Placing our Hope in God Alone

“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.” Ps 33:16-17

A few years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH. Moving from one hangar to the next I saw the evolution of aircraft from the Wright brother’s first plane to the modern surveillance drones of today.

It isn’t hard to be in a place like that and not have an overwhelming sense of patriotism as I see the military defense weapons and aircraft that our nation has used in the defense of our country and many other countries all around the world. Seeing these beautiful machines and their sheer size made me feel a little sorry for anyone that stood against them in a battle.

It makes me think about how Pharaoh felt about his horses and chariots, and the king of Babylon about his weapons of war. The same can be said about the Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans at different parts of world history. Whether the weapons are spears, swords, arrows, or chariots, tanks, and airplanes, our hearts can become fooled into thinking that it is the weapon and strategies that win the war. Sometimes we think we can simply outnumber the enemy with more soldiers, more money, more missiles, and more technologies. This is heady stuff and it can divert the attention of a nation away from their inherent weakness and need for God.

In Psalm 33, the unnamed psalmist recognized this prideful blindspot and seeks to refocus the attention of the worshippers of Yahweh. The king, he writes, is not saved by his army-no matter how great. A read through the Chronicles and any history book will give credence to this reality. Kings are overthrown, betrayed, killed in battle, poisoned, and even killed by their own sons in a grab of power. King David himself survived an attempted coup by his own son. Some rulers are better than others, but no ruler can exist without God’s help. The Lord puts the man on the throne or behind the desk, but it is God alone who keeps him there, and it is God who removes him.

The psalmist also recognized that the same is true about those warriors that seem unbeatable in battle. We laud those warriors that fight valiantly and bring to our nation victory over the enemy. Stories are told of campaigns where all hope was lost and then the hero emerged and snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. But even the greatest hero among our warriors should not be hoped upon more than our God. Do not forget men like the mighty Goliath who boasted in his mighty size and ability to defeat Israel, even defying the Lord with mockery. That warrior’s great strength could not deliver him when a boy with a sling brought him to his death on the battlefield.

The warhorse was a great advantage to any ancient kingdom that sought to be a military powerhouse. The war horse was large, brave, and strong. He could charge into a mob of warriors with courage and bowl over those in his path, allowing his rider to swing his longsword or thrust his spear into the melee while remaining out of reach by the foot soldier. Any army that had a cavalry was an almost unstoppable force. Almost.

Knowing the confidence that men put in warhorses, he commanded that the kings of Israel were not to amass large numbers of them knowing that it would easily allow the king to seek confidence in his cavalry and not place his trust in the Lord. In modern weaponry, confidence is placed in ships, drones, fighter jets, missiles, and many other weapons that can unleash “shock and awe” in our enemies.

The writer of Psalm 33:16-17 should be heard. Anything we place our confidence in outside of God can and will fail. It is inevitable. As a matter of fact, it is worse than failure. These things that we place above our trust in God are an affront to Him, and they will not only fail but they will also be brought low as they have become a challenge to God for supremacy in our hearts. He will not allow anything else in His place.

Holy Stubbornness

“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)

The preaching of the gospel will always accomplish its intended purpose. Soemtimes the fields are slow to yield anything. We need to keep at it and trust the Lord for the growth. But sometimes the results are seen immediately, as in Acts 14 where a great number of Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ after the apostles proclaimed the gospel to them in Iconium. How exciting when this happens!

But along with this immediate burst of growth came an immediate response from the enemy. Spiritual warfare in the shape of stirring up strife and the poisoning of minds is said to have been the tactic used here. This probably means that lies and jealous striving were used to incite the Gentiles against the new Christians. It’s interesting that the non-believing Jews who would normally have nothing to do with Gentiles were now willing to feign concern for the Gentiles so long as they could accomplish their desire of persecution.

What I want to point out is what verse 3 says, “so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The “they” of verse three refers to the apostles Paul and Barnabas (13:50). In response to the attack against the new church in Iconium, the apostles did what any mother would do when her baby is attacked—they stayed longer to defend and care for her.

This “holy stubbornness” is a response of love and courage. Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to proclaim the gospel, see people receive Christ, and then move on. The goal wasn’t to impress their buddies with evangelistic growth statistics. Their goal was to make disciples of Christ, and that meant that they needed to stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that their brothers and sisters in Iconium were protected from the wolves there.

Accompanying the apostles’ stay was the presence of God who gave to them bold speech that was empowered by Christ. It was Christ working through the apostles who bore witness to the word of His grace. This along with signs and wonders that accompanied the powerful Word confirmed the gospel and these messengers as being from God. This would go a long way to both strengthen the Church and warn the enemy.

Sometimes we think of evangelism in rosy, romantic terms that ignores what it really is—an incursion behind enemy lines to snatch away from the devil those who once were his, but now belong to Christ. And the enemy will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We can expect him to fight back.

And this is where holy stubbornness is needed. Since we belong to Christ, we do not need to fear the enemy. Christ is for us, so who can be against us? But that truth does not remove the reality of spiritual attack, hardship, and persecution. We might feel the heat of warfare increase as the battle rages in our community and all around us.

Be encouraged. The devil doesn’t mess with the sleepers. He doesn’t want to rouse a church that is deep in apathy. But once you begin raiding the smoldering sticks from his fires, he will rage and seek to stop you. This might come as discouragement, personal attacks, division, distraction, or many other of his numerous schemes. Don’t give up! Don’t stop making disciples. Don’t become distracted. Don’t move on.

Dig in. Be stubborn. Refuse to relent. God is with us. We have the victory!

The Disaster of Failing to Be Trustworthy (weekend repost)

“Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble
is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.”—Proverbs 25:19 (ESV)

I love how picturesque the proverbs are in describing truth in simple terms. The above proverb became very real to me recently when my wife twisted her knee when she slipped. As we walked back to the car from a trip to the hospital, her knee buckled and she was in great pain. For several weeks after that accident, she had to wear a brace to prevent her knee from giving out.

Read the rest of the post here: The Disaster of Failing to Be Trustworthy

God’s Power and Prayer (weekend repost)

The sinfulness of man requires the power of God to overcome our nature, bringing us to Christ and setting us free from our sins, removing us from the kingdom of darkness and placing us into the kingdom of God, adopting us as sons of God and joint heirs with Christ, establishing both our ability to stand before the righteous throne of Almighty God as well as establishing our right to do so by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to our account.

To read the rest of this post, go here: God’s Power and Prayer

Persistent Prayer

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?“Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Matthew 7:7–11, NASB95)

I suspect that we all have struggled at times to be consistent in our prayer times. In Matthew 7:7-11 (quoted above), Jesus is in the middle of his great Sermon on the Mount. In chapter six, the Lord gave an amazing lesson on prayer. But as you listen to what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the more you see that radical dependence that you and I need in prayer. 

  • We need prayer because he calls us to forgive our enemies (Matt. 6:14-15).
  • We need prayer because he says when we fast, it is to be with a humble heart (Matt. 6:16-18).
  • We need prayer because he warns us of the lure of material possessions and how they can steal away our affection for the Lord (Matt. 6:19-24).
  • We need prayer because Jesus told us that we aren’t supposed to get anxious, that he would provide for all of our needs (Matt. 6:25-34).
  • We need prayer because we aren’t supposed to unfairly judge others, but rather we need to examine our hearts to find healing and forgiveness for our sins first (Matt. 7:1-5).
  • We need prayer because we need to discern when those we preach the gospel to are so hard-hearted or against our efforts that we need to move on, all while keeping our own hearts tender and hoping that they will come to repentance (Matt. 7:6).

So, coming to chapter 7, it should be very clear to the reader how much prayer is needed. So, as Jesus begins to teach on the need to take every request to the Lord who is good and gives to his children, we see three ways in which we need to be persistent in prayer:

1. “Ask” your heavenly Father.

Every one of these five verses speaks about asking, and all of them point to the fact that if we ask our heavenly Father, he will answer our needs. Implied in asking is the need for humility. We ask when we do not have. Those who are self-sustained and have no need for God will not pray. And those who say they need God but do not pray, show by their lack of prayer that they do not truly believe that they need God. The prideful take care of themselves. The humble submit to the Lord’s will as they go to him in prayer.

2. “Seek” the Father’s will.

This reminds us of Matt. 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

The desire to be dependent upon God progresses from asking God in humble dependence to growing in prayer while seeking God’s will. Seeking gives us a visual picture of looking for something that is not clearly before us.

“We are seeking to uphold the world [in prayer], to save it from the curse of God, to protect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind or lazy hand? O, see, then, that this work [of prayer] be done with all your might!” – Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor

“Those that are about to undertake this work [of prayer] should do it with the greatest seriousness and consideration of the vast importance of the work, how great a thing it is to have the care of precious souls committed to them, and with a suitable concern upon their minds, considering the great difficulties, dangers, and temptations that do accompany it. It [prayer] is compared to going to warfare.” –Jonathan Edwards in The Salvation of Souls

3. “Knock” with persistence.

The verbs in verse 7, “ask”, “seek” and “knock” are all present imperatives. That means that they are commands that we are to continue to do, not just once, but persistently. That is why “knocking” is such a good picture of our need to be persistent. Jesus calls us to knock on prayer’s door persistently.

Some of you might ask “why?” If God hears our prayers, and we pray once, why doesn’t he just answer? Why does he make us pray so many times? It isn’t because he didn’t hear us the first time, or that he isn’t able to answer us the first time. He often doesn’t answer immediately for our benefit:

  • By praying persistently, God teaches us dependence. A person who prays once or twice and then tries to fix it themselves shows that they do not depend upon God. Delayed answers cause us to grow in dependence.
  • By praying persistently, God teaches us to seek his will and not our own. Sometimes we pray selfish prayers. When we pray over and over, we are forced to think about whether what we are praying for is truly God’s will. If not, we may change our prayers, or we may humble ourselves and submit to God’s will even if it is not ours.
  • By praying persistently, God teaches us patience. God is not on our clock, yet his timing is perfect. He hears us, but the timing of our answer to prayer is not so important to him as teaching us patient dependence upon him.

Persistent prayer requires greater faith and a focused sense of need. Have you found that your prayers are short-lived? Is it because you move on to do it in your own strength? Do you see how often that has made matters worse? Commit yourself to go to the Lord for all your needs, waiting patiently for him to answer you.

Maybe you have found that your prayers are short-sighted. You pray, but not for the great things God has called us all to do. You haven’t prayed for a great harvest of souls. You haven’t prayed for the salvation of your family member whom you believe will never get saved. You haven’t prayed for that obstacle to faith to be removed. You’ve prayed short-range, short-sighted, “safe” prayers. My friend—we have a big God. Pray big prayers. Don’t lose sight of what is eternal.