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.

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