Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blessed Assurance!

There is a little verse in Colossians that I have found to be one of the most reassuring verses in the entire Bible -- partly because of what Paul wrote and partly because of the order in which he wrote it. It's a verse that provides me with immense hope regarding my unchangeable standing before a loving God.

Paul wrote, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12, NIV).

The first reason I'm so encouraged by this verse is because of what it doesn't say. It does NOT say, "Therefore, so that you may be God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with..." We weren't "chosen" because we met some heavenly criteria. We're not called "holy" because we lived sinlessly for some kind of test-period. We're not "dearly loved" by God because we somehow impressed Him with our sanctity. We are all those things Paul mentions before we've done a single thing for God (other than turning to Him, which we needed His help to do anyway)!

This verse makes it abundantly clear that chosen, holy and dearly loved are not our goals, but are the starting point in our life with God -- and for each and every day we live for God.

Then it gets even more encouraging when we realize that every one of the things God asks us to clothe ourselves with -- "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" -- describe who God is. That not only makes it clear how wonderful God is, but it means that as we stumble inconsistently along on our journey of growing in these virtues, God graciously treats us in the very same ways He calls us to live.

But there's more! We know that because Jesus is the embodiment of each of these qualities, that it's Him we're to seek, rather than the traits themselves, in order to grow in them. We grow in compassion by seeking Jesus who is Compassion, and likewise for each. By seeing it this way, we put nothing before Christ and seek nothing more than Him. After all, isn't Jesus all we need?

Our life with God couldn't be described more wonderfully. As we begin with God, and as we begin each day we live for Him, He declares us chosen, holy and loved. Then as we continue living for Him, He simply asks us to seek Jesus, and only Jesus, that we may grow to be more and more like Him!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When weak prayers are strong

You pray and pray and pray, and then what? People encourage you to persevere. Knock and keep on knocking, they say. You wonder if they could possibly know how weak your prayers feel after all these years? But you keep praying, though the passion in your prayers feels a shadow of what it once was. You wonder if God is even listening as your prayers seem to have lost their potency, and you're no longer even sure what to pray.

And then God speaks: "...the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

What a relief that God sent a Helper to come alongside us (John 14:16)! My prayers may be weak, but He can make them strong. However weak you may feel your prayers have become as they dribble off your lips after uncounted repetitions, be encouraged that the Spirit has been sent to lift our feeble prayers to greater heights, ensuring that they reach God's ears with groanings that echo our anguish and with a clarity that contradicts our confusion.

That word "helps" is a big word with even bigger implications. The Greek word originally used is sunantilambano, and literally "speaks of the action of a person coming to another's aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the person in his endeavor" (source, vol. 1). 

In fact, I would dare to suggest that such Spirit-assisted prayers are potentially more effective than the lofty prayers of some who may be so confident that they utter their prayers without relying on the Spirit for His help. That is why God has no difficulty hearing what we consider "weak" prayers. Because by the time they reach His ears through His Spirit's intercession, there is nothing weak about them!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Multitude of Pauses

What's your view on waiting? Do you enjoy it? Do you look forward to it? Yesiree, I can't wait to wait! Not. People generally don't like waiting. Just the idea of having to wait can prevent us from going somewhere good. We don't want to wait in line, we don't want to waste our time. 

Yet waiting is a core piece of the Christian life, and always leads to something good when God is who we're waiting for. And though He knows we get tired of waiting for Him, His antidote for tiredness is to wait! "Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

This practice of waiting for God is meant to be an encouraging constant in our lives. The word "wait" in the Hebrew language means more than our anemic North American idea of waiting. It means to look forward to something eagerly and expectantly. It means "enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act" on behalf of His people (source).

But what makes waiting so unattractive is when it goes on and on and on! And that's often the kind of waiting the Bible speaks about as His people waited decades for deliverance from Babylon, or for centuries for deliverance from Egypt, or even for millenia for the Messiah to come. Like Abraham, I've waited 25 years for a promise to be fulfilled.

And it's because waiting so long can just feel impossible that I make it my aim to wait for God in smaller doses. I can do this by stopping regularly - repeatedly - in the midst of my routines to wait, and to lean in and listen, all with a focus on a gracious God who loves me. All I need to do is to pause...  ...pause in my pursuits and look up, asking God for wisdom, patience or strength. The more I learn to practice such pauses, the more strength I gain, the more wisdom I glean and the more I sense God's presence.

All these minor pauses add up to a lifestyle of waiting for God that makes a long wait seem less wearisome as we repeatedly draw on the strength God supplies every time we stop to lean on Him. So if waiting for God is growing tiring, break it up a bit, and do it many times a day. You'll gain "new strength" every time.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Go ahead. Take it easy.

What would you say to a weary saint who simply longed for life to be easy? It almost seems like that's a bad word among serious Christians! After all, Jesus worked so hard, and the apostle Paul worked so hard. There must be something wrong with the idea of "easy." And with phrases like "count the cost" and "carry your cross," we obviously don't associate the Christian life with the word "easy." We speak of endurance amidst warfare and of labourers in the harvest fields. Easy?! No Christian should settle for easy!

And yet, Jesus said that "My yoke is easy" and to "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me" (Matthew 11:28-30). Did Jesus actually use the word "easy"? Yes, and He also called Himself "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11) knowing that King David had already declared that "The LORD is my shepherd" and that "He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:1-3a).

You want easy? Come to Jesus. (There's something you don't hear too often!) And Jesus tells us that the key to the yoke that's "easy" is that it is only possible as we "learn from" Him. This means being in the yoke with Him, spending time with Him, and I suggest that it also means that Jesus is inviting us to have a seat with Him where He is seated! Jesus is saying to each of us, "C'mon up here and sit and stay awhile! Have a seat with Me."

When Paul wrote that God "raised us up with Him [Jesus], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6), he fully expected us to embrace the posture of one who is personally seated together with Jesus in heaven. And from that posture, we learn from Jesus how to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1) and how to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). But it all begins with the wondrous ease of being seated with Jesus. 

Watchman Nee, in his wonderful book "Sit, Walk, Stand", wrote that "There is no limit to the grace God is willing to bestow upon us. He will give us everything, but we can receive none of it except as we rest in Him. 'Sitting' is an attitude of rest." Nee marvels at the paradox that the only way to advance as a Christian is to sit down!

In other words, the Kingdom of God is such that we don't work hard so that we can sit and rest, but we are seated so that we can accomplish more. "For Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE... we are invited at the very outset to sit down and enjoy what God has done for us" (Nee).

So in answer to my initial question above, I'd be inclined to say, "No problem! There's a beautiful comfy chair waiting for you right here beside Jesus. Please: sit down with Him, and take it easy."

© 2014 by Ken Peters