teach us so that we can have gretaer hope of steering clear of those failings in the future.

Take action: Finally, resolve to obey what God speaks to you as you humbly wait on Him. This is not a works-based response to the anguish of our regrets, but rather, an obedience-based approach to life as a follower of Jesus. We're not meant to wallow in the futility of regret, but nor are we meant to minimize the importance of repenting of the specific incidents that led to our regrets. Taking action means choosing to turn so that we avoid stepping again into the same muddy mess that stained us with those persistent regrets in the first place.

So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed with regret, let that R.E.G.R.E.T. remind you of these six redemptive responses. As we put them into practice, we'll find freedom from the regrets that linger longer than God intended.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Help, I need Somebody. Help, not just anybody.

It seems to me that as our children grow from being babies to teenagers, it's a good thing to see them grow increasingly less dependent on their parents, right? It certainly doesn't seem all that healthy if a teenager needs his or her parents in the same way a baby does. 

But that's not the way it works as children of our heavenly Father. In our life with God, the more mature we become as God's children, the more we ought to depend on our heavenly Father. It's a good thing to both need and want God's help every day, reaching out for it consistently in prayer!

This came to mind the other day when God rebuked me for something that I thought He ought to be comforting me about! It happened while I berating myself for some blunder I'd done, and then I began telling God how comforting I found it to remember that He "does not deal with us according to our sins" (Psalm 103:10). I then felt like God asked me why that was so comforting. Well that's obvious, I thought. It's because I often beat myself up when I blow it. Again, I felt like God asked me why. Praying, I told God that I guess I thought I should be able to do better, like a child who gradually grows more mature and learns how to better handle things. Then came God's clinching question: "Are you trying to impress Me?... As though you're trying to show Me that you can manage certain situations without needing My help, as if that seems a good thing?!"

Ouch. I knew that God wouldn't ask a question like that unless that was exactly what I was doing. What I realized at that moment was that I ought to be far less concerned about "blowing it" than I am about depending on my heavenly Father. That's because God really wants us to become more comfortable with the mistakes we make while depending on Him, and less comfortable with trying to avoid mistakes while not depending on Him! Simply put: God wants us to need Him. Depending on God for help is the mark of the strongest Christians.

That's why in Pilgrim's Progress, it's so inspiring when the mighty character named Great-Heart says, "It is my duty to mistrust my own ability, that I may have reliance on Him who is stronger than all."

That wonderful example of dependence on God is also set by the writer of Psalm 121 as he wrote: "I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the maker of heaven and earth." (vv. 1-2).

Those verses seemed quite fitting to me the other evening as I was walking my dog outside our city in a wide open setting. As I walked, I marveled at how huge the prairie sky was above an expansive horizon that stretched out before me like a braggart showing off how much it could put on display in one remarkable view! It all seemed so vast and awe-inspiring. As I stared up at a pale and imposing moon that was already rising before the sun had fully set, I found myself wondering how far that clear blue sky around it went on and on into the empty space that I knew stretched far beyond where any eye could see.

"Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the maker of heaven and earth." If the Maker of the amazing scene that I beheld has offered to help me, then why, oh why, would I not want to depend on Him who offers me that help? All my challenges and needs feel so tiny compared to that outstretched scene that I beheld, and to the outstretched hands of the great God who made it all – and who extends those hands to help me!

So I must resolve that as I face life's challenges, I'll make it my aim to daily depend on my heavenly Father, like a little child, so that I can grow into the man of God I truly want to be.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Boy who is the Word of God (A Poem about a Painting)

Boy Jesus in the Temple by Heinrich Hofmann (Luke 2:41-51)

This past November, I posted five poems that sought to articulate the facial expressions and body language of the five men surrounding Jesus in the above painting. Only recently did I feel that I had something I could write with my focus on the young Son of God named Jesus in the center of that painting. 

THE BOY WHO IS THE WORD OF GOD

Even now at this tender age,
He knows His Father's voice,
And says He needs to be
About His Father's business.
But does He truly understand,
The assignment He's been given?
Does this gentle, earnest boy,
Who is so eager
And so passionate
In His reflections on His Father,
Know that the business of His Father
Will one day cost His very life?
Can He see the distant cross
From this first of
Many Temple scenes,
Or hear the accusations
Of men who now
Stare at Him in awe?
What Scriptures have they opened
To inquire of this boy who is
The Word made flesh?
Are they reading of the Lamb,
Silent before its shearers,
Or of a people lost in darkness
Who see a radiant light?
That Light is shining bright this day,
As this boy who is the Lamb,

Who has spoken from the start,
Begins to speak 
at last, 
For all on earth to hear.

You can also hear the thoughts of the other characters in the painting at "Who is this Boy who Speaks such Things?"

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, February 10, 2017

My times are truly in His hand

Every time I read Psalm 31, a phrase in the middle grabs my attention and adjusts my oh-so-easily distracted perspective: "My times are in your hand" (Psalm 31:15a). That changes everything. In fact, it's a life-changer.

One reason that phrase gets my attention is because reading Psalm 31 in its entirety can feel like driving by an accident scene in which a great rescue is going on. David writes of his affliction and his distress (v. 7); he writes of grief and of sorrow and sighing, and of wasting away (vv. 9-10); he feels he's become a reproach and an object of dread, "forgotten like one who is dead" and "like a broken vessel" (vv. 11-12); there's terror and scheming, and "they plot to take my life" (v. 13). That's quite the gruesome car wreck.

But that is when the Great Rescue is mentioned. The Emergency Response Force has arrived! David suddenly shifts his focus and writes, "BUT I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!" (vv. 14-16).

What a declaration! In the midst of such horrible circumstances, David resolutely declares his trust in God! He's not going to let that accident scene suggest that his God can't be trusted. In fact, he's going to shout the truth in the midst of the confusion: "I trust in you!" – "You are my God!" Derek Kidner points out that the "I" and the "you" in those Hebrew phrases are emphatic, stressing the decisiveness and boldness of those statements. Whatever is going on around him and even inside him, David insists on declaring that God is still his God and that he will trust Him, confident in His never-ending, saving, steadfast love. But the phrase, "my God" is more than a mere theological acknowledgment – it is a personalized expression of closeness and relationship: He's my God. David is saying that "My God is with me, even in the midst of these difficult circumstances!"

But how can David be so amazingly certain of such truths in such incredibly tough times? It's because David understands one further important truth: his times are in God's hand. That changes everything. And it's true for every one of us. It means that the God of steadfast love is not only with us when things get tough, but is in complete control of every situation we face.

Think of it: my times – in God's hand. What a combination! "My times" means my circumstances, my challenges, my troubles, my victories, my day, my life. "God's hand" means God's power, God's strength, God's control, God's authority. Put those together and it means that no matter what happens to me as a child of God, I can be sure that my day is in God's control, and that my life is under God's authority. Nothing will happen to me that hasn't passed by His throne to receive His permission, and nothing will happen unless He has a sovereign purpose to work it for good in my life! My times are truly in His hand.

Let that turn your head when you hear it. But turn your head to look up at Jesus rather than down at this broken world we live in, and thank God, acknowledging that He has you in the palm of His hand. For David goes on to then adoringly write, "Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!" (Psalm 31:19).


© 2017 by Ken Peters

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Memories of a Desert-Loving Canadian





Thirty long years ago today, I entered the desert of northern Sudan to live in a faraway, unforgettable village of mud huts, roaring camels and beautiful people. My role was community development, but my dream was to simply meet with God in the desert. 



Perhaps I'm too much of a dreamer, but I had long felt a tug to desert places. Call me monkish, or blame Lawrence of Arabia; all I know is, I was attracted to the desert. Its emptiness attracted me, the scale of it awed me, its extremes excited me. 

Years ago, while traveling in the same deserts of northern Sudan, Wilfred Thesiger wrote, "Hour after hour, day after day, we moved forward and nothing changed; the desert met the empty sky always the same distance ahead of us. Time and space were one. Round us was a silence in which only the winds played, and a cleanness which was infinitely remote from the world of men."

I found Geoffrey Moorehouse even more inspiring as he wrote in The Fearful Void about his travels in the western Sahara: "...we were confronted with a passage across what looked like an eternal plain. Its dimensions were only emphasized by the presencie, low on distant horizons, of isolated peaks and tabletops of rock... their greatest effect was to provide such scale to the entire panorama as to reduce two men and four camels to their proper proportions in this towering and and barren universe. We were insects creeping forward to a rim of the world that might never be reached, across pure and unbounded space in which we had no hope at all of encountering anything else that lived and could offer comfort by its presence. It was appalling; but at the same time, it was exciting, with a spellbinding quality that penetrated even the dulling of the senses that it imposed... 

"...in its utmost desolation, I began at last to understand its attraction. It was the awful scale of the thing, the suggestion of virginity, the fusion of pure elements from the heavens above and the earth beneath which were untrammelled and untouched by anything contrived by man."

So there I was thirty years ago, a 23 year old kid with a head full of romantic notions about what turned out to be the hardest year of my life up to that point, cheerfully hopping in a Land Rover and being driven into an 11-month crucible of fire for my yet half-grown character. Ah, but what better way is there to be refined than in a furnace of desert heat while being mocked by petulant camels and enveloped in mountainous sandstorms? 











My journal entry from all those years ago as we left Khartoum and eventually approached the village of Hamrat reflects my fascination: "The ride is across desert where no roads exist; just the paths of previous lorries that travel the region with supplies. At one point in Khartoum, the pavement abruptly ends, and the bumps of the 'paved' roads become the bigger bumps of dirt and sand... Soon we were out of [town], save the few odd homes seen in the middle of nowhere as we drove through the desert. Nothing for hundreds and thousands of square miles, and you suddenly see a home built of dried wood standing all alone. We saw some camels, and a few herd of cattle in the beginning too, but most sights became pretty rare after about 20 minutes. There was sand, shrubs, scrawny trees and sky..."

The next day, after a chilly desert night, I wrote, "as we drove up a dune or hill (or both), apparently off course with no path to follow, we saw appear in the view from the top of it, a town in the distance below! Hamrat el Wuz."

Google Earth allows us a glance-from-above, gradually zooming in on my desert home for 11 months in 1987 – a year I will never forget, among a people I will always cherish, and during which, I truly met with God in the desert...



© 2017 by Ken Peters