Thursday, January 27, 2011

The kind of strength I need

I tend to think of the apostle Peter as a big strong fisherman who could haul in heavy nets full of fish, heave on heavy canvas sails and pull up heavy boats onto a beach. I tend to think of him as a man who had gained his self-confidence from his broad-shouldered, man-against-the-elements approach to the livelihood he'd embraced. And so it doesn't surprise me that when Jesus told Peter that He was praying for him so that his faith wouldn't fail (Luke 22:33), Peter responded by saying that he'd go to prison and even die for Jesus (v.33)! That's when Jesus warned Peter that'd he'd actually deny that he even knew Him -- not once, but three times before that very night was over. And when that happened, and the rooster crowed just like Jesus said it would to signal Peter's denials, it says that "the Lord looked at Peter" (v.61) and that Peter "went out and wept bitterly" (v.62).

The strong man no longer felt strong. The strength he thought he had had failed him. I'm sure the Lord's look was a look of love, but Peter must have felt exposed nonetheless. Exposed as weak -- something he'd never thought himself to be. And through that experience, Peter must have learned that the kind of strength he needed -- and would soon have -- was of a different nature than the forcefulness and aggressiveness of a seasoned fisherman. He needed a strength of heart that came from heaven and that depended on God rather than on guts.

And I have to wonder which sort of strength I'm most inclined to depend on when the pressure is on. Is it the strength of my own momentum as I push to get things done for God, using the forcefulness of my own will to try to make things happen as I offer God a helping hand? That does sound a little like me in the seasons of life that appear more like me doing work for God than like God doing His work through me. Or is it a peaceful yet determined strength of heart that comes from patiently seeking and hearing the voice of God, obeying Him as He leads me? Because I know that only one of those strengths will stand the test of adversity, and only one will bring God glory as I seek to follow Him.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trained to do the Impossible!

I'm so grateful that God hears us when we pray! And it's such a thrill to read a description of how the Lord thunders down from heaven, lightning flashing and hailstones flying as He routs the enemies of King David in answer to his prayers (Psalm 18:6-15)! Then verses 17-18 say, "He rescued me from my strong enemy" and "the Lord was my support". It's such a spectacle of God's power in those opening verses of Psalm 18 that it's tempting to think that having "called upon the Lord" (v.6), we can then just sit back and watch God do His thing. He'll just come and rescue me because He delights in me (v.19).

But it's a long psalm, and if I read on, I get a different perspective. "For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? The God who equipped me with strength... [and] trains my hand for war... For You equipped me with strength for the battle" (vv.31-39). Sure it's God who "made those who rise up against me sink under me" (v.39), and who "made my enemies turn their backs to me" (v.40), but if I'm to apply this psalm to my own life, it's supposed to be me who "pursued my enemies and overtook them" (v.37). In other words, God is not interested in me being an unassertive spectator as I passively watch Him do His thing! He wants me as involved in the answer as I am in the cry for help so that I can grow through the experience of being trained by Him.

That doesn't mean that I end up answering my own prayers. No, it means I get the thrill of participating with God as He enables me to do the impossible as He answers my prayers -- "For by You I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall!" (v.29). It very well may be that God wants us to patiently wait in hope for Him to answer our prayers (eg- Psalm 40:1), but I don't think that necessarily means that He wants us to passively wait in hope for those same answers. Some might say that (in a New Testament context) it's simply the act of praying in faith amidst the battles we face that constitutes doing the impossible, but I'm more inclined to believe that God wants us actively taking authority over things in the areas we pray about, and that's how God wants to help us to do the impossible as we "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, [and] cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8).

So I'm asking myself: Am I available to be trained (v.34) and equipped (v.32) and engaged in the battle as I ask God to defeat the enemies I face? Because it seems that He doesn't want to do it without us!

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, January 21, 2011

Needing no "ifs" to Believe God

I've always found it such a striking statement when Jesus bluntly says that even if a man should rise from the dead, people still won't necessarily be convinced of his message (Luke 16:31). But Jesus said it, and it was true of the Pharisees He said it to. They didn't believe Jesus' words even when guards came from Jesus' tomb telling them of an earthquake at the tomb and of an angel who shone like lightning and who rolled away the stone from the tomb's entrance (Matthew 28:2-4, 11-15). Even when the disciples began proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead and began performing miracles in His name, the Pharisees still refused to believe Jesus' message. And I think a part of the reason I'm so struck by Jesus' statement is that I still struggle with unbelief in the light of so many living illustrations of God's goodness and grace.

From the stories in God's Word to the stories of my times to the stories of my life, I continually see and hear of what God can do, promises to do, and does -- and yet it's obvious that I'm not fully persuaded of God's goodness. Otherwise, why the struggle in my soul with unbelief? Why the occasional anger with God, offended by His apparent unconcern regarding unanswered prayers? I'm no different than the Pharisees in this, and Jesus might as well have been speaking to me when He said that even if someone should rise from the dead, I wouldn't necessarily be convinced of all they had to say. Jesus rose, and there are still days I doubt Him.

For the Pharisees, the issue was hardness of heart. God forbid that I should harden my heart to God due to my own disappointments! Jesus has been kind enough to open my eyes to see Him for who He really is, and I should need to see nothing else to know that God is good and His plans are perfect. No "ifs" -- no demands. I can simply believe God's Word even when I don't fully understand God's ways. His appeal is clear: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (John 6:29).

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seeing the Cross

This morning, over 50 churches in Winnipeg closed their doors for one Sunday so that we could all worship Jesus together in one place, at Winnipeg's MTS Centre. It was estimated that 12,800 people were in attendance! And at the center of it all, hanging high above the chairs that filled the floor area was a huge 24-foot cross.

As the worship began, there was so much to capture my attention. The thousands of voices singing passionately to Jesus was such an inspiring expression of devotion and unity. But as I sang from my chair and casually turned to look up at the cross hanging high above the crowd, I had an unexpected emotional response that brought tears to my eyes. I suddenly felt as though I was at Golgotha, the hill on which Jesus died, looking up at the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

There was a crowd around the cross at that time too. They too had to look up to see the cross as it was placed high atop a hill. Some in that crowd were looking up in confusion, and others with compassion, while others in mocking derision. But Jesus willingly gave Himself to hang high above them all, humiliated before them and yet eager to save them. And for a brief moment, I felt as though I was there amongst the onlookers, staring up at the cross of Jesus, wondering at the magnitude of it all, and tears rose up in my eyes. I couldn't help but think, He put Himself on that cross for me. What a scene that must have been.

Today, on January 9, 2011, the crowd around the cross I saw was of a different sort. We were united in our response of praise and gratitude to Jesus who died to save us. For today was no crucifixion scene. Today was a celebration of the exaltation of the One who hung there on a cross so long ago, and who has now been exalted to the throne above every throne!

But for a brief moment, I saw Him there, high up on a cross. And His love for me seemed as clear to me as it has ever been.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Overcoming cynicism regarding prayer

Today I read a brief comment on prayer that I found extremely helpful. In the 20+ years of praying for my wife Fiona, I have sometimes struggled to maintain an unwavering conviction regarding the power of prayer. But I was encouraged to discover in the brief quote below that I'm not alone in such struggles and that there is a cure for them.

Paul Miller, who wrote the book A Praying Life, is doing an ongoing interview on the blog of Desiring God. In his answer to the second question he was asked, he spoke about cynicism in prayer: How would you describe the problem of cynicism, and what is your advice to those who are struggling with it?

"Cynicism is my biggest struggle in prayer. It is a quiet, cold rationalism that dulls the soul and just kills your walk with God. It is hard to even identify or name our cynicism because it just feels like being realistic. It says things like, 'What good does it [prayer] do?' or 'It [the answer to prayer] would have happened anyway.'

"I think we are particularly susceptible to cynicism in the Reformed world because we are an intellectual world. We are rightly concerned about our ideas being correct, but we don’t always pay attention to our heart being correct.
"I think without a doubt that the principal cure for cynicism is to become a little child and learn to cry out for help—to realize that I am a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son.
"One other cure for cynicism is purity of life. Any time there is a miss between how we present ourselves as Christians and what we are really like when no one is watching, that opens up a door for cynicism. So a lifestyle of repentance and confession goes a long way to cure cynicism."

© 2011 by Ken Peters