Let us commence the work of self-examination at once, and let us be impartial in the work . . .
sparing no sin,
tampering with no lust,
listening to no temptation!
And let us make thorough work of it! Let every sin we detect be confessed over the blood of atonement; let us . . .
grieve over it,
seek the pardon of it, and
pray for grace at once to depart from it!
There is a large difference between worrying about possible future trials–and being prepared for them if they should come. The former we should never do–the latter we should always seek to do. If we do, we are always prepared . . .
for the hard knocks,
for the steep climbing,
for the sore struggle–
and we get through life victoriously.
In moral and spiritual things, it is the same. It is our preparation which preserves us in all the final tests–the strength which lies behind what we need in ordinary encounters. Those who daily commune with God, breathing His life into their souls–become strong with that hidden strength that preserves them from falling in the day of trial. They have a “vessel” from which to refill the lamp when its little cup of oil is exhausted.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
“Prepared for every good work.” 2 Timothy 2:21
“Be prepared in season and out of season” 2 Timothy 4:2
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action!” 1 Peter 1:13
Remember that life is not entirely made up of great evils or heavy trials. The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials is the ordinary and appointed way to mature our Christian graces. To bear with the moodiness of those about us, with their infirmities, their bad judgments, their perverse tempers; to endure neglect where we feel we have deserved attention, and ingratitude where we expected thanks–to bear with the whole company of disagreeable people whom Divine Providence has placed in our way, and whom God has perhaps provided on purpose for the trial of our virtues–these are the best exercises for our graces; and the better because not chosen by ourselves. To meekly bear with . . .
continual vexations in our homes,
disappointments in our expectations,
interruptions in our times of rest,
the follies, intrusions, and disturbances of others;
in short, to meekly bear with whatever opposes our will and contradicts our desires–is the very essence of self-denial. These constant, inevitable, and lesser evils, properly improved, furnish the best moral discipline for the Christian.
Do you know what an earthen vessel is? It’s nothing more than a clay pot.
That’s a reference to our bodies and our abilities in the strength of our flesh. That is all you and I have to offer God . . . a pot. A perishable container.
You may be like brittle, delicate china. You break and chip easily, and you could show the glue marks because of those broken times.
Then again, you may be a rugged, scarred hunk of heavy pottery—not very attractive, but boy, are you useful.
Or you may be composed of clay that hasn’t yet been fired in the kiln; you are still being molded and shaped for use.
To tell you the truth, it isn’t the condition of the pot that’s most important. What’s important is the treasure inside—the light and glory of Christ’s salvation.
What’s a few dings, or even a crack or two? If others can see the glory inside through the cracks, so much the better.
Read | Matthew 7:7-11
We sometimes become impatient in our prayer life. We might get angry or simply throw up our hands and decide God is not listening to us when He doesn’t answer our prayers immediately or in the exact way we hoped. The truth is that God delights in answering our prayers and has provided plenty of promises that should motivate us to talk with Him.
Read today’s passage one more time. If we understand what Jesus was saying in Matthew 7, we will be able to pray with greater confidence.
To ask is the easy part. We request aid in our jobs or protection of our children. We also ask to be drawn closer to God.
Then, to seek is the next step—the action stage of asking. Oftentimes we need to do something before God will bring about an answer to our prayers. For instance, if we pray, “God, please help me understand Scripture,” we must proceed to open the Bible and start reading.
Finally, to knock demonstrates that we’re coming to the Lord with a sense of dependence upon Him. We recognize that we cannot manipulate an answer to our petitions but instead must rely upon His power. What’s more, our ability to “knock” is unique—our God is personal and intensely interested in us.
Jesus uses the words ask, seek, and knock in the present active imperative tense. That means “ask and keep on asking; seek and keep on seeking; knock and keep on knocking.” In the Scriptures, prayer is compared to incense, which implies an unbroken stream that flows from us to heaven. Are you providing a continuous fragrance to the Lord with your prayers?
Hedonism, the final non-Christian worldview we will cover in our brief study of philosophy, can be traced back all the way to the garden of Eden. Genesis 3:6 says that Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit partly because it was a “delight” to her eye. There was a certain amount of pleasure that the fruit gave her when she beheld it, and, no doubt, a degree of pleasure that she thought she would receive should she disobey God and take from the tree. In retrospect, however, Eve found only pain when she and Adam sinned (Gen. 3:7, 16–19).
As a worldview, hedonism is concerned with the maximizing of pleasure and the minimizing of pain. At various points in history it has expressed itself crassly. We can think, for example, of the orgies and drunkenness in ancient Greece and Rome. Other hedonists, however, have been more thoughtful and have done their best to minimize the “hedonistic paradox.” A basic problem with hedonism is that in striving to achieve pleasure you may actually find what you most want to avoid — pain. If you reach too far in pursuit of pleasure you might fail and be frustrated, which is painful. Paradoxically, in looking to satisfy your own lusts you might just find a world of hurt. The Epicureans of ancient Greece are an example of these thoughtful hedonists. They pursued pleasure, but not “too much” in order to avoid the negative consequences of failure.
Tyranny is the logical end of hedonism. Perhaps I can maximize my pleasure only by maximizing your pain. A hedonistic worldview cannot consistently condemn me, since, after all, I am just seeking my own pleasure. Thoughtful hedonists might say pleasure is found only if no one is harmed, but this is an appeal to an objective idea of pleasure, which hedonism denies. Only the group with the most power can maximize its own pleasure when a transcendent norm does not define pleasure.
In part, Christianity is about the pursuit of pleasure, but this pleasure is one that is defined by a transcendent God. Christ says true pleasure is found in life eternal, which, to hedonism’s disgust, can only be found by those who are willing to endure intense pain for the Lord (Matt. 16:24).
Coram deo: Living before the face of God
Hedonism tends to say that the only pleasure worth having is sensual in nature. It is ultimately a futile pursuit, as Solomon says in today’s passage. We are made to have a relationship with an infinite being, and therefore nothing finite can satisfy us permanently. Jesus alone can complete us. As we pursue Him, Christ satisfies us (Matt. 11:30) and will both now, and in eternity, bring us to deeper levels of pleasure in Him.
Read | John 21:1-19
We’ve all made tracks through the valley of failure. What matters is how we respond: do we give up and live a defeated life, or do we believe God can restore us?
The story of Peter’s failure and sub-sequent restoration gives us tremendous encouragement. Jesus knew that Peter would fall short, but He had specifically prayed for the disciple’s faith not to fail. The Lord also told him ahead of time that failure would not be the end of the story—Peter would stand up again and strengthen the others.
Notice an important distinction: Peter failed; he wasn’t a failure. The Enemy wants us to view how we fall short as part of our identity rather than something that has resulted from our actions. But the truth is that we belong to God, and our shortcomings can actually prepare us to be used more greatly by Him. In His hand, such times in our lives are tools to push our walk forward in great leaps. In order for the Lord to mold Peter into the leader of strength and humility he’d soon become, the disciple’s heart needed to undergo purification by being broken.
When we build walls around our heart to deny God access, we are resisting much-needed brokenness and healing. If we want to see the Lord use us, we must allow Him to get rid of the “chaff” that prevents us from reaching our maximum potential.
Amazingly, failure can be the catalyst that moves us to a whole new vision of what God is doing in our lives. He can utilize our missteps to bring into focus His plans and purposes for our life. The result will be glory to Him and blessing to us.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7.15, ESV).
I think we could all agree that the United States needs a spiritual awakening. We can’t bring a revival about, but we can pray for one. And God tells us, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
When Jonah went to Nineveh, he delivered a message of judgment: In forty days, Nineveh would be overthrown (see Jonah 3:4). There was no promise of forgiveness, no mention of God’s love. Jonah basically was saying, “You are all going to die.” And as far as he was concerned, he could have cared less.
But the people listened to Jonah and repented. And the Bible tells us, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (verse 10).
This was probably the greatest revival in human history. And it started with a flawed message from a flawed messenger.
We are all flawed messengers. But we have a perfect message: It is the good news of Jesus Christ. We can tell people that God loves them, that God will forgive them, but they are separated from Him by their sin. And if they will turn from their sin and put their faith in Christ, they can be forgiven.
Though we can’t bring about a revival, we can pray for one. So here is my challenge to you: Don’t isolate. Infiltrate. As I have often said, Jesus did not say that the whole world should go to church; He said that the church should go to the whole world.
Hunger is a mark of health–and the lack of appetite proclaims disease. The cessation of the desire for knowledge, shows that intellectual growth has ended.
Just so in spiritual life–dissatisfaction is the token of health. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Blessed are the unsatisfied. Blessed are those who long for more and more. The mark of healthy spiritual life, is an intense thirst for God, and a deep, passionate yearning for closer, fuller, richer, more satisfying communion with Christ Himself. The ideal Christian life is one of insatiable thirst, of unquenchable yearning, of divine discontent–wooed ever on by visions of an increase in spiritual life, new joy, and new attainments in Christlikeness. The best thing in us, is never what we now are, nor what we have already reached–but the longing for that which is yet higher and holier.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
Matthew 8:28–34 “Behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region” (v. 34).
Most, if not all, of the disciples have thus far not been privy to much of God’s great revelation about Jesus. They were not there when Joseph was told that his adopted Son would be of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18–25). Likewise, they were probably not present at His baptism, the occasion on which the Father declared Jesus His “beloved Son” (3:13–17). Having been absent when these things happened, it is understandable that these disciples are not yet fully aware of Christ’s divinity and have been left to wonder about the identity of this Nazarene (8:23–27).
Some of the disciples’ questions begin to be answered in today’s passage. After landing on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the small band of men find themselves in “the country of the Gadarenes,” a region controlled by the town of Gadara, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis. This is an area inhabited primarily by Gentiles, and the two possessed men Jesus and His followers meet are foreigners to God’s covenant with Israel (Matt. 8:28). We know this to be the case because pigs are being raised nearby (v. 30), and no old covenant Israelite would ever be so closely associated with these animals (Lev. 11:7–8).
Demons are driving the two men to violence (Matt. 8:28). Ironically, these spirits reveal Jesus’ identity to the disciples when they beg the “Son of God” not to torment them before their time (v. 29). Apparently, these demons know their time is short and that a day of judgment is coming (see Rev. 20:1–10). Per their request, Jesus sends them into a herd of swine, a sign of His authority over the Devil and a confirmation that the possessed men have been delivered (Matt. 8:32). Unlike the other “exorcists” of His day, Christ dispatches the evil spirits with His word and not with some type of magical ritual. Such measures are unnecessary for the Lord of heaven and earth.
The region’s citizens should be grateful for this miracle, but the people only see a loss of income from the death of their animals. Seeking material prosperity at the expense of true life, these men implore Jesus to leave (vv. 33–34). Regrettably, Matthew Henry comments, too many “prefer their pigs above their Savior, and so come short of Christ, and salvation through him.”
Coram deo: Living before the face of God
Who do you care more about, people or pigs? All of us may be so concerned with our own livelihoods that we fail to serve other people and help those in desperate circumstances. In our pursuit of a certain standard of living we can overlook those who are in need even in our own congregations. Consider going to the leadership of your church and finding out how you may help those in need so that you may imitate Christ’s love for the oppressed.
Read | Psalm 103
We often think of God’s goodness in terms of our tangible blessings and upbeat events. While these surely are expressions of divine goodness, we should not interpret God’s love only by how He demonstrates it in positive circumstances. We often experience His goodness best in our darkest hours—in those situations, He shows Himself to be good in deeper ways, as He alone can (2 Cor. 12:9).
One way the Lord expresses goodness is through His mercy—the tender-hearted compassion He has for us. In the Bible, mercy is usually mentioned in the context of God’s concern for people who are needy or suffering. We constantly see Jesus filled with compassion and ministering because of this mercy (Mark 1:41). He healed many people who cried out to Him for mercy because they recognized their neediness (Matt. 9:27-29).
Remember, it wasn’t the self-righteous Pharisee who was blessed, but the sinful tax collector who realized that he didn’t deserve God’s favor and begged for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). In response to our distress, God offers comfort, not because we’ve earned it, but because He is good. Also keep in mind that through Jesus’ worthiness and sacrifice, all who trust Him as Savior have great worth in God’s eyes(2 Cor. 5:21).
Another expression of our heavenly Father’s goodness is grace. A just God cannot overlook sin, yet because of His infinite goodness and love, He chose to pay our penalty for us. We have access to God’s grace only through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Every day, we should remind ourselves of the Father’s extraordinary goodness to us and thank Him for it.
What fuel is to a car, the Holy Spirit is to the believer.
He energizes us to stay the course. He motivates us in spite of the obstacles. He keeps us going when the road gets rough.
It is the Spirit who comforts us in our distress, who calms us in times of calamity, who becomes our companion in loneliness and grief, who spurs our “intuition” into action, who fills our minds with discernment when we are uneasy about a certain decision.
In short, He is our spiritual fuel. When we attempt to operate without Him or to use some substitute fuel, all systems grind to a halt.
Luke 14:25–33 “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (v. 28).
While most of the philosophies that have shaped American culture are European in origin, pragmatism is at least one worldview that was born in the United States. Its assumptions lie at the heart of postmodernism, that catch-all term used to describe the views that dominate Western thinking in the first part of the twenty-first century.
Pragmatic philosophers are generally agnostic as to whether ultimate, transcendent truth even exists. Even if objective truth exists, they say, it cannot be known, nor is it even worth pursuing. Truth is therefore radically redefined. Traditionally, truth is regarded as that which corresponds to reality. However, truth in pragmatism is what “works.”
This leads to relativism. What “works” for you is not necessarily what “works” for me. Christianity may make me a happier person; thus, it is true for me. Muslims find that Islam makes them happy, and so Islam is true for them since it “works” for them. Rational discussion, or an appeal to a final norm, cannot solve disagreements over what “works”; therefore, the group with the most power wins when pragmatism is wholly embraced. If homosexuality works for me, then I must gain power to silence those who, by convincing others that my behavior is unacceptable, can create cultural impediments that hinder my enjoyment. I will not try to debate those who disagree since there is no universal standard to which we can appeal.
Pragmatism usually looks for immediate solutions without considering whether the answers will work in the long haul. Perhaps the best example of this is the Social Security system in the United States. The problem of people not saving enough for retirement was “solved” by mandating contributions to a government-sponsored savings plan. No one seriously considered whether there would always be enough workers to support these benefits, and now the time is coming when Social Security will be unable to pay out what the government has promised. Jesus opposes this type of short-term thinking, calling us to count the long-term costs of following Him (Luke 14:25–33).
Coram deo: Living before the face of God
The corrupting influences of pragmatism are seen even in the church. “Seeker-sensitive” worship can increase attendance without ever seeing the congregation grow to maturity. Churches targeting specific ages or lifestyles might attract a lot of people from these groups and not minister to those who do not fit certain classifications. Beware of any ministry that emphasizes “what works” and do what you can to help your church avoid slipping into pragmatism.
For further study: