Praying for the Right Reasons


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 36-37; Psalm 76; 1 Peter 1

Today’s Key Passage – Isaiah 37:14-20

 

Even before I was saved, I used to spend time praying before going to sleep at night, though I vary rarely prayed for the right reasons.  For example, I would often pray that God would allow me to win the lottery.  Moreover, I did not want to win the lottery so I could do anything good like helping the homeless or building a church.  I wanted to win the lottery so I could buy a big house and a Ferrari.  Of course, looking back on it now my prayers were nothing short of sinful, yet at the time I was always at least a little surprised and disappointed when my lottery numbers failed to win.  See, I used to look at prayer the same way a small child looks at blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.  I would simply make a wish and hope for the best.  I never gave any thought to praying for the right reasons or praying according to God’s will, mostly because at that point in my life I had never actually read the Bible.

Hezekiah was a man who knew how to pray for the right reasons.  As we saw in yesterday’s reading, the Assyrian king had Jerusalem besieged, and was threatening to attack.  In the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, Hezekiah went to God in prayer.  Fortunately for us, the text of his prayer is preserved in our key passage today (as well as in 2 Kings 19).  Hezekiah began his prayer by praising and exalting God. (Vss. 15-16)  He then asked God to deliver his people from the hands of the Assyrians, but perhaps not for the reason you might think.  Hezekiah did not ask to be delivered to save himself from death or exile.  He did not even ask to be delivered simply to save his people.  Hezekiah asked God to be delivered, “so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” (Vs. 20)

When we pray, we need to constantly seek to know God’s will and not our own.  So how do we know if our prayers are in line with God’s will?  One good way to test our prayers is by asking ourselves who would benefit if our prayers were granted.  If our prayers only benefit ourselves, we are probably not praying according to God’s will.  Even if our prayers benefit others, we still may not be praying according to His will.  The true test is whether or not the answer to our prayers will advance God’s Kingdom.  The more we learn about the Lord through his Word and the more we grow in Him, the better we will get at discerning His will.  When we know and surrender to God’s perfect will, we will find that we are able to pray for the right reasons.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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Competing Messages


Daily Bible Reading – 2 Kings 18,19; 2 Chronicles 32; James 5

Today’s Key Passage – 2 Kings 18:17-37

 

In my job, I have spent a lot of time in airports over the years.  One thing I have learned about airports is that there are many competing messages you have to deal with.  When sitting at a gate waiting on a flight, it is common to hear all of the messages from the surrounding gates.  There have been many times when I have heard a message about a delay, a cancellation, or a gate change, and wrongly believed the affected flight was my own.  If you are not paying close attention, and if you do not check the source of the message, it is easy to be confused or led astray.

In today’s key passage, the people in Jerusalem had to deal with competing messages.  The Assyrian forces had already captured all of the fortified cities in Judah and were threatening to attack Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah told the people not to be afraid because God would fight for them (2 Chronicles 32:7-8), but the field commander of the Assyrian army had a different message.  He told the Israelites that God could not help them against his vast army. (Vss. 33-35)  He told them that Hezekiah was lying to them about God’s protection, and made many promises in an attempt to get them to surrender. (Vss. 31-32)  If they were not careful, the people in Jerusalem could have easily been confused or led astray by listening to the wrong message.

All of us have to face competing messages on a seemingly daily basis.  The messages might be different people asking for or telling us different things, or they might be competing activities vying for our time.  The most common example of competing messages is when our own consciences tell us one way to live while the world around us tells us another.  In each case, we have to be very careful.  The last thing we want is to become confused or to be led astray.  We need to check the source of the messages we receive, and we have to compare them to the Word of God.  As we grow in the Lord through spending time with Him daily, we will get better at discerning which messages we should listen to and which ones we should disregard.  Like the field commander’s message, the most tempting messages to listen to will be the ones promising you great things.  Always keep in mind, though, that if these messages conflict with what you know about God, then the promises are nothing more than empty lies.  Stand firm in the Lord, and keep His messages closest to your heart.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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The Restoration Project


Daily Bible Reading – 2 Chronicles 29-31; James 4

Today’s Key Passage – 2 Chronicles 29:1-30

 

When Hezekiah became king at the age of twenty-five, he knew the people of Judah needed to return to God.  After sixteen years under the leadership of the evil king Ahaz, they were in desperate need of a major restoration project.  Most of us at some point in our lives are going to stumble and fall, and when we do, we will need the same thing.  Whether we are away from God for an hour or for years, we can learn a lot about restoring our relationship with God by the steps King Hezekiah took with the people of Judah.

During Ahaz’s reign, he closed the temple, so the first step Hezekiah took was to reopen it. (Vs. 3)  For us today, our lives and our hearts are our temples, and when we turn away from God, we close them down.  To begin our restoration project, we must reopen our hearts to God.  Hezekiah knew how far the people were from God, and he recognized the consequences of their sins. (Vss. 6-10)  We must also acknowledge the consequences of our own sinfulness, and seek to place God back into the forefront of our lives.

Hezekiah’s next step was to remove everything from the temple that was offensive to God. (Vss. 16-17)  In addition, he replaced all of the unclean and evil items with items that would be pleasing to God. (Vss. 18-19)  As we continue our own restoration projects, we must do the same thing.  We must remove anything from our lives that has caused us to stray from God’s path, and replace the evil inside of us with God’s Word and His Spirit.  Just as Hezekiah rededicated the temple to the Lord (Vss. 20-23), we must rededicate our lives to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  While Hezekiah had to sacrifice animals as a sin offering to God (Vss. 24-28), all we need to do is ask God for forgiveness of our sins and recognize the perfect sacrifice already made for us by Christ.

The final step in Judah’s restoration and our own is praising God. (Vss. 29-30)  Once we have successfully restored our relationship with Him, we can praise Him for His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness.  The wonderful thing about God is that no matter how far away from Him we might become or how broken we may be, we can always be restored to a right relationship with Him.  If you have found yourself far from God recently, begin your restoration project today.  The sooner you begin, the sooner you will be able to rest in the loving arms of Christ.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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Serving More Than One God


Daily Bible Reading – 2 Kings 17; 2 Chronicles 28; Psalm 46; James 3

Today’s Key Passage – 2 Kings 17:24-33

 

For the past week, we have been reading Isaiah’s prophesies against the Israelites.  Isaiah warned them that they were going to be conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile.  In today’s reading, this event finally came to fruition.  The king of Assyria brought foreigners in to live in the towns of Samaria. (Vs. 24)  Because these foreign people did not worship God, He sent lions to kill some of them. (Vs. 25)  In a panic, the Assyrian king sent one of the exiled priests back to Bethel to teach the new inhabitants how to worship the Lord. (Vs. 28)  Unfortunately, there was a problem with this plan.  The new inhabitants of Israel began worshiping God in an effort to appease Him, but at the same time, they wanted to continue worshiping their other gods. (Vss. 29-32)  The people were trying to serve more than one god, which is definitely not what God wanted, and would later lead to their destruction.

Like the rest of the Bible, this story is as relevant today as it was when it happened.  Even today, many people feel the temptation to try to serve God while still clinging to the “gods” of their past.  These “gods” might be money, a possession, a person, or an activity.  When we are saved, God begins changing us for the better.  Because of this change, there are going to be things from our past lives that are no longer acceptable for a follower of Christ.  This process is different for each one of us.  For example, one person might find that he can no longer drink alcohol at all while another person might find it acceptable to have a drink occasionally.  The problem, however, lies in the person who is not willing to be changed.  A person who spends Sunday mornings worshiping God and then every Friday night getting drunk with their friends is trying to serve more than one god.  A person who reads all about a Godly marriage in the Bible but continues to cheat on his wife is trying to serve more than one god.  There is a big difference between trying to appease God and trying to please him, and attempting the former without concentrating on the latter simply does not work.  God is not looking to be one of many gods you are serving.  He is the one true God and He wants to be the only God in your life.  If you have other gods you are trying to serve, get rid of them.  There is only room for one God in your life.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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Belief vs. Obedience


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 32-35; James 2

Today’s Key Passage – James 2:14-26

 

How many Christians do you know?  It seems like an easy question to answer, but for most of us, it is not.  In our society today, the line of who is and who is not a Christian has become a bit blurred.   From pop stars wearing crosses to people marking “Christian” in their religious views on Facebook, there are many people today claiming to be followers of Christ.  The problem is that in many cases, people are calling themselves Christians without really understanding what that word means.  It has become somewhat diluted over time.  For the first 30 years or so of my life, I claimed to be a Christian.  When anyone asked me about my religious beliefs, I always said I was a Christian, but my behavior did not match up to my claims.  I believed in God.  I even believed in Jesus.  What I did not understand, however, is that there is a big difference between belief and obedience.

In today’s key passage, James talks about empty faith.  He talks about people claiming to have faith in God whose actions do not match their words.  Apparently, this has been an issue since the beginning of Christianity.  There have always been people who have claimed to be Christians without following through on their claims, and the line has always been blurred in the difference between belief and obedience.  James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (Vs. 19)  The bottom line is that belief in God is simply not enough.  Knowing about God or knowing the story of Jesus does not make a person a Christian.  Going to church on Sunday or reading the Bible does not make a person a Christian.  Believing in God does not make a person a Christian, because even the demons believe in God.  While we are all initially saved by God’s grace alone, what makes a person a true follower of Christ is obedience.  Jesus never said, “You are my friends if you believe in me”.  He never said, “You are my friends if you go to church on Sunday or get a cross tattoo”.  What Jesus actually said was, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)  The mark of a Christian does not lie in belief.  The mark of a true follower of Christ lies in obedience.   Make sure your words are matching up to your actions.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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The Pot and the Potter


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 29-31; James 1

Today’s Key Passage – Isaiah 29:13-16

 

When I was in my twenties, I enjoyed having friends over to my house on weekends to play poker.  One day, I decided that the one thing that was missing was a good poker table.  I did not want to go out and buy an expensive table, so I reasoned that I could build one myself.  Over the course of a few weeks, I would work on the table in my spare time.  Eventually what started as a pile of lumber turned into a relatively well-built poker table, complete with cup holders, chip trays, red felt, and leather rails.  In the end, I am sure I spent more on my handmade poker table than any table I would have bought in a store, but that did not matter to me.  Because I built it, I knew the position and purpose of every single nail, screw, and staple that went into that table.  I knew every nuance of the wood, including the two or three imperfections where I made mistakes.  See, the beauty of creating something from scratch is that when you are finished you know everything there is to know about your creation.

In today’s key passage, God (through the prophet Isaiah) reminds us that He too knows everything there is to know about His creation.  He says, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Vs. 16)  Many times in this life, it is easy for us to forget just how well God knows us.  We live our lives thinking that no one knows our thoughts, our feelings, and our motives, forgetting that God knows them all.  At times, we think we are alone, forgetting that God is watching everything we do.  Sometimes we even stray from the way God has told us to live, convincing ourselves that somehow we know what we are doing.  What we must always remember though, is in those times of temptation when we choose to sin we are as foolish as a pot telling the potter he knows nothing.  God has provided us with the Bible to show us the right way to live, because as the Creator, He knows everything about His creation.  He knows what is best for us.  He knows what we need.  He even knows our faults and imperfections.  Sometimes we just need to be reminded to trust Him.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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Pruning Trees


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 25-28; Hebrews 13

Today’s Key Passage – Isaiah 27:10-11

Trees are interesting organisms.  Unlike most other living things, sometimes removing parts of a tree can actually make the tree healthier.  During this process of pruning, diseased or insect-infected branches of the tree are removed and discarded.  If done properly, pruning can stimulate fruit production and make the plant stronger overall.  In addition to scheduled pruning, all woody plants shed branches in response to shading and competition. Branches that do not produce enough carbohydrates from photosynthesis to sustain themselves die and are eventually shed.  Branches that are poorly attached may be broken off by wind or the accumulation of snow and ice. Branches removed in this way often result in large, ragged wounds, which is certainly not ideal.

In today’s key passage, Isaiah is prophesying about the end times.  He compares Israel to the branches of a tree and says, “When its twigs are dry, they are broken off and women come and make fires with them.” (Vs. 11)  Trees in the Bible are often used as a metaphor for our relationship with God.  Imagine a large, strong oak tree sitting in a meadow.  The trunk and root of the tree are like God – strong and immovable with a solid foundation.  The branches of the tree are like all of us – attached to God and being fed all of the nutrients we need by Him.  The fact is, some of the branches are naturally not going to make it.  Some of these branches are rotten and infected, and they will not be able to properly use the nutrients the trunk is trying to provide, so they will die and will fall off the tree.  These are the people who will never accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and these branches will eventually be thrown in the fire.

The other problem, though, is that some of the branches are so weakly attached to the trunk that they might be broken off by external forces.  When people are not getting the nutrients they need from God because their attachment to Him is not strong, they are more likely to be in trouble when the storms come.  They are more likely to be broken off the tree when the strong winds of life or the weight of their sin becomes too much for them to bear.  These are the people we need to reach.  These are the people that can be saved if we act quickly.  Since we cannot tell from the outside which branches are the ones that are rotten internally verses the ones that can be saved, we must try to help both.  Never stop spreading the Gospel.  Never stop trying to reach people for God.  The next branch you talk to just might end up being saved.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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Finishing the Christian Race


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 22-24; Hebrews 12

Today’s Key Passage – Hebrews 12:1-3

 

Running a race is a common metaphor for the Christian life, and as many of you know, it is one that I use often.  Because of that, my first inclination was not to write this particular devotional today.  My plan was to write about a different topic, but as is so often the case, it seems God had a different plan in mind for me.  As many times as I tried to get away from this topic and write about something else, I found that God kept pulling me back to this particular passage.  As I studied this passage today, it became clear to me why God kept bringing me back to it.  Though the metaphor of a race is one I have used in the past, the author of Hebrews provides us with three practical tips to finishing the Christian race that are so important that they bear repeating.

Remember the Witnesses - Most long distance runners will tell you that at some point in a long race they are going to feel the temptation to quit.  As your legs become wobbly and your body grows weary, sometimes all you want to do is stop running.  One thing a runner can do in those times to regain motivation to continue is to remember all of the people who have run the race in the past.  The runner is not the only one to have ever run the race.  Other people have run it and other people have won.  Like the runner, we too can remember the others who have run this race.  In yesterday’s reading we read about the faith hall of fame, referred to here as, “a great cloud of witnesses” (Vs. 1)  When we face times of struggle, we can remember these witnesses and gain the motivation necessary to continue running.

Strip the Weight - A marathon runner would never show up for a race 100 pounds overweight, and he would probably not show up wearing a suit of armor.  To ensure the best possible finish, a runner shows up to the race in shape and wearing as little extra weight as possible because he does not need anything to get in his way or slow him down.  Likewise, we need to strip the weight off of ourselves for our Christian race.  (Vs. 1) This weight might be a hidden sin or an addiction.  It might be a person that we need to stop hanging around.  It might be an activity that we need to quit.  Whatever it is, if it is slowing you down you need to get rid of it.

Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line - A runner who does not know where the finish line is will probably not do very well.  During the race, if he loses focus and takes his eyes off the finish line he might stray off course.  As we run our Christian race, we must always, “fix our eyes on Jesus”. (Vs. 2)  We are running the race for a reason.  Let us never forget that He is that reason.  “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Vs. 3)

How is your race going?  Are you remembering the witnesses?  Have you stripped off excess weight?  Are you keeping your eyes on the finish line?  Let us all run this race together, and let us all finish strong.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you today.

The Faith Hall of Fame


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 19-21; Hebrews 11

Today’s Key Passage – Hebrews 11:32-40

 

It is easy to understand why Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the faith hall of fame.  After all, some of the greatest names from the Old Testament are listed in this chapter as examples of people living by faith.  The chapter begins with a perfect definition of faith, which is, “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Vs. 1)  The author continues with a list of people with great faith.  Abel offered God a pleasing sacrifice of a blood animal. (Vs. 4)  Enoch walked with God and was immediately taken up to Heaven. (Vs. 5)  Noah built an ark before he saw any rain. (Vs. 7)  Abraham left his home at God’s request and set out to an unknown place (Vs. 8), became a father though he was advanced in years (Vs. 11), and offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. (Vs. 17)  Isaac blessed his two children’s futures. (Vs. 20)  Jacob blessed each of Joseph’s sons. (Vs. 21)  Joseph trusted that God would bring His people out of Egypt and wanted his remains taken to the Promised Land. (Vs. 22)  Moses chose to be mistreated as a man of God instead of enjoying sinful pleasures. (Vs. 24)  Interestingly, even the prostitute Rahab is included in the faith hall of fame because she welcomed the spies in Jericho and believed God would save her. (Vs. 31)  Undoubtedly, these are great people who all had great faith.

For most of us, when we read this chapter with all of the greatest people of the Bible listed in front of us, our first thought might be that these people are so much greater than we are.  Who am I compared to Moses, Noah, Abraham, or even Rahab?  These people all seem bigger than life, and have done so much for our faith and our God.  The most interesting part of this entire chapter though, is found in the final two verses.  We read, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Vss. 39-40)  Believe it or not, as great as all of these men and women were, we actually have more than they did.  We have been given something better than any of these people!  Each of us today has the opportunity to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  For those of us who are following Him, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us guiding us as we walk in faith.  These truths that so many of us can sometimes take for granted were nothing more than a dream and a hope for the men and women of the Old Testament.  Thank God today for His mercy, His forgiveness, and the better plan He has for us.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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A Call For Perseverance


Daily Bible Reading – Isaiah 15-18; Hebrews 10

Today’s Key Passage – Hebrews 10:32-39

 

At the time of this writing, Emmitt Smith is the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher.  Over the course of fifteen seasons as a running back, he rushed for 18,355 yards – the equivalent of almost 10.5 miles.  As would be expected, most of his professional statistics are impressive.  He scored a total of 175 touchdowns and only fumbled the ball 61 times.  Perhaps the most interesting statistic is his average yards per carry.  During his fifteen year, 10.5 mile journey into history, he was knocked down every 4.2 yards.  The reason Emmitt Smith will forever be considered one of the greatest running backs to ever play is because each time he got knocked down – all 4409 of them – he got back up and kept going.  He could have quit at any time, but instead he decided to keep running until he reached his goal.

In today’s key passage, the author of Hebrews is asking his readers to persevere.  He knew that his readers were on the verge of leaving the faith.  These new Christians were considering turning their backs on Christ and returning to their Jewish traditions.  The author asks them to remember how they felt when they were first saved. (Vs. 32)  He reminds them of all the times they stood firm in their faith even when facing insults and persecution. (Vs. 33)  He asks them to persevere through their current struggles, knowing that they will one day receive the promises of God. (Vs. 36)

Our walk with Christ is a long one.  As we live for Him daily, we must always remember that the Christian life is a marathon.  We are going to face some hard times, and even the best among us are going to be knocked down from time to time.  The true test of our faith lies in how we react when we are knocked down.  We can choose to quit.  We can choose to turn our backs on God and go back to living our lives filled with sin, or we can choose to get back up.  The important thing to remember is that we cannot persevere on our own.  When we try to endure hardships in our own strength, it is likely to only get worse.  Fortunately, because we have Christ living inside of us, we do not have to try to persevere in our own strength.  His strength will pick us up when we are knocked down.  His strength will allow us to keep going.  When the road seems too tough for you to continue, remember the words of Jesus when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  Christ will help you carry whatever weight you have to bear, and the knowledge of your certain salvation will help you get back up and keep going.

During your Bible reading today, what “key passages” stood out to you?  Leave a comment below to share what God is showing you about His Word today.

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May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you today.

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