How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 1)

In his famous hymn “This is My Father’s World”, Maltbie Babcock wrote these comforting words:

This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget/ That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heav’n be one.

This stanza pulls together two truths that confront us in this world—“the wrong seems oft so strong” and “God is the ruler yet.” In the next three post I want to address this from the biblical perspective of Psalm 75. Over each of the next three posts I will lay out a total of Nine Ways in Which the Sovereignty of God in Dealing with the Wicked Affects Our Attitude Toward our Present Circumstances. Let’s begin…

1. It Makes us Aware That God is Always Near Us (v. 1A)

Psalm 75:1a “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.

The reason for the psalmist’s thankfulness was that the “name” of God was near. The “name” of course, points to the presence of God himself.
David wrote about this nearness in Psalm 139:1-12 when he spoke of the Lord intimately knowing mankind from when he knit us in our mother’s womb as well as every other aspect of our lives. There is nowhere that we can hide or be hidden from his presence.

This is a comforting reality in times of need and pain. God really is right here with us. He hears your prayers. He sees your enemies as they attack. He sees it all.

2. It Gives us a Thankful Heart (v.1b)

Psalm 75:1b “We recount your wondrous deeds.

Along with his nearness was a legacy of remembering that brought forth a thankful heart.

Remembering and reciting aids in developing a thankful heart. We are forgetful people, aren’t we? The Lord knew this, and so he constantly calls his people throughout the Scriptures to remember, even instructing them to set up memory aids, special dates, rites, and festivals. In the Church Age, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper to be done “in remembrance of him.” Why? Because as monumental as the cross of Christ is for our eternity, we still forget about it if left to ourselves.

Psalm 78:4 speaks about the need for parents to recite these memories to their children. It says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

We can grow anxious and weary when we forget that God is in control. We can begin to see ourselves as helpless, awash in the chaos of the world, victims of chance. But if you sit down and read through the pages of Scripture, you will quickly begin to see that God has always been in control. Reminding yourself of this fact will change your outlook radically.

3. It Teaches Us Patience (v. 2)

Psalm 75:2 “At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity.

Here we have a change of speakers—the song has moved from Asaph speaking (or the priest who led the singing) to God himself speaking. The Lord says that “at the set time that I appoint…” This language in Hebrew refers to seasonal time, not clock time. Clock time spins fast. Seasons don’t work by a clock. Fruit doesn’t ripen according to your watch. God doesn’t punch-in to work.

Let there be no mistake, God will judge—he says so. But he will judge at the set time that he appoints. We can’t say “Amen” to God’s sovereignty and then be impatient when he doesn’t act on our schedule, can we? We can’t be like Martha, Lazarus’ sister, who got so upset that Mary wasn’t helping her prepare the food in the kitchen that she stomped right into the middle of Jesus’ teaching time and demanded that the LORD command her sister to help her! It appears Martha thought Jesus needed a little help leading the world. He doesn’t.

When you become impatient and wonder when God will judge, remember that God is in control as he has always been. Be still and know that he is God.

Praying for Missions

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”

—John Piper

Satan wants to cause disruptions and disunity among missionaries to make their ministry ineffective, and ruin their testimonies, which if not quickly dealt with, could cause many to reject the gospel.

There can be a tendency to think of missionaries as superheroes and put them on a pedestal, but the truth is that they are just like all other Christians with every weakness and temptation that you struggle with. Like you and me, they too need to depend on the Lord so that He can work through them. God truly does use the weak and foolish of this world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).

Missionaries need your prayers.

Some examples of things you can pray for:

  1. Dependence on God.
  2. For strong, godly marriages.
  3. For health problems- these can cause discouragement and might press missionaries to eventually leave the field.
  4. For the difficulties of language and culture learning.
  5. That the message of the gospel of grace (not works) would be clearly understood 
  6. Missionaries are often surrounded by Satanic forces through witchcraft and rituals of the local people.
  7. Frustration that comes from with lack of privacy, lack of results, unfamiliar foods, extreme climates.
  8. Open communication and good relationships with coworkers.
  9. Loneliness, including separation from family and friends. 
  10. Making new friends in a new culture and language.
  11. Missionary children- for social, educational and spiritual development.
  12. Bible translation- Satan doesn’t want God’s Word to spread into other languages and it is a real spiritual warfare to get the Word of God into a new language.

Eight Ideas for Reaching Your Mission Field (Other Cultures in Your Back Yard)

1. Take your neighbors a plate of cookies with a tract in their own language. If you give a non-disposable plate they are almost sure to return it, possibly with a gift of their own. Then continue the relationship.

2. Get the young people of your church involved. Many teenagers are taking foreign language classes in school or have learned it at home. Challenge them to memorize their testimony in this foreign language and go from there.

3. Hand out copies of the Gospel of John in the language of your neighbors and those at work or leave in your work break room, hospital waiting rooms, laundromats and other public places for people to pick up and read. 

4. Pray specifically for families and couples to be saved and discipled. The family is so important and will lead to other members being brought to Christ

5. Consider starting some informal soccer games on Saturday and involve the children or maybe even adults. Bring a cooler of cold water. Take a break, give out the water and share the gospel. In many countries, soccer (or football as it is called in other places) is a favorite.

6. If you have a ministry in your church that teaches in another language, pray fervently for that ministry to grow. We can plant and water, but it is God who will bring the growth.

7. If you speak a foreign language, volunteer to be a translator for gospel materials. You must have good grammar and spelling, but the needs are endless!

8. If you speak the language, help with outreach events, paying particular attention to those who come and speak in a foreign language.

Some encouraging quotes to help fuel your prayer for missions:

  • “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” — William Carey, who is called the father of modern missions
  • “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” — David Livingstone
  • “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” — C.T. Studd
  • “Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the gospel be saved?‘ It is more a question with me whether we — who have the gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved.” — Charles Spurgeon
  • “Missions is the overflow of our delight in God because missions is the overflow of God’s delight in being God.” — John Piper
  • “People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives … and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” — Nate Saint, missionary and martyr
  • “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” — John Stott
  • “It is not in our choice to spread the gospel or not. It is our death if we do not.” — Peter Taylor Forsyth

Prayer and Fasting (part 2)

Yesterday I posted about the source of our deepest hungering and desire. What do we truly desire and what does it say about our heart? You can read about that here: Prayer and Fasting (part 1). Today I want to spend more time explaining the biblical idea of fasting and prayer and then look at some practical consideration for fasting.

Jesus’ general principle regarding how to be blessed or ruined by spiritual disciplines is found in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Then Jesus gives three examples of ways that we can be found guilty of practicing our faith for others to see us and admire us:

  1. Giving (vv. 2-4) or our outward conduct
  2. Praying (vv. 5-15) or our upward conversations
  3. Fasting (vv. 16-18) or our inward cravings

Matthew 6:16-18 reads, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What Is Biblical Fasting?

Simply defined, fasting (for all reasons) is to refrain from food for a period of time. Biblical fasting is always accompanied with prayer. I am speaking of biblical fasting here, because several religions practice fasting, and people fast for medical and other purely non-religious reasons.

Fasting in the Bible is required only in the Old Testament, for the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:26-32). This “self-affliction” was to accompany the offering of sacrifices for the nation of Israel. It was a national day of mourning for their sins. As such, eating was inappropriate.

Since Jesus Christ has become our final sacrifice (Heb 10:12), we do not need a Day of Atonement. Therefore, the only obligatory day of fasting has been removed for Christians. So, fasting is not required by God.

Why did people in Bible fast?

Although there was only one obligatory day to fast, voluntary fasting was(and is) acceptable to God if done with the right heart attitude. Some examples of the reasons people fasted in the Bible were:

  • When Mourning: 2 Samuel 3:35 tells us David fasted after the death of Abner.
  • When in Grave Danger: Esther 4:16 shows us that Esther asked for prayer and fasting before she approached the king.
  • When Repentant: Jonah 3:5, 7 explains how the Ninevites repented before God in sackcloth and ashes for their sins, and God forgave them.
  • When Facing Important Decisions: Acts 13:2-3 says that before the church at Antioch sent away Paul and Barnabas for their mission trip they prayed and fasted.
  • When Facing Intense Trials: Matthew 4:2 tells us that as Jesus prepared to begin his ministry, he was led into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan.

How should Christians approach fasting?

First, remember that fasting is not obligatory, but voluntary. We are nowhere commanded to fast, although we may do so when we desire. The Pharisees fasted two times a week (Lk 18:12), but this was a tradition of men, not a requirement of God.

Also, remember this important truth if you become puffed up in your fasting: of the two men in the Temple that day that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, one fasted, and the other went home justified! Fasting does not justify us!!

Second, we must fast with the right intentions. Matthew 6:16 shows us that there are some who practice religious activities to be seen by others.

  • If you fast, ask yourself why you are doing it?
  • If you fast, are you letting yourself look tired or haggard so people will ask you about it? The Pharisees loved the attention they received. They even went so far as to rub ash on their faces to look more sullen and sickly. It’s the same with all our spiritual disciplines. Do you do them to be seen by men?
  • If you fast, are you trying to earn God’s favor? Fasting is not a bargaining chip for God. It’s not “I skipped food for three days Lord. YOU HAVE TO HEAR ME NOW!” Fasting doesn’t mean that if I give up meat, God will do what I say.

Finally, when we fast, we should see it as an opportunity to put all of our focus upon God, and not as an opportunity to pull attention to ourselves. Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees drew attention to themselves with their sullen look. Instead, fasting ought to be seen as a time to look at the Giver of every good and perfect gift. We can forget about God sometimes, and when we fast, we take our eyes off of the gift of food and cast our eyes toward heaven to find communion with our Lord. This is why the Pharisees were such hypocrites. They took something which should have given God attention and used it for their own attention.

Some final considerations regarding fasting:

Fasting does not need to be a fast from food only. Some of you may not be able to fast from food for medical reasons. Perhaps you are weakened from sickness or you need to take medications or your doctor has said, “No fasting.” That is ok. God knows how weak our frame is!

Fasting, although primarily abstaining from food for a time of dedicated prayer and worship with the Lord, is not only described in terms of food. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7:5 it refers to a different kind of fast for married couples. Notice that this fasting referred to here is for a set time and for the purpose of prayer. It should be short and purposeful by agreement of both so as not to give an opportunity for temptation for either the husband or the wife.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not … be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.

This means that food may not be a big deal for you, but perhaps TV or internet distracts you from the Lord and prayer. Maybe its sports or something else.

RememberAbraham? In Genesis 22:1-2 what does it say Abraham loved? What did he hunger for? He longed for the promised son Isaac. And God gave him a good gift in Isaac. But now God asks him to sacrifice what he loved. Did he love God more than Isaac?

Abraham set his eyes to obey the Lord. He took Isaac up the mountain and he bound him and took the knife to slay his beloved boy. But look at vv. 11-12. “now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son…” Abraham’s love for God was greater than his love for Isaac.

Now let me ask you, what do you hunger for most? Who’s in charge? Is it your hunger or God? It is easy to say that it’s not food, like the drunk who says he can give up his liquor anytime he wants, but he just doesn’t want to. What controls you so that you don’t want to give it up?

Dear friend above all else, hunger and thirst for Christ.