In my last post I wrote about "the trap". It is a scheme of the evil one that ensnares many believers. He tempts the believer and seductively lures us into sin and then viciously attacks us when we sin. It is a strategy designed to keep the believer from from following after God.
There were two reactions to the article. Some people thanked me for exposing the trap. They realised that they had experienced this same thing themselves. One person even realised that the trap described exactly what they were experiencing. The image helped them get back on their feet spiritually and start walking with Jesus again. There was grace and forgiveness to be found in Christ.
Others were concerned that I was somehow condoning sin in the life of the follower of Christ. They reasoned that people would understand my article to think that sin was somehow okay and we should tolerate it in our lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. "Sin is okay" is yet another trap of the enemy. It's a lie that he whispers to keep us from experiencing the freedom of a holy life.
Two Key Truths
There are two key truths that Paul says make up a "sure foundation". They are both extremely important.
The first is this: the Lord knows who are his.
The mystery of God's choosing is shrouded in his will. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1). Jesus said that he knows his sheep and that his sheep know the sound of his voice. When we come to faith in Christ we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.
If you have been born again by the Spirit of God, you have been adopted by Him. You are a son or daughter of the Most High.
You don't become a Christian by being born into a Christian family. You become a Chrisitan, in the biblical sense, by regeneration. You have to be born again. We experience several things as we are born again: repentance and faith. We repent of our sins and we believe the gospel. Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose from the dead.
You will never be more "his" than when you were born again. However, we need to remember that regeneration (being born again) is, like physical birth, only the first step of a life with the Lord. And just as a baby grows and becomes like their parents, we are to grow and become more like Jesus.
That brings us to the second key truth:
Those who call on the Lord must turn away from wickedness.
We are called to live holy lives. Sin and rebellion against God are never okay. They diminish our fellowship with God, rob us of joy and peace, spoil our spiritual fruit, and damage relationships. We are called to be holy. We must remember that!
We are to put off the old man and put on the new. We are to get rid of sinful attitudes and actions. We are to learn to live lives of love. Read Colossians 3:1-14; Ephesians 4-5; 1 Peter 1:13-16.
There is a great deception in the land: salvation without holiness. There are people who point to some past event and say to themselves, "I've got that heaven thing taken care of so I don't have to worry about that. I might as well 'enjoy life' and live like the devil!" Some point to their infant baptism and others to a "salvation prayer" at a crusade as their "get out of hell free" card. But in either, their true hearts are exposed: they are not saved. The redeemed desire to live lives of holiness! Don't be deceived: Those who call on the Lord must turn away from wickedness!
For those that build their lives on these truths the transformation can be amazing. Drugs and alcohol lose their grip. Greed turns into generosity. Anger into patience and gentleness. Despair turns to hope.
But sometimes we fall. When we do, the enemy wants us to believe that our sin has ruined our hope of heaven. That's the trap I wrote about.
But heaven was never based on our performance. We are saved by grace through faith. Our relationship with God is based on the finished work of Jesus Christ. He died for our sins. He offers us grace and mercy. From beginning to end, our salvation is based on grace. When we sin, we need to repent, receive forgiveness, and and continue to walk the highway of holiness.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Note: This article was originally posted on pastorkarlsblog.blogspot.com on November 4, 2016
This post was originally posted on Pastor Karl's old blog. You can find that blog here.
It is an insidious trap built by Satan himself.
He dangles temptation in front of us and fans the smouldering embers of our fallen nature with a sweet hypnotic voice. Like Eve of old, we see the forbidden fruit and it appears pleasant and good. The ancient serpent, having stoked our fallen nature to a brilliant blaze, whispers encouragement and so we partake...again. There is a moment of pleasure followed by searing guilt. The voice that was so sweetly encouraging us to sin becomes the voice of the accuser. "Guilty! Filthy! Failure! You claim to be a Christian but you are not! A Christian would never do that! It's too late...there will be no forgiveness this time!" It all sounds true. You feel so alone. So terribly horribly alone.
Somehow another voice begins to whisper that the pleasure of sin will make the loneliness more tolerable. Another forbidden fruit appears, more tantalising than the last. In your loneliness it seems like an oasis. And the cycle plunges you ever deeper and feelings of loneliness separated by fleeting moments of pleasure seem to become your way of life. The cycle is a trap all too familiar to the followers of Christ.
How do you move on?
Of course the best was to get out of any trap is to avoid it altogether, but I want to address those who are in the trap. You are in the quicksand. You feel like an athlete who is about to be cut from the team for making too many bad plays. Are you there? I've been there.
Let me share a secret with you: The ending of the story is glorious.
You think that story began with a decision to follow Christ and is ending with your failure. But the story didn't begin with you. It began with Him. He called you. He picked you. The One who sees the end from the beginning chose you to belong to him. Look at the ground, then look at the sky. He chose you before those things even existed. He knew all about your weaknesses and your failings and he chose you in spite of them. He wants you. He desires you. You feel lonely. The Lord of the Universe loves you. He overwhelmed your defences and you said yes to him. But he did the overwhelming. He knew what you had done and he wanted you.
He also knew that you would fail. More than once.
He called you anyway.
It really is incredible, isn't it?
The story is about him. You are involved, but the hero isn't you. It's him.
Paul tells us in the first chapter of Ephesians that God lavished on you the riches of his grace. Grace is something that you don't deserve, cannot earn, and can never repay. Where you sit right now, feeling alone and guilty, is the exact moment that you need to know his grace. He knows that. He understands that and in his wisdom he gives you his grace.
He isn't a miser who looks at you and tries to figure our just how much grace you need. "Let's see, yesterday he needed 14 millilitres of grace but today he really screwed up so I guess we'll have to give him 27." No, he is lavishing it on you. He is opening the floodgates of heaven and pouring his grace and forgiveness on you. You are standing under the Niagara Falls of his grace. Right now.
Before the foundation of the world he knew that this moment was coming, and he wants you to know know that your cries for forgiveness have been heard. You have been forgiven. John writes, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). His grace is poured out because of his wisdom and understanding. He knew and knows and he loved you and loves you still. His grace joyously flows over you abundantly.
And the greatness of the grace poured out on you causes angels to worship in awestruck wonder.
The story ends in a wedding. Remember that. You are the bride of Christ. He has chosen you. In spite of what you feel at the moment, you have an engagement ring on your finger. You are his. You are on your way to a glorious wedding: yours (Eph 1:13-14; 5:25-32). The story is not about how well you perform. It is about his grace. You love him. He knows that. And the story is about his love and his lavish grace. So put the focus back where it belongs: on Jesus.
So what next?
Here are some things that you can do:
The Psalms are a treasure chest full of riches. Some, like Psalm 23 are well known while others are obscure. One of the most famous psalms is Psalm 119. Its notoriety comes from being the longest of all the psalms. Weighing in at 176 verses, it has derailed many Bible reading plans. It is the longest chapter in the Bible and has over twice as many verses as the next longest psalm! You may be surprised to know that it has become one of my go-to psalms in the Bible.
My love of the psalm started when I was going through a dry time in my devotions. My bible reading had become somewhat routine and perfunctory. At the same time, I was reading Ancient Paths by Corey Russell. I was startled to discover that Psalm 119 was one of his favorite psalms. He caused me to take a fresh look at it. But I don’t want to teach you about the psalm. I want you to encounter what I did as I began looking at the it.
Let me encourage you to start your devotional time with Psalm 119. Don’t read the whole thing, but read it a section at time. The psalm is an acrostic poem broken down into 22 sections following the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse in a given section starts with the same letter of the alphabet. Even though you cannot see this in the English text, it provides handy bite-sized sections to meditate on.
So read a section, then pause and reflect on the what it says. Perhaps you will want to underline different subjects. Say a prayer based on what you see and then move on with your regular bible reading.
I think you’ll be surprised at the results. The psalm is a reflection of David’s passion for encountering the Lord through the Word. As you work your way through the psalm over 3 weeks, you will find his passion to be contagious and your heart will soon be ablaze for Jesus and his word!
Yes, the title is "Faith Popcorn and a Proverb". No commas are needed because Faith Popcorn is a real person, not something you eat while watching Christian movies. In 1981 she coined the term “cocooning” to describe what she perceived to be a trend for people to stay at home away from perceived danger. This was twenty years before 9/11 and before the mass shooting epidemic. It was before the internet both amplified the perceived threats and gave a pleasant way of escaping while in the safety of your home. In 2013, in an issue of Fortune magazine, Faith Popcorn said that cocooning had become the normal lifestyle and that “uber-cocooning” and “bunkering” were now becoming trends as people had even greater fear of engagement with what was perceived to be an increasing threatening world. This trend is increasing. Our homes really have become our castles where we retreat and avoid interacting with those around us (except via social media). This has taken place even though since 1981 the crime rate has dropped significantly for almost every category of crime. It is getting safer outside, but we are retreating more and more. We live in a “hide behind the walls” culture and reinforce our beliefs by what we watch on our screens.
We need to hear the words of Scripture:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:11-12 ESV
We are not called to cocoon. We are called to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs Jesus. When we retreat into the safety of our homes and ignore the cries for help around us, we are placing our light under a bushel basket. We, though we might claim to be Christ-followers, wind up much like those who walked right past the man who had been robbed on the road to Jericho.
When you read this opening line of this Proverb, who immediately came to mind? Who are those being taken away to death and led to slaughter? This passage places a responsibility before us: we are to rescue those being led away to death. It warns us against closing our eyes against what we have seen and to become active in saving those who are heading for destruction.
There are those who are being led away to destruction by their addictions. The opioid crisis, alcohol, heroin and other drugs are enslaving people and destroying lives. Pornography and sexual sins are keeping people in bondage and devastating marriages to the point that marriage itself is becoming an afterthought. This is one of the reasons that we have a Celebrate Recovery program. This is an effective way to lead people to freedom in Christ. Know someone who is struggling? Invite them Celebrate Recovery on Friday night. It starts with a meal at 6:15 on Friday. If they are hesitant, offer to pick them up and attend with them! Or if you don’t know anyone who is struggling, you can always volunteer to help on Friday nights.
Did you know Coon Rapids made Rolling Stone a few years ago? They carried a story about a young girl who went to a friend's house after skating at Cheap Skate. It was at her friend's house that she met the woman who talked her into going on a road trip. A few days later she found herself being prostituted in Texas. Human trafficking is a major issue that hides in the shadows all around us. Evil networks have learned that humans are much more profitably trafficked than drugs. Perhaps this is the issue that immediately popped into your mind. There are organizations that are actively fighting this evil…why not get involved?
One of the great tragedies of our lifetimes is the number of abortions that are performed in the United States. This practice obviously affects the unborn child, but it also leads to great harm to the mother who often deals with the emotional trauma of the decision for the rest of her life. This may be the issue that Jesus wants you to get involved with. You may have a someone that the Lord is calling you to help. Or perhaps you want to get involved with a ministry that deals with the issue. New Life Pregnancy Center is an effective program here in the Twin Cities that you might want to check out.
Issues like addiction, trafficking, and abortion grab the headlines. These are the manifestations of a deeper problem: sin. The Bible tells us that people are enslaved to sin and are headed toward an eternity in hell. They are all “being taken away to death” and “stumbling towards slaughter.” We cannot close our eyes to this reality. The gospel is the only hope of saving those around us who are headed towards hell. We are all called to be witnesses of the death and resurrection. We are ambassadors and representatives of Christ. Our neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives need to hear the gospel. How can we be content with cocooning when eternity is at stake?
May the Lord lead us out of our comfortable patterns and into the center of his will. May we be ones who take seriously the call to be his witnesses and to lead people to freedom in Christ!
"They packed their belongings in a casket."
I remember reading about the first Alliance missionaries and their deep commitment to go to dangerous places. They didn't think they would be coming back alive. Perhaps they would serve overseas for years, but it was likely that they would be martyred for their efforts to shine the light of Jesus in the Congo.
I was reminded of this last week when Janet and I attended the General Council of the C&MA in Orlando. It was a week of business meetings, worship, reports and challenging messages brought to a climax on the final day when 62 new Alliance workers were commissioned for overseas work. While there was much to celebrate during the week, I couldn’t help but feel an undercurrent of the seriousness of the work to which we are called.
For several decades the work of Alliance missions focused on reaching the responsive peoples of the world. We sought to plant churches and train leaders among those who were ripe for harvesting. Networks of churches formed and Bible schools were started as these efforts matured. But in recent years we have shifted to taking the gospel to those who have never heard. In most cases, a large part of the reason they haven’t heard is because their culture, and perhaps their government, is hostile to the message of Christ. It is dangerous work.
Many of our new workers are heading to those places. Getting kicked out of countries is likely. Imprisonment, physical violence and even death are possibilities. There will be no newsletters or Facebook posts from these unsung heroes of the faith. In our hyper-connected world an email or Instagram post can mean deportation so they rely on the prayers of those who are sensitive to the voice of the Spirit.
Often in America church life is marked by entertainment and socializing. “Fun, Friends, and Jesus.” The gospel is presented as a means to make life better. Relationships can be healed, addictions can be broken, and blessings can be enjoyed. This is true, but what if accepting the gospel meant losing your job or your family? What if instead of healing it meant torture? What if it carried with it a death sentence?
Would you share the gospel with a co-worker if you knew that becoming a Christ-follower would mean losing his family and perhaps being killed? Would you be willing to go somewhere to share the gospel if the penalty for doing so was jail? Is it worth it?
Heaven and hell hang in the balance. The New Testament church experienced all of these things and continued to grow in numbers and in the power of the Spirit. In the same way, the Alliance is seeing people come to faith in the darkest regions of the world. The work is difficult and daily difficulties must be faced, but seeds are being sown and frequently a harvest is being reaped as well.
This Council made me glad to be a part of C&MA, a bunch of irregular people filled with a desire to know Jesus and make him known to ends of the earth.
Oh, that pioneering work in the Congo that started back in 1884 has born fruit. Those Spirit-led risks have resulted in over a million and a half people in the DRC worshipping Jesus today! May the Lord use us in the same way today.
- Pastor Karl Emerson
Prayer rooms are interesting places. The Lord has a way of sneaking up on you while you are in them. Just today I was spending some time praying through the requests from the people in our church. They filled a basket. There were dozens of requests for healing. Cancer, MS, back problems, and heart issues were mentioned multiple times. Then there were the requests for marriage problems. And requests for the breaking of addictions. And requests for the salvation of so many friends and family members.
I’ve prayed through many such requests before. But today was different. The requests began to feel like an overwhelming weight. The more prayer cards I looked at, the heavier they seemed. Its weight was oppressive, almost crushing. And strangely familiar.
Suddenly, I had a flashback to the Saddam Hussein Museum in Kurdish Iraq. Friends had taken me there. It was a converted jail and what was displayed were the unspeakable horrors that the regime’s prisoners suffered at the hands of the brutal jailers. The scene in my mind changed again and I was on a mountaintop not far from Strasbourg. It is an idyllic place, except for what happened there: Nazi medical “experiments” on interned Jews. Few survived the barbaric procedures. The images in my head shifted again and I was at the Dachau concentration camp. Do I even need to recount the things that happened there? All three places had the same nefarious spirit.
Such was the heaviness that I felt as I leafed through the prayer requests this morning. It was the feeling of the grinding agony of the hopeless captive. And I was feeling just the pain of a handful of requests for deliverance from suffering from the people known by this church. Pain, broken relationships, and addictions were painful shackles on so many people, and this was just a fraction of the people in my city.
Then I remembered walking away from the ovens at Dachau with tears in my eyes and anger in my soul. I looked at my son and said with gritted teeth, “If ever there was a reason for war, stopping this would be it.”
Sitting in the prayer room this morning I realized something. The weight I felt and the anger I felt were exactly the things that the Lord felt as he looked at a world held captive by sin. People were tortured and deceived by Satan and faced eternal suffering. The prisoners had no hope and no possibility of escape from their bondage, unless God did something.
The cost would be enormous. It would be a battle unlike any other. He would send his only Son to fight for the release of the captives. His Son would freely give himself to be tortured and executed. During his execution, he would not only suffer physical agony but he would have the guilt of every sin placed upon him. It would crush him.
He did it to set the captives free. He did it to put an end to suffering. There is hope. There is a way out of the suffering, a path to freedom from addiction, and release from the prison of sin.
I began to pray with new fervency. The situations on the prayer cards in my hand were not hopeless. The battle had been waged on Calvary and victory declared at the tomb. The wounded can be healed. The broken can be mended. The captives can be set free. There is a way out of the prison.
Jesus reigns victorious. Satan has been defeated. Hallelujah!
Strasbourg, France. The stunned gasp from the congregation was totally unexpected. I racked my brain trying to figure out what had happened. I had been preaching and used a big theological word and suddenly realized that many of the non-native English speakers in the room might not know the word. So, I had stopped and asked if someone could define the word for the benefit of everyone. A young American university student raised his hand and I called on him.
His definition of the term was correct, but contained several equally difficult theological terms. I rolled my eyes and said, “Thanks, that was SO helpful. It REALLY cleared things up.” He, and a few others in the room laughed, but their laughter was drowned out by the loud gasp of many others in the room. What could the problem be?
I suddenly realized that I was the cause of the gasp. Rather than understanding my remark as light-hearted teasing, many thought that I had ridiculed a young man’s attempt to be helpful. He had been bold enough to answer my question, and I had made fun of him in front of everyone.
The awkwardness was a common problem in France. The humor of one culture doesn’t translate well into other cultures. On the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, where I had spent 14 years, the teasing among friends was almost constant. But in France, I would think of some quick retort only to find it falling flat and the people around me looking confused or sometimes hurt. I found myself constantly find myself biting my tongue to keep from saying things that people wouldn’t think were funny.
One of the things that I noticed was that American humor (along with British humor) tends to be filled with sarcasm. It is the quick jibe or clever put-down that gets the laugh. The late Don Rickles was a master at it. Living in Strasbourg, I learned to restrain myself. There were also difficult conversations trying to explain that if Americans said something that seemed mean to you, it probably meant that they actually like you. It reminded me of a pastor I knew who was devastated when he woke up and saw toilet paper hanging from all the trees in his yard. He assumed that someone in the church hated him and had a hard time understanding that the youth group had done it because they loved him!
Now that I am back in the United States, I find my tongue is looser. But I don’t like what is coming out. The light-hearted put-down which so rapidly comes to my mind tastes sour, even though my intent is to build relationships! The sarcastic quip doesn’t feel “right” anymore. But why? Is it one of those things that is just a normal part of culture and requires some “translation” to understand (like toilet papering someone’s house), or is there something else going on?
Since I observed that much of American humor is sarcasm, I decided to look up the word in the Bible. While there are examples of sarcasm in the Bible, the word itself isn’t found there. Interestingly, the word sarcasm comes from a Greek word meaning “to strip or cut the flesh”. The dictionary goes on to define the English word to mean “the use of remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what they say, made in order to hurt someone's feelings or to criticize something in a humorous way.” So, we use the excuse of humor to say things that can wound or injure others. After all, we were only joking!
I did some more searching online about sarcasm and came across several interesting sites that were devoted to fiction writing. They said that sarcasm in dialogue can be used to show that a character in a story is cynical, bitter, and usually arrogant. Sarcastic characters are typically impatient and do not respect the person at whom the sarcastic comment is made. Those character traits didn’t seem to fit with the fruit of the Spirit. Things like love, joy, peace, and patience hardly produce snarky sarcastic comments.
Then I ran across a quote from Ellen DeGeneres (of all people). Here’s what she said, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at someone else’s expense. And I find that’s just a form of bullying in a major way.” That made me pause and think about the quick-witted jest that tears at someone’s flesh just to get a laugh. It is not really much different than the brute who pushes the little kid into the mud puddle because it is funny.
This way of joking is a far cry from Ephesians 4:29. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only that which is useful for building others up according to their needs so that it will benefit those who listen.”
What is the driving force of the sarcastic quip? Perhaps it is a desire to fit in with a group of people that loves put-downs. We all feel the desire to be accepted by others, but you would think that we would have overcome succumbing to peer pressure when we left our teen years behind. Perhaps there is bitterness or arrogance inside of us. Perhaps we are cynical and have become deeply pessimistic. Perhaps we harbor a secret desire to tear others down to make ourselves feel better or to look good. These things poison the well from which our speech flows. They cause us to excuse hurtful speech in the name of humor.
As followers of Christ, we are called to live lives of radical love. When our hearts are full of his love, our mouths will be filled with a sweetness that will build others up according to their needs. Our desire to encourage others should far outweigh our need to fit in with a group that loves to tear one another down. And so, I am setting a guard over my mouth these days. But even more, I am paying attention to the words I speak and asking the Lord to reveal what is behind what I am saying. I want my words to be full of grace and seasoned with salt so that it will benefit all who hear them. To do that I need to be willing to look at the source from which my words flow.
May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be pleasing in His sight (Psalm 19:14).
The start of a new year is always a time of rethinking our priorities. Even those who do not make formal resolutions spent at least a few moments thinking about what they want to do in the coming year. All of us should spend some time pondering what God’s priorities are for our lives. Often, we struggle trying to discern what the Lord wants us to do. As with many things, what seems complex can really be boiled down to something basic and easy to understand. So easy, in fact, it is tempting to dismiss it as unimportant. Often, we are like players on a basketball team that is enamored with fancy passes and crazy dribbling moves but has forgotten that the purpose is to put the ball in the hoop. It is the basic things that we take for granted that we forget and we do so at our own peril.
The Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus were passionate about obedience to God. They wanted to do God’s will and zealously searched the Scriptures looking for the things God wanted them to do. It helped them make decisions about simple and complex matters (John 5:39). They recognized 613 different commands in Bible. Some were positive actions to take and others were prohibitions. These commands guided everyday life.
When asked what the greatest or most important commandment was, Jesus answered that it was to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is the number one priority of God for our lives: to love Him (Mark 12:28-34).
Strangely, when I talk to people about their goals for the coming year, loving the Lord never comes up, yet it is the Lord’s top priority for our lives. But what if we made loving Jesus our main goal for the coming year? What would that look like? What would it mean? How would we go about it?
A partially correct answer would be that we would obey him. After all, there are many passages that say that those who love him will obey him (John 14:15-24; 1 John 5:31). Those who say they “love God” but don’t do what he says are deceiving themselves. But I suspect that simple obedience falls far short of what the Lord intends. We all know that it is possible to obey rules on the outside while our hearts are filled with rebellion (Matthew 15:1-9).
Another tempting answer would be to make some promise of bold action to prove our devotion. Such an attempt is silly when we consider who God is. He is the Creator. He formed galaxies by simply issuing a command. What feat could we do that would possibly impress him? Build a cathedral? We’d be using the things he made. Go on a mission trip? Do you really think that will impress God?
We are called to be in love with the Lord. Our hearts are to be filled with affection for him. We are to be enthralled with his beauty and enamored with his fascinating personality. We are to be awestruck at his power and amazed by his majesty. This is far more than doing things out of duty or dreaming up grandiose projects. It is the greatest calling and what we were created to experience.
How do we grow in our affection for Jesus? There is much that could be said, but let me suggest three simple things.
Increase your knowledge of him.
The more we know about the Lord, the more excited we will be about him. The fullness of God is found in Jesus. His glory was veiled in human flesh, but the Incarnate One displayed what he is like. So, spend time reading the gospels with the goal of learning more about what Jesus is like and what his kingdom is all about. Ask him to teach you more and more about him. Ask him to reveal his heart to you. Take time to express back to him your praise and adoration for who he is.
Increase your capacity to worship him.
We struggle to find the vocabulary to express our love for the Lord. One of the best ways to become more fluent in worship is through the language of the psalms. Take a psalm and use it to express your adoration of who he is. Read through the psalm slowly. Then go back and read it again, pausing to affirm the qualities that you see there and express them back to the Lord. This habit may lead you to repentance or praise, and it will cause you to grow more intensely in love with him.
For example, take Psalm 46. After reading it through once, go over it a second time, paraphrase and praying according to what it says.
"God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,
Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains tremble at its swelling…"
Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
Lord, I praise you because you are a refuge and strength and a help in times of trouble. You are a place where I can hide safe from the storms and battles of life. How awesome you are! You formed the ground I walk on and know the names of distant galaxies. How much bigger and stronger you are than the things that trouble me. But you are a very present help in times of trouble. Right now. Right here. You are present. There is nothing that I need to fear. Though all around me might fall apart today, I rest secure in your arms. You will never fail me. Oh, how I love you!
A steady diet of praying this way will increase your passion for who he is and treble your ability to express your love for him in ways that will fill your heart, and his, with joy.
Read books by those who have a deep and a white-hot love for the Lord.
Read A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy.
This little book is a gold mine of bite-sized nuggets about the Lord by a man who loved him with a depth that few have matched. When my spiritual fire is ebbing, Tozer is one author I frequently turn to in order rekindle it. While all his writings are good, this particular book is a series of mediations on different aspects of the character and nature of God. Don’t read it quickly. Read it slowly and methodically pondering the truths Tozer lays before you. Then turn to prayer. Express verbally (either out loud or written) your love for the Lord because of the insights Tozer writes about.
Here’s a taste:
“The familiar picture of God as often torn between His justice and His mercy is altogether false to the facts. To think of God as inclining first toward one and then toward another of His attributes is to imagine a God who is unsure of Himself, frustrated and emotionally unstable, which of course is to say that the one of whom we are thinking is not the true God at all but a weak, mental reflection of Him badly out of focus.” (Kindle location 1301)
“God needs no one, but when faith is present, He works through anyone. Two statements are in this sentence and a healthy spiritual life requires that we accept both.” (Kindle location 640)
Read Mike Bickle’s Passion for Jesus.
Mike Bickle has been leading a prayer ministry for years. In fact, he started a prayer room that has had live worship going non-stop for twenty years! It is fueled by a people who are madly in love with Jesus and enjoy spending time declaring his worth. The ideas in Bickle’s book will draw you closer into a relationship with Jesus.
Here are some quotes:
“A life characterized by affection-based obedience is a life in which you are so loved, and so love God, that obedience is the only reasonable response to anything He wishes. For the sake of love, you are willing to give everything and find no sacrifice too great.” (Kindle location 524).
“The accumulation of information about the Scriptures and the mental discipline of hours of Bible study will never thoroughly cleanse the inner man in the way that devotional, worshipful meditation upon God's Word will. In Bible study alone, we store up important scriptural facts and concepts. But when our Bible study leads into personal dialogue with Jesus as we meditate upon His cleansing Word, we also experience growth in spiritual hunger, sensitivity, and nearness to Him. Active intimacy with His presence washes our spirits.” (Kindle location 1604).
Why is making loving God an important priority?
The Lord is interested in our hearts. He wants us to be in love with him. Obedience, by itself, can be done by people whose hearts are far away from the Lord. That isn’t what Jesus wants. He wants us to love Him for who he is and what he has done. Love for Jesus will cause us to have what has been called a “long obedience in the same direction”. It won’t be drudgery. It will be the life of one madly in love with their Creator, Savior, and Lord. It is what we were made for. Anything else is settling for far less.
So, plan now to cultivate your love relationship with the Lord. Make It your goal to love Jesus more passionately in December 2019 than you do today. May it be your greatest priority in 2019!