A New Way to Pray

In his book No Common Task, Anglican Bishop George Reindrop tells the story of a nurse who once taught a patient how to pray. Before learning the nurse’s lesson, the patient was an angry, gloomy, bitter type whose life had no real purpose. But after he learned the lesson, his life, to say nothing of his prayer life, took on a whole new meaning.

The key to the nurse’s prayer lesson was her hand. Each finger stood for someone for whom she prayed. Her thumb was the nearest to her, and so it reminded her to pray for those who were closest to her. Her index finger was the finger she used for pointing, and so it reminded her to pray for all the teachers in her nursing school and in the hospital where she worked. Her third finger was the tallest, and so it reminded her to pray for the leaders in every area of life. Her fourth finger was the weakest — any piano player will attest to that — and so it reminded her to pray for people who were in trouble and pain. Finally, her little finger was the smallest, and so it reminded her to pray for the least important people, a list upon which the nurse always placed herself.

Perhaps you might try using the nurse’s formula. Then again, maybe you’d like to start with her basic premise but customize it to suit your own prayer life. For example, you might consider this alternative:

  • Like the nurse’s lesson, your thumb can remind you to pray for your family and your closest friends. It’s pretty hard to do better than that symbolism.
  • If you can imagine your enemy plotting evil schemes against you and pointing a menacing finger at you, your index finger can remind you to keep the Bible’s command to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28). And don’t most of us need some help in that department?
  • I like the nurse’s take on the third finger, which is the tallest one on most people’s hands. That finger can remind you to keep the Bible’s command to pray “for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • Your fourth finger is the one that you think about the least, which can remind you to make a point of praying for someone for whom you’ve never prayed. It can be a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbor, a person you used to know but haven’t seen in years, a celebrity who has been in the news recently because of some trouble he or she is having, your mailman, your doctor, your dentist, your mechanic, your insurance agent, the kid who bags your groceries at the store, etc., etc., etc.
  • I also like the nurse’s application of the fifth finger. By making that one the reminder to pray for yourself, your “wish list” of requests for yourself lands in last place during your prayer session. This will help you keep things in proper perspective.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you how to pray. If you’ve got a system that works well for you, that’s fine. You keep right on using it. But if you are like me in that you don’t always get around to praying for your enemies, for those who are in authority, or for people who don’t normally come to mind, using your fingers as reminders can help. That’s why I plan to give it a try. If nothing else, it will get me out of the rut of praying the same old prayers about the same old people involving the same old situations. And that’s good thing. After all, prayer is supposed to be a great adventure that we take with God, and when any adventure becomes boring or routine, it’s no longer an adventure.

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He Will Make It Plain

In his wonderful little book, The Red Sea Rules, Robert J. Morgan shares a story from the life of William Cowper. Cowper was a famous English poet and hymn writer who struggled with severe mental issues, bordering on insanity, until he became a Christian. Even after his conversation, he still struggled at times with bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide.

One night, while Cowper was experiencing a particularly bad bout of depression, he called for a carriage (this was 1774) and ordered the driver to take him to the Ouse River, which was only three miles from Cowper’s home. What Cowper didn’t tell the driver was that he planned to commit suicide in the river that night. The driver, however, suspected anyway. After all, who requests to go to a river in the middle of the night?

Now the driver had to think fast. How could he do his job and yet keep his passenger from carrying through on such a tragic plan? Providentially for the driver, a fog began to settle over the entire area, a fog thick enough for the driver to use the excuse that he had gotten lost in the fog.

So, around and around the driver drove, up one meaningless road and down another, oftentimes going in circles, always avoiding the river, as Cowper fell asleep inside the carriage. Finally, after several hours had passed, the driver pulled the carriage up to Cowper’s home and woke him from his deep sleep. Once Cowper was fully awake and recognized where he was, he asked, “We’re back home? How is that” The driver answered, “Got lost in the fog, sir. Sorry.”

After paying the driver and dismissing him, Cowper went inside and began to ponder how God had used the fog and the driver to keep him from ending his life. That same night he wrote an autobiographical hymn that contained the following words:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread; Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

I especially like those words “God is His own interpreter.” Tell me, have you found that to be true? I sure have. Unfortunately, I’ve also found that He doesn’t always feel the need to share His interpretation with me, at least not until some time has passed.

The good news, though, is that I’ve also found those words “And He will make it plain” to be just as true. It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might not happen next month. It might not happen next year. But somewhere along the way God will make plain to you the reason why He’s either allowed or caused that certain something to come to pass in your life. You just need to hang in there with Him, trust Him, and keep asking Him for the explanation. It’s there, and He’s got it, and one day, when the timing is right and the process of waiting has accomplished its helpful work, He will share it with you .

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Depression, Disappointment, Encouragement, Faith, God's Timing, Patience, Perseverance, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Important Reminder About Hurricanes

We cancelled services yesterday at Oak Grove Baptist Church because of the threat of flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Florence. The forecast was for our Nebo, N.C., area to receive 6 to 12 inches of rain, with the heavy rain beginning shortly after daybreak Sunday morning and continuing through the day. In reality those high rain totals didn’t fully materialize — Nebo got somewhere around 4 to 5 inches, I think —  but I suppose it was better to err on the side of caution.

Sadly for the residents of the North Carolina coast, their forecast wasn’t exaggerated. The town of Swansboro received over 34 inches of rain from the storm. The town of Hoffman received over 25 inches. The city of Wilmington got almost 24 inches, as did Morehead City. The worst part of it all is the fact that the death toll from the storm currently stands at 17 in North Carolina and another 6 in South Carolina. That’s 23 eternal souls who lost their earthly lives in some way that was directly related to a storm that began as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa in the closing days of last month.

But before we start blaming God for all these deaths, we need remember that hurricanes — along with tornadoes, tidal waves, thunderstorms, hailstorms, electrical storms, floods, heat waves, snow storms, blizzards, droughts, and volcanic eruptions — were not part of God’s original plan for life on earth. When you read the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, you won’t find any of those things in there. To the contrary, the description given is of a world, really an entire creation, that was by God’s assessment all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I myself agree with the interpretation that it didn’t even rain during those days. Instead, God kept the earth watered by way of a mist that rose up from the earth and watered the whole face of the planet (Genesis 2:5-6).

Dr. Henry Morris, who received a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, was the founder of the Institute for Creation Research. He authored several books, one of them being The Genesis Record, a book he described as “a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings.” In The Genesis Record, Dr. Morris explains that the “firmament” (the Hebrew word “raquia” literally means “expanse”) that God created on Day 2 of the creation week (Genesis 1:6-8) trapped a vast body of water, most likely in vaporous form, above the atmosphere of the earth. Consequently, this “vapor canopy” created greenhouse-type conditions upon the entire earth. According to Morris, the results of this “global greenhouse” were:

  • A uniformly pleasant temperature was constantly maintained all over the world.
  • Great air-mass movements were inhibited and windstorms were unknown.
  • There was no global air circulation and, thus, no hydrologic cycle.
  • No hydrological cycle meant no rain.
  • The temperature change of the day-night cycle created a bit of evaporation.
  • That bit of evaporation was enough to form dew or mist.
  • The world was filled with lush vegetation.
  • There were no deserts or ice caps.
  • The “vapor canopy” filtered out all ultraviolet radiations and cosmic rays.
  • No such radiations and rays meant extended lives for humans and creatures.

You see, the earth of the opening two chapters of Genesis was vastly different than the earth we know now. So, what happened to cause the change? Oh, that answer is easy: sin happened. Romans chapter 8 explains that because of Adam’s sin the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (verse 20, N.K.J.V.) and bound in “the bondage of corruption” (verse 21, N.K.J.V.). Consequently, creation now “groans and labors” (verse 22, N.K.J.V.) like a woman desperately trying to give birth. As an example of this, God Himself told Adam that the soil of the earth was now cursed because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19).

You might be asking, “But what about that protective ‘vapor canopy’ up there in the firmament? Doesn’t that still protect us?” No, that’s long gone. All of that moisture was poured down upon the earth as part of the waters of Noah’s flood. As Genesis 7:11 tells us: “…on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (N.K.J.V.). The Hebrew word translated there as “heaven” is “samayim,” and it’s the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:8, which says: “And God called the firmament Heaven…” (N.K.J.V.). This means that during the great flood the windows of the firmament were opened and all that moisture held in check by the firmament was released.

By the way, don’t let the fact that the King James translation and the New King James translation use the word “heaven” to describe the firmament confuse you. The apostle Paul does the same kind of thing in 2 Corinthians 12:2 when he talks about being caught up to the “third heaven.” His use of that term to describe the heaven where God dwells shows us that the “first heaven” is the earth’s atmosphere and the “second heaven” is deep space.

Anyway, to get back to the point, Adam’s sin ruined God’s original set-up for all creation. It also caused Adam’s entire race to became poisoned with a nature of sin that provoked them to behavior bad enough to cause God to wipe out the entire race, except for Noah and his family, by way of the great flood. What all this means for us is that the pre-sin, pre-flood world is a thing of the ancient past. That’s why we are now all too familiar with: sickness, disease, aging, death, hurricanes, floods, droughts, snow storms, etc. These things are all part of us living as a broken race on a broken planet that’s part of a broken creation that no longer functions the way it was designed to function.

What I’m saying is that if you are going to blame God for every hurricane, you might as well also blame Him for every case of cancer. If you are going to blame Him for every flood, you might as well also blame Him for every fatal accident. If you are going to blame Him for every drought, you might as well also blame Him for every death regardless of how it occurred.

The question to ask is not, “Why are there deaths and hurricanes?” The question to ask is, “Why hasn’t God fixed His creation, including mankind, yet?” And the answer is, “All in due time. All in due time.” The Bible teaches that God has a precision plan of prophecy for when and how He is going to accomplish this fixing. If you want to learn all the details of this plan, I encourage you to read my extensive 26-post blog series “Bible Prophecy in Chronology.” In those posts, I go into a ton of detail on this whole subject. For the purposes of this post, however, I’ll simply offer the highlights of the plan as the close to the post. Here goes:

  1. The Rapture (the snatching away to heaven of the bodies of all Christians and the glorification of those bodies)
  2. The 7-Year Tribulation Period (featuring the Antichrist and his False Prophet)
  3. Christ’s 2nd Coming (which includes His victory over the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and the armies of the world at the Battle of Armageddon)
  4. Christ’s 1,000-year reign upon the earth (which is marked by Satan and the other fallen angels being imprisoned for the 1,000 years and planet Earth being restored to a pre-sin state.)
  5. Satan’s Release & Final Rebellion (which doesn’t last long).
  6. The Great White Throne Judgment (where Jesus sits upon a throne and eternally banishes all of history’s lost to the eternal lake of fire, which is not the same place as the hell that exists now)
  7. The New Heaven, The New Earth, and The New Jerusalem (I favor the interpretation that the “New” Heaven and Earth will be the current Heaven & Earth purged of all taint of sin by fire. As for the New Jerusalem, that will be the glorious city where all of history’s saved will spend eternity with the Lord.)
Posted in Aging, Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Return, Creation, Death, Demons, Eternity, God's Timing, God's Timing, Heaven, Hell, Human Life, Prophecy, Restoration, Satan, Sin, The Depravity of Man, The Devil | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joy Comes in the Morning

…Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5, N.K.J.V.)

English missionary James Hannington was the first Anglican bishop of East Africa. His initial missionary visit to Africa only lasted a few months because he was stricken with a high fever and dysentery which forced him to return to England. A couple of years later, though, he returned to Africa and set himself to the task of organizing and supervising a road-building project that would build a new road into the Ugandan kingdom of Buganda. At the time, the only road into Buganda was an Arab slave route that was filled with danger.

The problem the project faced was Buganda’s king Mwanga. Despite the fact that his father, king Mutesa, had been open to foreigners and had even granted them favor, Mwanga was known to be highly suspicious of outsiders and quick to put them to death. Once Hannington reached Busoga, which was an area of great strategical importance to Buganda, Mwanga sent word to Hannington forbidding him from going any further. Hannington, however, was determined and continued on with his mission. A short time later, under the order of Mwanga, a group of Bosaga’s local chiefs captured Hannington along with 50 of his men and imprisoned them.

After eight days of cruel treatment, during which Hannington himself was exhibited as a trophy, the whole party was killed on October 29, 1885. Hannington was 38 years old and died by being speared in both sides. Purportedly, his last words to his Bosagan captors were, “Go tell your master (Mwanga) that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”

We know so much about Hannington’s story because he faithfully kept a daily journal. Upon his death, the Ugandans kept the journal and sold it to a later expedition. And what is the journal entry for October 29, 1885, the day of Hannington’s martydom? He wrote:

I can hear no news, but was held up by the 30th Psalm, which came with great power. A hyena howled near me last night, smelling a sick man. I hope it is not to have me yet.

Later that same day, the hyena didn’t get Hannington but the spear did. His “night” of weeping was now finished and the “morning” of his joy had come. As Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary, The Treasury of David:

And so, when life with its struggles and toils and sins, bringing us perpetual conflict, ends at last in the fierce struggle of death, then God “giveth his beloved sleep.” They sleep in Jesus, and wake to the joy of a morning which shall know no wane — the morning of joy. The Sun of Righteousness is beaming on them. Light is now on all their ways. And they can only wonder when they recall the despair and darkness, and toil, and violence of their earthly life, and say, as they have often said on earth, “Weeping has endured only for the night, and now it is morning, and joy has come!”

Along the same lines, Harry Ironside wrote in his Studies on the Psalms:

My mother told me that when my dear father was dying he was suffering terribly and a friend of his leaned over him and said, “John, you are suffering terribly, aren’t you?” “Oh,” he said, “I am suffering more that I thought it was possible for any one to and live, but one sight of His blessed face will make up for it all.”

And so whatever we are called upon to endure here, whatever we are called upon to suffer here it is for only a moment, comparatively. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Finally, I love John Phillip’s take on the verse, and it’s his words that I’ll offer as the close to this post. In his Exploring the Psalms, Phillips writes:

It is significant, surely, that God’s day begins with an evening and ends with a morning. Thus all the way through that creation chapter of Genesis we read: “The evening and the morning were the first day…the evening and the morning were the second day…” Right now we are hurrying through the nighttime of our experience. The shadows often are dark and menacing; but the morning comes, and with it a day that will never end! The night through which we are passing is only temporary. When the morning comes there will be no more sorrow, no more sadness, no more suffering, no more sickness, no more separations. “One glimpse of His dear face all sorrows will erase.” Joy cometh in the morning!

Posted in Addiction, Adversity, Aging, Comfort, Courage, Death, Depression, Disappointment, Encouragement, Eternity, God's Love, Heaven, Human Life, Inner Peace, Missions, Persecution, Perseverance, Problems, Reward, Salvation, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When You Know What to Do But Don’t Do It

“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47, N.K.J.V.)

It’s one thing when you honestly don’t know what to do about a situation. It’s another thing when you know what to do but choose not to do it. That second category is the one to which our text verse applies.

The verse comes on the heels of a parable that Jesus offers about stewardship. In Bible times, a steward was a servant who was placed in charge of managing his master’s household goods and distributing provisions to the rest of the servant staff. The main character trait the job required was faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2). Not only did a steward need to be faithful to his master, he also needed to be faithful in the performance of his duty toward his fellow servants.

In Jesus’ parable, a steward’s master goes away for an undetermined amount of time, leaving the steward in charge of the estate. At that point the steward can respond to the assignment in one of two ways. Option 1: He can carry out his duty faithfully. Option 2: He can use his delegated power to turn himself into a little dictator that enriches his own life while making life miserable for his fellow servants.

While the steward gets to choose his course of action, he doesn’t get to choose the consequences of his choice. The returning master will see to those. If the steward is found faithful when the master returns, the steward will be rewarded handsomely by way of a promotion (verses 43 and 44). But if the steward is not found faithful, he will be punished severely, even to the point of being put to death (verses 45 and 46).

Immediately following the parable, Jesus explains that any servant who knows his master’s will but doesn’t do it will be punished. Jesus metaphorically describes the punishment as involving “stripes” (verse 47). Why is the punishment so harsh? It’s because knowing what you are supposed to do brings major accountability. You see, having a knowledge of God’s will can be dangerous thing if you don’t do that will.

So let’s say that you are right now in the midst of a difficult situation, and let’s also say that God has revealed to you what He wants you to do about it. My question to you is simply, “Have you done what God told you to do?” If you have, then stop stressing out about the situation. Quit worrying. After all, you’ve done the best you could do. I mean, you don’t think that you could have done any better than God’s will about the situation, do you? For that matter, since God rewards obedience, you should be in line for some kind of a promotion. That is what the parable teaches.

Ah, but what if you haven’t done what God told you to do? Oh, well, now we’re on another subject. My question to you would be, “What’s stopping you from doing what you know to do?” Perhaps it’s fear. Perhaps it’s procrastination. Perhaps it’s outright rebellion. Perhaps it’s something else.

Whatever the case may be, just take this post as a warning that it’s high time that you got God’s job done. Until you do, you are a steward who has been handed an important assignment — the doing of God’s will — and you are failing miserably at that assignment. And, unfortunately for you, if your disobedience continues there will be some “stripes” in your future. You say, “Russell, you are just trying to scare me.” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. It’s better that you heed my word of warning and do what God has told you to do than it is for you to suffer the consequences when your Master inspects your work and finds it lacking.

Posted in Choices, Coming Judgment, Conscience, Conviction, Disobedience, Dying To Self, Fear, God's Will, Obedience, Problems, Rebellion, Stewardship | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classified Falsely

Private First Class Alan Barton, an American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, was reported missing from his base in South Vietnam on July 28, 1970. Thirty-two days later, his commanding officer notified his mother that her son was now officially classified as a deserter. Since Barton’s father was a twenty-year army veteran, the news of the desertion was especially embarrassing for him.

In reality, though, Alan Barton had not deserted. He had been killed by the steel pellets from a landmine or a booby trap hidden along the perimeter of his base. The problem was that his skeletal remains were not discovered until March 28, 1972, and even then the army was unable to identify the soldier to whom they belonged. Consequently, those remains were sent to a military morgue in Honolulu, Hawaii. Meanwhile, Alan continued to be classified as a deserter.

But Alan’s mother never gave up fighting to clear his name. She didn’t know what had happened to him — she suspected that he had been captured and was being held in a prisoner-of-war camp — but she could not make herself believe that he had deserted. For thirteen years she fought until finally the army rechecked the Honolulu morgue records and were able to correctly identify Alan’s remains by use of dental records. Truth be told, various personal belongings that would have helped to identify him had been found with his remains in 1972, but the army had somehow lost them. All that was left of those belongings was a fragment of an envelope that was postmarked from Alan’s hometown in Michigan.

In February of 1983, Private First Class Alan Barton was finally given the full military funeral that he deserved. A twenty-one-gun salute was sounded, taps was played, and his mother was handed the folded American flag that moments earlier had draped her son’s coffin. Her fight was now ended. She had her closure. Her son’s good name had been vindicated.

The story of Alan Barton reminds us that this world is filled with injustices and false accusations. Unfortunately, Christian, you are not immune from such things. You can take heart, though, in the promise that God always knows the truth and in eternity everything will be revealed, classified accurately, and set right. As Jesus said of eternity, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30, N.K.J.V.). That means that this world’s distorted allotments will not continue into the afterlife. I, for one, am grateful for that and long more and more each day for that better world to come.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Criticism, Eternity, God's Omniscience, Heaven, Justice, Persecution, Reward, Suffering, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I’m With You

An elderly grandfather took his little grandson for an afternoon walk. After they had walked a while, the old man asked the boy, “How far do you think we’ve walked?” The boy answered, “I don’t know, grandpa.” The grandfather asked, “Well, where are you right now?” Again came the answer, “I don’t know, grandpa.” At this point the grandfather chuckled a bit and said, “Well, it sounds to me like you’re lost.” To that the little fellow replied, “No, I can’t be lost, grandpa. I’m with you.”

Hebrews 13:5 says to the Christian:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (N.K.J.V.)

Those words “I will never leave you nor forsake you” quote a promise that God once made to the Israelites through their leader, Moses, regarding their conquest of the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 31:1-6). Even more specifically, the promise was made to Joshua, the man who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites and led them in the actual conquering (Deuteronomy 31:7-8; Joshua 1:5). But what’s wonderful about the Hebrews restating is that it lifts the promise out of the Old Testament storyline and places it firmly down upon the life of the Christian.

The immediate context of the promise, as it is offered in Hebrews 13:5, involves the sin of covetousness. Why is covetousness a sin? Because it shows a lack of contentment. It shows that you aren’t trusting God fully regarding your circumstances. And what other sin always rides on the back of a lack of contentment? Worry. You worry that what you have won’t be enough.

So, the point of Hebrews 13:5 is this: If you are a Christian, you should eliminate covetousness, a lack of contentment, and worry from your spiritual resume. After all, you are a child of the King. And King’s kids don’t go around lacking!

Christian, because you know Christ as Savior, you have the Creator of the universe in your corner. You have unlimited resources at your disposal. The One who makes sure that the birds of the air are fed will make sure that you are fed (Matthew 6:25-26). The One who makes sure that the lilies of the field are clothed will make sure that you are clothed (Matthew 6:27-30). If you will always seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, He will add to you all the necessities of life (Matthew 6:31-34).

Really, though, the Christian can apply this promise “I will never leave you nor forsake you” to any area of life. Perhaps you are contented right now but confused about your current station in life. Jesus promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Perhaps you haven’t reached a state of worry yet but you do find yourself in a very difficult circumstance. Jesus promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Perhaps you are even standing at death’s door. Jesus promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and that promise extends into the afterlife.

Christian, like that little boy out walking with his grandfather, your job is simply to trust in the One who is doing the leading. Just place your hand in His and know that He is never lost. He always knows the way. He knows the way out of somewhere. He knows the way into somewhere. Most importantly, ultimately, He knows the way home. And when you truly grasp this profound truth, then you’ll be able to genuinely say with confidence, “No, I can’t be lost, Jesus. I’m with you.”

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Contentment, Eternal Security, Eternity, Faith, Fear, God's Love, God's Provision, Greed, Money, Needs, Problems, Prosperity, Sickness, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment