Category Archives: Devotions

Finding God’s Will in the New Year

 

Welcome to 2018.  Typically the New Year is filled with resolutions like getting fit, saving more, eating better, being kinder, being more productive and other self-improvement plans.  Without settling for the same old resolutions, likely to fail by February anyway, why not allow one of the oft-asked questions, namely what is God’s Will for me, to guide your New Year.

Despite so many of us wondering long and hard about this question, the Scriptures are not silent on the matter, in fact on some occasions they answer this question explicitly.  One such example may be found in 1 Thessalonians, where the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes to the young church at Thessalonica.  In chapter 4 of his letter, he begins his conclusion with the following words

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This plea, from the Apostle for the Thessalonians, is a plea toward holiness founded on the “instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” with the goal of pleasing God (yes, you read that right!).  This statement in and of itself would’ve been enough of an exhortation, yet in the next six verses he unpacks this and unloads upon them a tremendous duty wrapped around a declaration of God’s will for their life.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There it is.  God’s will for not only the lives of the Thessalonians, but for us as well, is sanctification or more simply put holiness.

The translation and punctuation from the ESV cited above aides our interpretation by unfolding what exactly is meant by the word sanctification.  Specifically, we read of the following modifying statements

  1. That you abstain from sexual immorality.
  2. That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor
  3. That no one wrong his brother in this matter

Without any guesswork or longing to see signs for God to show us what His will is for our lives, here we have in straightforward, plain language that God’s will for the life of the believer is holiness. This begins with abstaining from sexual immorality (negative) and exercising bodily self control (positive), specifically as it pertains to lusts, and then moves outward from personal to community to avoid sinning against each other in this matter.  In other words, not committing sexual immorality with each other, nor lusting after each other.

Holiness is a serious duty of each believer, a life-long pursuit of being Christlike.  One of, if not the chief, hindrance to this is sexual immorality.  With this my  own exhortation, I begin with a self-examination, that my heart and hands would be clean.  But let me then also encourage you to desire holiness and sexual purity, particularly in this age of rapid, cultural descent into sexual immorality.  Let us begin this New Year seeking ways to be more obedient to God’s will in this matter.

“56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Jonathan Edwards – Resolution #56

Preparing for Affliction

 

In his treatise exhorting believers to the duty of meditation, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) sets forth the following proposition on the benefit of meditating on eternity,

“There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings.  Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto.  If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or another be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them.  Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory.”

What he is saying here, in a way that only Owen does, is that for believers, key to preparing for the coming sufferings, afflictions, and trials of this world is continual meditations on eternity.

Similarly, note the words of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Here we see the relationship between affliction and eternity, namely that the former is preparatory for the latter.  How so?

  1. Affliction is preparatory because, as we have seen with Job, it is a refining, purifying act of God to further cleanse the believer of defilement, strengthen faith, and develop perseverance (see Romans 5:1-5).
  2. Affliction is preparatory because due to its temporary nature, we anticipate its conclusion, knowing that it will not last forever.  Therefore by their very nature afflictions cause us to look forward to a day when they will end and eternity will begin.  This is sometimes called having an eternal perspective.

Similarly, in this passage we see that our focus should not be on the temporary, earthly, and visible things of this world, instead our focus should be on the eternal, heavenly, and invisible (at present) things of the world to come.  Having this focus constantly and consistently, as Owen states, prepares us for the arrival of affliction. It therefore does not take us by surprise, nor does it sink us into depths of despair, though we certainly may have “fear of and aversation* from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear.” Nevertheless we persevere knowing that the suffering and sorrow is only temporary.

Finally, moving from a general statement on the positive benefits of meditating on eternity to a more specific look at what exactly that entails, we may note at least three objects upon which to set our minds

  1. The Restoration of All Things
  2. The Renewal of our Earthly Bodies
  3. The Christ of Eternity

For our first point we note that we must allow our minds to fix upon the restoration of all things, namely that this world, which is fading away, will one day be restored such that it will no longer be subject to the fall.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21-22 

Second, we must allow our minds to fix upon the renewal of our earthly bodies.  “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”” 1 Cor. 15:50-55

Finally, and most importantly, we must allow our minds to fix upon the Christ of eternity, for we shall finally see Him as He is.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Our best preparation for affliction is to meditate on our eternal state in glory, as such it is also the best object of our meditations during affliction. Turning to Owen for the final word, we read,

“Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

 

*turning away in dislike

For additional study and meditation, read Revelation 21.

Before the Rooster Crows

 

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) there is a familiar account of Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crows.  This statement from our Lord came on the heels of Peter’s rather bold assertion  that should everyone else leave our Lord in the midst of the upcoming arrest, trial, and eminent death, he alone would be at Christ’s side.  This fact makes the prophecy all the more striking, yet within this tragic denial from Peter there is a universal application and a warning to all the children of God.

In Mark 14:29-31 we read of the prophecy

29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.”

In Mark 14:66-72 we read of the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy and the tragic fall of Peter

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway[h] and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”

To allow our application to percolate directly from the passage, let’s summarize the events surrounding Peter’s denial.  First, Peter’s pride-filled statement, albeit in an attempt to take a righteous, bold stand.  This was followed quickly and sharply by the reproof from Jesus in the form of the prophecy of denial.  Again we hear from Peter as he doubles-down his assertion of faithfulness.  As the events of the chapter unfold, we come to the fulfillment of the prophecy, cited above, wherein we find Peter’s first confrontation with his accuser, a servant girl, followed by his first denial, which was followed by the rooster’s first crow.  Then, the servant girl again confronts him and Peter again denies his relationship with Christ.  In Peter’s third denial, we again find him doubling-down, not in faithfulness, but in his denial of Christ, surely meant to draw attention to his earlier emphatic statement that he alone would never leave the Lord, even if all of the other disciples did.

Here is where we may springboard into our application for the Christian life.  Using Peter as an example, and most often he is a mirror for our own lives, we find that despite his good intentions to take a bold stand for Christ, his words were fueled by pride.  Peter’s confidence had little to nothing to do with the Spirit’s preserving grace that would keep him faithful to the end, but everything to do with his own ability and will-power to stand faithful in the moment of crisis.  How often is self-confidence and self-assurance the spring of undoing in our own lives?  Surely we may look to the wisdom of the Proverb that states,

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

This unspiritual condition of the heart should be warning enough, but unfortunately it wasn’t for Peter, and rarely is for us.  For us, and for Peter, the Word of God speaks clearly and warns us of the dangers of the prideful heart, however like Peter we too often ignore this rebuke and a subsequent opportunity to sin usually follows nearby.

Here is where the rooster crowed.

When the temptation to sin and deny the Lord was met with the opportunity of confrontation from the servant girl, the rooster crowed .  This was another warning, albeit now clear and present, that Peter was entering into troubled waters.  His mind was so clouded now that he was unable to recall the Word of the Lord and His prophecy against him.  Again, this is too often the case with us.  God may or may not use a “rooster” to call out our sin or the impending danger of it, but He certainly does use other means that are equally effective.  It may be the exhortation of a fellow brother or sister in Christ or it may be something more subtle to call our minds to the Word of God.  However, all too often one of the first warning signs that God gives us, the crowing rooster so to speak, is the absence of prayer.  Few things crow louder in the Christian life to either warn of the presence of sin in the heart or the pending arrival of sin than an absence of prayer.  If this be our condition, we may be assured that an opportunity to sin will soon follow.

For Peter, and as is often the case for us, this crow from the rooster, by whatever means God may use, may not alert us to our clear and present danger.  We too may be foggy minded in a cloud of Christian complacency and neglect of duty such that we are unable to recognize the warning and draw our minds to remember the Word of God. God may sometimes be pleased to alert us yet again to the danger of our condition, but in His wisdom He may see it more fit to allow us a complete fall into sin for the purpose of humbling us, as in the case of Peter.

Peter’s prideful fall stands as a sharp reminder than even those most closest to the Lord are capable of allowing their hearts to deceive them, leading to a fall into some scandalous sin.  We ought to be careful in judging him too strictly, and we ought also be careful not to speak too loudly or critically of those brothers and sisters who we may observe falling into sin, lest we appear like Peter again and declare ourselves above reproach, that even if all others fall away, we will stand firm.  May we weep for those who we see wrapped in the cords of sin, speak words of exhortation to them when necessary, but most of all may we be inclined to pray for them, that God may grant them repentance.

Before the rooster crows, let us be diligent in spiritual duties from a humble heart to seek the Lord daily for the grace that we need.  May we delight in a continual posture of prayer before the Lord, meditation on His word, and communion with fellow believers.  Should the absence of this spiritual mindedness be present in our lives, may we heed the first crow of the rooster before we find ourselves fallen into sin and the second crow of God’s chastising rod be upon us.

Soli Deo Gloria