Sunday, April 29, 2007

Thanks for Praying!

Kim and I want to express our heartfelt thanks to those of you who prayed for us as we were praying for others this week at the Children's Desiring God (CDG) conference. Your partnership means so much to us! We were able to pray with ministry teams who needed wisdom or encouragement or power for their ministries, with people who were having serious problems in their churches and just wanted to cry out to the Lord for help, with people who were hungering for more and more of God in their lives, with people whose family or friends were sick or even a few who were dying, with people who were desperate for their loved ones or people in their sphere of influence to come to know Christ.

Oh Friends, how can we explain what it is like to spend so much time with Christ in prayer and in the service of his people? We cannot, but again, we want to thank you for your partnership.

Please join us in prayer as we continue to pray for one week for the written prayer requests we received. Pray especially for two churches who have been through some very difficult times in the last couple of years but seem to be turning the corner now; for the ministry team from El Salvador who are going home to train their people and also to host a national pastor's conference in late May and early June; for the team from the Dominican Republic with whom we have a very close relationship, and who have a vision to spread the gospel all over Latin America (believe it or not, they are able to travel in Latin America without a passport and they see this as an open door from the Lord); for a woman from Ethiopia who spent some time with us crying out for her own heart before the Lord, and crying out for her native soil; for Ethan (8 year old boy), Laura, Hannah, and Kathy, all of whom have significant health problems.

Once again, thank you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! May he be greatly glorified as we continue to call out to him always and for everything!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Children's Desiring God Conference

For the past three years, Kim and I have had the privilege of leading the prayer ministry for the Desiring God Conferences. (Desiring God is the teaching ministry of John Piper who is the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.) For the first time, Children's Desiring God (led by David and Sally Michael of BBC) have asked us to lead a prayer ministry for them.

The conference began yesterday, and already the prayer room has been full of activity. We have prayed with church planters, people who needed special ministry or counsel in their lives, and ministry teams from countries such as El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Northern Ireland, and Romania.

There is nothing like spending many hours in prayer, and especially in the service of the Body of Christ. Please pray for us as we pray, that the Lord will strengthen our team, give us wisdom and insight and power in prayer, and give us great joy in the Holy Spirit as we serve him in this way. Thank you for your partnership! I look forward to sharing more tomorrow.

For the Glory of Jesus,

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Reward

I read the book of Ruth this morning, and as many times as I’ve read it in the past I’ve never noticed how much Ruth sacrificed in order to follow Naomi back to Israel. You remember the story: Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion lived in the city of Bethlehem in Judah, but decided to “sojourn” in the nearby country of Moab because of a severe famine. But tragically, Elimelech died in Moab, and after having married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, the two sons died as well.

In those days, attachment to a male was the only form of social-security, so to speak, and so this left Naomi in a particularly tragic situation. The only thing she could do, really, was to go back home and hope that, out of the kindness of their heart, someone would take care of her. For Orpah and Ruth, the situation was tragic enough, but they could simply go back to their Fathers’ homes until they found another husband. But Ruth decided that loyalty to Naomi was more important than her own personal comfort and covering and provision, so she traveled back to Israel with Naomi.

Once there, Ruth went to glean in the field of a man she did not know, and when that man, Boaz, came to inspect the progress of the day he saw her there and inquired as to who she was. When he found out that she was Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, he instructed her to continue gleaning in his field and offered her all the food, water, and protection she needed.

She was blown away by this kindness and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” To which Boaz answered, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (2:10-12)

So here’s what Ruth sacrificed in order to remain loyal to Naomi: (1) She left her father and mother and any other family she had in Moab, and not only suffered the pain of being away from them but also the insecurity of having no provider. (2) She left her native land, the only land she had ever known in her life. Travel was not then as it is now, and especially for women, it was not safe. Ruth not only sacrificed allegiance to her native soil, she risked her neck to remain loyal to Naomi. (3) She chose to live among a people whom she did not know, and who were not particularly open to foreigners. She chose the potential of being a social-outcast for life, over the comfort of remaining with her own people.

Indeed, when Ruth followed Naomi, she sacrificed much. And what was the ultimate outcome of her loyalty and sacrifice? She became the wife of Boaz, thereby providing protection and provision for Naomi, and she bore a son named Obed who would become the great-grandfather of King David, and who would be part of the lineage of Jesus the Messiah.

But consider this: Ruth never knew the ultimate outcome of her loyalty to Naomi. She never knew that her son would be the great-grandfather of the second king of Israel and, more so, in the line of the King of kings, Jesus the Messiah. Surely, in his mercy God allowed her to taste the bounty of obedience, but he hid from her, so far as we know, the fullness of his plans.

So, the moral of the story is this: doing the right thing will sometimes cost us dearly, but we must trust and obey the Lord, for though we do not know the fullness of his plans for us, we know the nature of his heart: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Please Pray for Me: I'm in Some Very Deep Waters!

Please accept my apologies for not posting anything over the last couple of days--I have been in some very deep waters. I feel like I'm on a ship in the middle of a vast and deep ocean, longing to see into the depths, but only being able to see down a few feet. Please pray with me that the Lord will open my eyes and allow me to see into the depths. When he answers our prayers, I'll be sure to share with you what I see.

Let me see if I can explain how I found myself in the midst of this ocean. It all began when I read the book of Deuteronomy a couple of weeks ago. I noticed, as I've noticed before, that it gives several helpful descriptions of what it means to love God with all that's in us, and I decided that this was the time to look into these things. Well, it did not take more than a few minutes to see the truth that we only love God because he first loved us, and mainly I saw this in chapter seven.

Then, as I prepared to look more deeply into chapter seven, it occurred to me that God only loves because he is love. In other words, the manifest love of God does not just materialize, it emanates from somewhere, and the question is, Where is that somewhere? Answer: the innermost parts of God, for God is love. So, I realized that before we can really grasp the import of the manifest love of God we must at least attempt to grasp what it means to say that God is love. And 1 John 4 is the only place in the Bible where this seminal statement is made, at least explicitly so.

Thus, the ocean in which I find myself is called 1 John 4:7-5:5. Please pray for me as I spend time over the next several days gazing as deeply as I can into it, and as I said, I'll be sure to share what I see. I may post some thoughts on other matters for the next few days, but know that I'm working on this and I'll be coming back to it.

Thanks so much for your partnership.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We Love Because He First Loved Us

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the earth in all its glory. It is quite a site to behold with its mixture whites and blues and browns. Of course you know that the reason the earth can be seen in space is because the light of the sun pulses toward it and then, to some extent, reflects back into space. This is called “albedo” or the rate of reflectivity. But did you know that a portion of the sun’s light that hits the earth actually travels back to the sun? If you were standing on the sun you would not be able to see it because the light of the sun would overwhelm it, but it would be there nonetheless.

And just as the earth only shines because it receives light from the sun and then sends back a portion of that light to the sun, so we only love God because he first loved us and the love with which we love him is but a dim reflection of the love with which he first loved us. His love is a self-generating, independent, and ever flowing love; our love is an other-generated, dependent, and reflected love.

So, as we start this series of meditations on what it means to love God we must begin with this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We have the passion to love, the ability to love, the skills to love, the discipline to love because the blazing center of love, the Lord God Almighty, first loved us.

For today, I’m simply going to quote Deuteronomy 7:6-16. I invite you to consider this passage carefully since it will be the fodder for the next several meditations.

“6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.

“12 And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. 15 And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. 16 And you shall consume all the peoples that the LORD your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you”

Monday, April 09, 2007

Deuteronomy and the Love of God

I recently finished reading the book of Deuteronomy, and I must admit that it is one of my favorite Old Testament books. The reason I love it so much is that it succinctly summarizes and makes plain the purpose of the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). And I suppose that since it’s in the form of a sermon it’s a bit easier to read than Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

Perhaps the best known passage from the book is Deuteronomy 6:4-5. For Jews, this passage has been prominent for many millennia, but for us gentiles it rose to prominence on the lips of Jesus. “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”’” (Mark 12:28-30).

Jesus was not being original here. This was the answer that any Jew worth their salt (I have no idea what that idiom means!) would have given, primarily because this command is found, not just in chapter six, but all throughout the book of Deuteronomy—eight times, in fact. Deuteronomy makes crystal clear that the intent of the Pentateuch is to teach the people of God to love the Lord their God with all that’s in them.

And though in the New Testament era Jews and gentiles alike establish their right standing before God by faith in Christ rather than works of the law, the aim of placing our faith in Christ is just the same as keeping the law—to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. This is why Jesus himself cited this command as preeminent, and why Paul made this stunning statement at the end of 1 Corinthians: "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (16:22). Wow, that’s strong language! In fact, the Greek word for “accursed” is the same one used in the Old Testament to denote cities that were “devoted to destruction,” meaning they were to be wiped off the face of the earth. Indeed, loving God with all that’s in us, or not, is very serious business. It is the most serious business in all of life.

So, over the next several days I plan to post some thoughts about what it means to love God with all that’s in us. I’m going to stick pretty closely to Deuteronomy on this one, though I may branch out from time to time. Please pray for me as I study these things and please feel free to give your feedback.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Day Forty: Our One Great Need

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Does it strike you as odd that in forty days of devotionals I have not once led us to pray for such things as elders, ministry teams, money, facilities, land, strategies, and the like? After all, six weeks ago I said that the reason we need a Season of Consecration is because God has called us to do things that we cannot do on our own and we simply must have him. We must pursue him with passion if we’re to accomplish the mission he has set before us. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to have spent some time praying directly about the things God has called us to do?

We are so prone to jump into the work of the Kingdom of God and forget the King. We are so prone to think that the major issues that lie before us are the need for people and money and things rather than our need for Christ who is Lord over all things. We are so prone to get on with bearing fruit rather than with abiding in the vine from whence comes our fruit. Therefore, it was good and right and necessary to spend forty days in prayer and fasting, seeking the King as an end in himself, seeking the vine before the fruit.

This is not to say that things like elders and ministry teams and money and facilities and land and strategies are unimportant; it’s simply to say that they are secondary. It is as Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” God is aware of all of our needs, and he is willing and able to provide them in his way and in his time. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Brothers and sisters, if we abide in him and his words abide in us, we can ask anything we wish and he will do it for us! Therefore, the most important thing we need is to ensure that we are abiding in Christ, and he in us. Everything else in life combined is, by far, secondary to this one great need. Indeed, the one who rushes to bear fruit will bear false fruit, but the one who first pursues the vine of Christ, who first seeks the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, will bear much fruit to the glory of God because “all these things will be added to him.”

So, from these forty days let us learn and never forget the lesson: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father would cause the truth of Matthew 6:33 ever to abide with us as a people. Pray that we will never stray, by his power and grace, from striving first to abide in the vine and then passionately praying for the fruit of the vine. Let us also give thanks to God for these forty days!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Day Thirty-Nine: Joy, Obedience, and Love for Others

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

On day twenty-four we meditated on John 15:9-10 which says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” From this I concluded that to obey Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey him. Or put another way, obedience makes our love for Christ visible, tangible, objective, and measurable. Obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules; it is the manifestation of passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism, it is love. Then on day twenty-six we considered some of the joy-producing benefits of obedience, namely, that we grow in communion with God, we grow in communion with the Body of Christ, and we incur the manifold blessings of God, even if through suffering. All to say, when Jesus commands our obedience he invites us into fullness of joy!

Today I want to show how our obedience produces joy for others, and how their joy in turn completes our own. Obedience to God is at times directed towards God, but more often than not it is directed towards others. For instance, while the first four of the ten commandments have to do with our relationship to God, the last six have to do with our relationships to others (Exodus 20:1-17). When Jesus was asked what is the first and greatest commandment, he did answer that it is to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, but then added that we must also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Paul said that to love our neighbor is to fulfill the law: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). And John writes in no uncertain terms, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).

So, more often than not, when God issues a command he has the good of others in mind. And therefore when we walk in obedience to his commands others benefit in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that they get joy! It is a great joy to be the recipient of someone else’s obedience to God! Brothers and sisters, we must pause to consider this: Jesus means to fulfill our joy by using our obedience to produce joy in others. There is no joy in the world like being used of God to produce joy in someone else.

And even greater is the joy that sees the joy of others eventuate in their obedience to God. As Paul said to the church in Rome, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice [i.e., take joy] over you…” (Romans 16:19). Oh may we strive to be obedient people that we may be joy-producing, obedience-producing, God-glorifying people!

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see his designs in obedience, and give us soft hearts before him that we might follow him wherever he leads. And pray that as we do, he would fulfill our joy by producing joy in others!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Day Thirty-Eight: Joy and Evangelism

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

The fruit of the vine comes in many sizes, shapes, textures, and tastes, and each has its own measure of joy. But one type of fruit is particularly joy-producing, so much in fact that even the host of heaven rejoices in it. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And again, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, 10).

Oh how I pray that Glory of Christ Baptist Church will know the joy of this fruit in abundance! Oh how I pray that we will be like our Lord who emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and became obedient all the way to death on a cross for the glory of his Father in the salvation of the lost. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Oh how I pray that in this time of fasting and prayer we will come to crave and seek the food that is indeed food:

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest”? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor’” (John 4:31-38).

At this point in the life of our church, we do not know if God has sent us primarily to sow or reap. But we do know that he has sent us to enter into this labor for the glory of his name, the salvation of the lost, and the joy of our souls! So, Glory of Christ, let us play our part with passion! Let us deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow him into the fields that are indeed white for harvest! Let us pursue our joy in the joy of sinners saved by grace! Let us seek to share in the joy of the hosts of heaven!

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will greatly increase our joy by greatly increasing our fruitfulness in evangelism. Pray that the Father will fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us a great and compassionate boldness in preaching the gospel. Pray for your family and friends and neighbors and the entire SMORE area, that many may come to know Christ as we (and others) faithfully share the gospel.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Day Thirty-Seven: Joy, Idolatry, and Eternal Life

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Jesus is so wise—he knows how to turn the hearts of his children away from idolatry. He loves to save and send his disciples into the world to bear fruit, but he knows with utter clarity the difference between the fruit and the root. In Luke 10, after his disciples returned from a mission with reports of the fruit they had borne, Jesus said this: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:19-20). In other words, do not rejoice in the fruit, rejoice in the root. Do not rejoice in the benefits afforded you as a child of God, but rejoice in the fact that, by grace, you are a child of God. Do not rejoice that you have power, rejoice that you have life in the Son!

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). This man sold everything for the joy that was set before him, and the joy that was set before him was the treasure, not the field. The field was a fringe benefit, but the treasure was the prize. And so the question arises, what exactly was the treasure?

In Luke 10 Jesus instructed his disciples to rejoice in the fact that their names are written in heaven. What else can this mean but that they have eternal life? And what is eternal life? Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To have your name written in heaven means you have eternal life, and to have eternal life means you know God the Father and God the Son. Therefore, to rejoice that your name is written in heaven is to rejoice in God himself. God himself is the treasure of the field. And the heart of the true child of God cries out, “Oh Father, do what you will with the field, I must have the treasure! Bear fruit through me as you will, I must have you!”

We are so prone to worship the created thing rather than the creator. We are so prone to take joy in the benefits of our salvation rather than the author of our salvation. We are so prone to rejoice in the fruit rather than the root. And so Jesus, in loving-kindness, warns us away from such idolatry and points us toward eternal life. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Prayer Focus: Pray that as the Father causes us to bear much fruit, he will keep us from idolatry. Pray that we will ever take our joy in him and not in any external thing.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Day Thirty-Six: Joy, Fruitfulness, and the Glory of God

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

I can remember so vividly the days before I was in Christ, how I hated and disobeyed and rebelled against and ignored him. How I lived as a law unto myself. How I sought to fulfill every fleshly desire, following in the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). But now, by the immeasurable grace and kindness of God, I am not only a friend of God but a child, and therefore I am a fellow-heir with Christ! (Romans 8:17) And as a fellow heir with Christ, I am ever receiving grace upon grace so that I may bear fruit with Christ and bring glory to God the Father. I, who was once an enemy of God, now bear the fruit of the vine and bring glory to God the Father!

Who can imagine such grace? Who can conceive of a God so good and kind that he turns his enemies, not only into friends, but into fruit-bearing sons and daughters? Who can comprehend the privilege of living a life that, by grace, brings glory to God? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

The reason the fruit of the vine brings such joy to our souls is because every single piece of fruit is a testimony to the fact that this immeasurable grace of God is at work in our lives. Every single piece of fruit cries out that we were great sinners but God is a greater savior. Every single piece of fruit displays the fact that we are indeed abiding in Christ, and that his words are indeed abiding in us. Every single piece of fruit is a clarion call to those still lost in their sin to come and know this God of unspeakable grace.

And oh how I pray that we will long more and more for the fruit of the vine that we may know the joy of Christ! Oh how I pray that we will strive to abide in Christ and allow his words to abide in us. Oh how I pray that we will learn to plead with him always and for everything, receiving many answers to prayer, proving to be his disciples, glorifying God the Father, and knowing--truly knowing--the joy of Christ!

Prayer Focus: Plead with me that the Father will open our eyes to see the fullness of the gospel in every single piece of kingdom fruit we bear, and pray that he will make us immensely fruitful people so that his name will be greatly glorified.

Day Thirty-Five: Joy, the Word of God, and Prayer

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

While it may be difficult, at least initially, to understand how Jesus intends warnings and pruning and suffering to be for our joy, it is not at all difficult to understand how he intends his word and prayer to be for our joy. Imagine what joy would be yours if the following words were descriptive of your life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). There is no greater joy in life than to be in such communion with your heavenly Father that he is pleased—not occasionally but always—to answer your prayers.

Consider the words of Jesus, John, and King David. “But now I am coming to you [the Father], and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete…The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb…Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day…How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth...I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law” (John 17:13, 16:24, 1 John 1:4, Psalm 19:9-10; 119:97, 103, 163).

Abiding in Christ gives us life. The Word of Christ shapes our hearts and minds and prayers. Humble and biblical pleading with Christ moves the heart of God. God’s heart, so moved, eagerly answers our prayers. Answered prayers are the fruit of the vine. The fruit of the vine brings glory to God. And every step of this process is designed to bring great joy to the soul!

Thus it is that Christ spoke “these things” for our joy, and all that remains for us is to learn to walk in the way he has shown us.

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will teach us to walk in his ways, saturate our lives with his word, teach us to pray without ceasing, and thus fill us with the joy of Jesus!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Day Thirty-Four: Joy and Suffering

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Yesterday we meditated on the fact that the Father will prune the fruitful, which is to say he will discipline them. And we said that the reason this promise produces joy in the lives of believers is that they know the painful process of pruning is designed to shape them more and more into the image of Christ and cause them to obtain “the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Sometimes the Father uses the shears of suffering to prune us, and so today I want to reflect with you on the relationship between joy and suffering.

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn about suffering as a Christian is that it is not an end in itself, but a necessary means to a greater reward. Even Jesus himself endured immense suffering “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), and then he bid us to take his view of things: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). And Peter encourages us in much the same way: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Fruit-producing Christians take joy in suffering with Christ because in it they are united with Christ, by it they are shaped into the image of Christ, and through it the Father save souls to the glory of Christ (Acts 5:41, Colossians 1:24, 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

And while there is something unique about suffering specifically for the name of Christ, the Father can and will use any kind of suffering to produce these ends: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

Fruit-producing Christians take joy in suffering because the reward of Christ is worth the price of pain. Indeed, “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see his designs in suffering and cause us to rejoice in him. Pray that we will not resist him, but rather embrace his wisdom and work in our lives.