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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity # 29

Faith in Relation to Life (continued)

c. Inexhaustibility

Further, this life is characterized by its inexaustibility. There is no end to it, no exhausting it; it just goes no. As we have already said, it does not get old. We may get old, but that life in us does not get old at all. It goes right on; it is inexhaustible.

d. Incorruptibility

And then, because it is God's life, it is incorruptible. Life is symbolized by salt in the Bible. The symbolism of the new cruse and the salt is just that of the vessel of God with the life of God in it. The presence of that life is the counter to the presence of corruption, wherever it is.

This, of course, is quite clearly seen in the first chapters of the Book of Revelation, containing the challenge and  message to the churches. It was clearly a time of spiritual decay: but we should go further, and say "of spiritual corruption." Strong language, but justifiable. "Thou sufferest the woman Jezebel" (2:20); "Thou hast ... some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel" (2?14). Here is corruption, and the challenge to that state of corruption in the first place is indicated by the announcement of the Lord Himself. "I am ... the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore" (1:17-18). It is as though He were saying, 'I am measuring you by the standard of this incorruptible life, deathless, death-conquering life; I am challenging you in your corruption.' The import of the message is this: 'These conditions of corruption are due to something having arrested the life. If you had the life vibrant and regnant and triumphant, there would be none of these conditions at all.'

The issue then, for the overcoming the setting aside, of all corruption, is that of life. The corrective for false teaching - for heterodoxy - is not orthodoxy. Let us say, changing the words: the corrective for error is life. That is what the Scriptures show. It was so with the seven churches. John, who wrote the Revelation, at about the same time also wrote his letters, and these likewise deal with falsehood, error, decline, decay, corruption, anticharist, and all the rest - a bad state coming among believers; and John's great word in his letters and in the Revelation, as well as in his Gospel, is life. That emerges from the most elementary study of his writings.

John begins his Gospel: "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men" (1:4), and that is the key-note all the time. "The witness (testimony) is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life" (1:John 5:11-12). At the beginning of the Revelation you find: "I am ... the Living One" (1:17-18); you pass on to the "four living ones" (4:6), and their testimony and influence; and you close the Revelation with the "tree of life" and the "river of life" (22:1-2). It is all about life. But that is all presented in a day of corruption. The answer to corruption is not argument, but Divine life.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 30)

Revive Me Once Again

Though you have allowed me to experience much trouble and distress, revive me once again! Bring me up once again from the depths of the earth! (Ps 71:20)
God shows us the troubles. Sometimes, as this part of our education is being carried forward, we have to descend into “the lower parts of the earth,” pass through subterranean passages, lie buried amongst the dead, but never for a moment is the cord of fellowship and union between God and us strained to breaking; and from the depths God will bring us again.
Never doubt God! Never say that He has forsaken or forgotten. Never think that He is unsympathetic. He will quicken again. There is always a smooth piece in every skein, however tangled. The longest day at last rings out the evensong. The winter snow lies long, but it goes at last.
Be steadfast; your labor is not in vain. God turns again, and comforts. And when He does, the heart which had forgotten its Psalmody breaks out in jubilant song, as does the Psalmist: “I will thank thee, I will harp unto thee, my lips shall sing aloud.”
—Selected
“Though the rain may fall and the wind be blowing,
And old and chill is the wintry blast;
Though the cloudy sky is still cloudier growing,
And the dead leaves tell that the summer has passed;
My face I hold to the stormy heaven,
My heart is as calm as the summer sea,
Glad to receive what my God has given,
Whate’er it be.
When I feel the cold, I can say, ’He sends it,’
And His winds blow blessing, I surely know;
For I’ve never a want but that He attends it;
And my heart beats warm, though the winds may blow.”

~L. B. Cowman~

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Parable of Christian Growth

A Parable of Christian Growth

J. R. Miller, 1903


"I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his branches shall spread. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon." Hosea 14:4-6
God's forgiveness is astonishing. If we fail—He gives us another opportunity. Even the saddest ruin of a life, may be built into a holy temple of God. We have it all in a chapter in Hosea. We have the Divine pleading: "O Israel, return unto Jehovah your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity." Then the way back is marked out—confession, repentance, consecration. Then comes the assurance: "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them." Then follows this wonderful promise of restoration and prosperity: "I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon."
It is a picture of beauty and fruitfulness. There had been bareness and desolation. Sin is drought. It causes blight. Every flower fades and every green thing withers. But God's love is like rain. It falls on the parched life and changes it to garden loveliness.
The prophet's words contain a parable of spiritual growth. We may note some of the features, for they belong to all true Christian life.
One of these qualities is purity. "He shall blossom like the lily." Recently a friend sent me half a dozen white lilies, and all the days since they have kept their freshness and their unblemished whiteness. They have preached their little sermon to everyone who has come in, saying, "Blessed are the pure in heart—for they shall see God." Have you ever noticed how earnestly this lesson of purity is taught in the Bible? Thus in one of the Psalms we have the question and the answer: "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? and who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands, and a pure heart."
Then James tells us that we are to have "pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father." He tells us also that we are to keep ourselves "unspotted from the world." We are not to flee away from the world, for our duty is in it, and we must be in it to bless it, to do good in it, to be light in its darkness, to comfort its sorrow; but while in the world we are not to become stained by its sin or to have our garments soiled by its evil.
Someone tells of seeing an enameled plant growing on the edge of a coal mine. Though the black dust floated about it continually, not a particle of it adhered to the plant, and its snowy whiteness took no stain. This illustrates the purity which should always be found in the Christian life—in the world, but unspotted by its evil. That is the way the Master passed through this world. That is the way He would have us go through it.
Something else is necessary, however—more than our own good resolve—if our hearts and lives are to be like the lily in its immaculate whiteness. We need both Divine cleansing and Divine keeping. Meyer tells of calling one day, in his pastoral rounds, on a washerwoman whom he found hanging the last of her day's washing on the line. During his brief stay in her house there came a thick and sudden fall of snow. When he came out the ground was white. "Your clothes do not look as white as they did when I came in," Mr. Meyer remarked. "The clothes are just the same," the woman answered, "but what can stand against God's perfect white?" Compared with the snow, the whitest garments look soiled and dingy. We think we are reasonably pure and good—but when we stand beside the holy Christ—we see that we are unholy and unworthy and need cleansing. We must pray the prayer, "Wash me—and I shall be whiter than snow." Only Christ can cleanse us. Only He can keep us pure and clean. Purity is one of the qualities of the ideal Christian life.
Another quality of a true spiritual life is root. "Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots." Lilies are pure and gentle—but they are very frail, with shallow rooting, easily torn out of the ground. No one comparison tells all the story of a noble and worthy life. The cedar sends its roots down deep into the earth, anchoring it so securely that the wildest storm cannot tear it loose. Purity is essential in a Christian life. Gentleness and delicacy are unfailing characteristics of a Christlike spirit. But there must also be strength. It is never easy to live well in this world. We cannot hope to be kept always in a shelter of tender love, where no storm beats, where there are no struggles. Jesus Christ, God's only beloved Son, faced the most terrible temptations. His life was exposed to all manner of trials. No follower of His can pass through life and miss antagonism. There must bestrength to withstand the tempest—as well as purity to look into God's face. Roots are important, as well as whiteness. The trees that grow on the mountains are deeply and strongly rooted. So if we would stand true, steadfast, unmovable, as we are bidden to stand—we must be anchored by an unwavering faith in Christ.
The root is not the part of the tree that we admire the most. Indeed, it is not seen at all. No one praises it. It creeps down into the dark earth and is hidden. But we know its importance. It feeds the tree's life and then it holds the tree in its place amid the storms. Every strong character must have a deep root. Shallow rooting means a feeble power of resistance. Because it lacked root, the seed sown on rocky ground withered away in the first hot sun. We must be deeply rooted in Christ—if we would endure unto the end.
It takes both the gentleness of the lily, and the strength of the cedar—to make a true Christian character. Gentleness without strength is not noble—it is weakness. Strength without gentleness is not great—it is only brute force. But sweetness and strengthcombined, yield heroic manhood. Such a man was Jesus Christ.
Another quality in the beautiful life is breadth. "His branches shall spread." If there is strength with deep rooting, there will also be the extending of boughs. Life broadens as it grows. We all begin as babies—but we ought not to continue babies. We ought to grow into men, putting away childish things. Some people, however, seem never to advance in spiritual life.
One of the strange freaks of Japanese horticulture, is the cultivation of dwarf trees. The Japanese grow forest giants in flowerpots. Some of these strange miniature trees are a century old, and are only two or three feet high. The gardener, instead of trying to get them to grow to their best, takes infinite pains to keep them little. His purpose is to grow dwarfs, not giant trees. From the time of their planting—they are repressed, starved, crippled, stunted. When buds appear, they are nipped off. So the tree remains only a dwarf all its life.
Some Christian people seem to do the same thing with their lives. They do not grow. They rob themselves of spiritual nourishment, restrain the noble impulses of their nature, shut out of their hearts the power of the Holy Spirit, and are only dwarf Christians—when they might be strong in Christ Jesus, with the abundant hfe which the Master wants all His followers to have.
There is not enough breadth in many lives. We ought to grow in height, reaching up to the fullness of the stature of Christ. We ought to grow in the outreach of our lives. We ought to know more of God and of heavenly things tomorrow, than we do today. We are told that if we follow on we shall know, that if we do the little portion of the will of God, we understand we shall be led on to see and know more of that will. We ought to grow in love also, becoming more patient, more gentle, more thoughtful, more unselfish day by day, extending the reach of our unselfishness and helpfulness.
There is something else about these spreading branches. A little farther down in the chapter we read this: "The people will return and live beneath his shade." People find shelter and rest under the shadow of the good man's wide-spreading life. We all know people of whom that is true—others come and live beneath the shadow of their love, their strength, their beneficence. They live to serve others—not to be served by others. They seek always to do good to everyone they meet. Their doors are ever open to those who come needing counsel, cheer, help, and hope. They are an unspeakable blessing and comfort in the world. Their lives are like trees which cast a wide shade in which children play, beneath which the weary stop in their journey to rest.
There is something very admirable in the beauty of such a life as this picture suggests—a tree putting out its branches to make grateful shade and shelter for earth's hunted ones, hungry ones, weary ones, sorrowing ones. Too many people seek to broaden their lives—only to gather the more into their grasp for their own selfish ends; not to bless the world—but to gain the world for their own enriching. Others there are who seek to draw people to them—but whose branches do not make a safe and wholesome shelter for the weary and the troubled—but rather a poisoned and perilous shadow in which the innocent are harmed or even ruined. We who are Christians should be like trees of blessing, under which others may come, sure of finding only comfort and good.
Another of the qualities of the spiritual life suggested here is beauty. "His beauty shall be as the olive tree." Beauty is a quality of the complete Christian life. Writers note the fact that the beauty of the olive tree is peculiar. There are other trees which are more brilliant, more graceful in form. "The palm tree at once impresses by its elegance, the apple tree by its blossoms, the orange tree by its golden fruit and unique fragrance, the tulip tree by its gorgeous flowers. The olive tree, however, is by no means picturesque—it often looks even stunted and shabby. . . . But the soft delicate beauty grows upon you until, stirred by the wind, the shimmering silver of its leaves makes a picture. Just so, Christian character is often not in the least brilliant, heroic, or striking. The noblest men and women are modest, humble, simple souls; yet they reveal a mild and serious grace which is, in truth, the perfection of beauty."
Thus the olive tree becomes a true symbol of Christlike character—not showy, not flashing its brilliance in the eyes of men—but humble, quiet, adorned with the beauty which pleases Christ. Peter has some good words about true adorning for women: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
There is a clause in Paul's cluster of "whatsoevers" which make up his picture of noble, Christlike character that fits in here, "whatever things are lovely." We must never leave out the things that are lovely, when we are making up our ideal of spiritual life. There are unlovely things in the dispositions of too many people. We who are Christians should seek always to be rid of whatever is not beautiful. Our daily prayer should be, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."
Paul told Timothy that the Word of God is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction." We know what correction is. Young people at school write exercises, and their teachers go over them and correct them, pointing out the mistakes. The Bible, if we read it as we should, corrects our faulty essays in living, shows us the errors in our lives, the defects in our characters, the flaws in our dispositions. What then? "Count that day happy," says Ruskin, "when you have discovered a fault in yourself!" Not happy because the fault is there—but because you know it now, that you may cure it!
Another quality of a true life suggested in this parable of growth is fragrance. "His fragrance will be like a cedar of Lebanon." "A good name is better than precious oil." Another of Paul's "whatsoevers" is very suggestive, "whatever things are of good report." There is an aroma that belongs to every life, which is the composite product of the things that are said about the person. Some men live beautifully, sweetly, patiently, unselfishly, helpfully, joyfully— speaking only good words, never rash, intemperate, unloving words, and walking among men carefully, humbly, reverently; and the fragrance of their lives is like that of Mary's ointment. Other men are ruled by SELF or by the world or by greed—they are of the earth, earthy. They are untruthful, resentful, unloving, of hasty speech—and we know what the stench of such lives is.
There is something very mysterious about perfume. No one can describe it. You cannot take a photograph of it. Yet it is a very essential quality of the flower. The same is true of that strange thing we call influence. Influence is the aroma of a life. The most important thing about our life is this subtle, undefinable, mysterious element of our personality, which is known as influence. This is really all of us that counts, in our final impression on other lives.
"His fragrance will be like a cedar of Lebanon." Lebanon's gardens and trees and fruits made delicious fragrance which filled all the region round about. Every Christian life ought to be fragrant—but there is only one way to make it so. Men gather the perfume from acres of roses and it fills only a little bottle. Your influence, the perfume of your life, is gathered from all the acres of your years—all that has grown upon those acres. If it is to be like the essence of ten thousand roses—sweet, pure, undefiled; your life must be all well watched, pure, sweet, holy, loving, true. Only roses must grow on your fields. The evil as well as the good is gathered, and goes to make the composite influence of your life.
We know how easily one's influence is hurt, how little follies and indiscretions in one's conduct or behavior, take away from the sweetness of one's reputation. Says the author of Ecclesiastes, "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell—so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." We need to think seriously of this matter. We are not always careful enough about keeping out the dead flies. There are many men who are good in the general tenor of their lives, godly, prayerful, consistent in larger ways—but the perfume of whose names is rendered unsavory by little dead flies in their common living. They are not always careful to keep their word; they are not prompt in paying their debts; they are not watchful of their speech; they are not loyal in their friendships; they are indiscreet in their relations with others; they are lacking in refinement or courtesy; they are resentful—we all know how many of these dead flies there are which cause the ointment of some people's names, to send forth an unsavory odor.
We need to watch our lives in the smallest matters, if we would keep our names sweet wherever we are known. Influence is most important. It is our mightiest force for good or evil. Let us keep it pure and good for Christ. Let us keep Christ always in it!
These are some of the lessons which this Old Testament nature-parable suggests. These are some of the essential qualities of a true Christian life. It should be pure. It should be deeply rooted in Christ and strong. It should spread out its branches and become a shelter and comfort to other lives. It should be beautiful with the beauty of humility, truth, and love. It should be fragrant with the aroma of a sweet, holy, and loving life.
Is the picture discouraging by reason of its lofty qualities? Is it so high in its excellence, that we seem unable to reach it? At a recent commencement, one of the speakers told of two scenes he had witnessed. The first was this:
He was in an artist's studio when the artist was about beginning his work on a canvas. He was putting a little daub of paint here, another daub there. There certainly was no semblance of anything beautiful on the canvas. Indeed, there seemed no evidence of any design, no trace of any form or figure, no clue to what the artist meant to do.
That was the first scene. This was the second:
A large company of people standing before a great picture, all admiring it and praising its beauty. This was the finished painting of which the artist, that day a year or two before, was making the first rough outline.
Let us not be discouraged because today the picture has almost none of the beauty which is envisioned in the noble ideal we have been studying. We are only beginning it. Let us continue at our holy task—until in every line it glows with the loveliness of the ideal. But remember we cannot dream the vision upon the canvas—we can put it there only by patient thought, effort, and discipline.
Then let us not forget that God will work with us in our efforts to grow into the Divine beauty, if only we seek His grace and help. There is a story of an artist-pupil who had wrought long at his canvas and was discouraged because the noble vision came so slowly, because his hand seemed so unskillful. Then one day he sat by his easel, weary and disheartened, and fell asleep. While he slept, his master came and, taking the brush, with a few swift touches finished the picture. That is the way our Master does with us, when we are doing our best and seem only to fail. He comes in the stillness and puts His own hand to our work and completes it.
There is one sentence in this parable of growth which is full of inspiration and hope: "I will be as the dew unto Israel." In the East, the dew is almost like rain with us. When there is no dew, everything burns up. When there is dew, the thirsty fields are refreshed. All the wonderful beauty described in these words, is produced by the night-mist or dew.
Now God says, "I will be as the dew unto Israel." What dew does for withering gardens and fields, God says He will do for His people—if they but repent and return to Him. He does not say He will send the dew—He says He will Himself be as the dew. So the dew which renews and refreshes withered lives—is God Himself! Let us learn well this great truth, that God would put Himself into our withered lives. That is the heart of our religion. We are not set merely to copy a picture upon canvas, to imitate a lovely model held before us. Christianity tells us of a Divine Spirit who with unseen hands comes to fashion the picture upon our spirits. "I will be as the dew unto Israel." What the dew or the rain is to the withered fields, God's Spirit will be to our bare, withered lives. We need only to yield ourselves to this gentle Holy Spirit.
Some of us are perplexed to know how we ever can grow into the purity, the strength, the breadth, the usefulness, the beauty, the sweetness of Christ. Imagine a field after long drought, its foliage drooping, its flowers withering, everything on it dying; perplexed and wondering how it ever can grow into garden beauty. Then a cloud comes up out of the sea and pours its gentle rains for hours upon the parched ground. The question is answered. All the field has to do—is to open its bosom to the treasures of the rain. All we have to do in our spiritual need—is to let God's Spirit into our hearts!

The Impact of Sacrifice (and others)


The Impact of Sacrifice

Yesterday we saw how Jesus calls us to sacrifice, and how the devil will do all he can to keep us from that.  Read again Jesus' words,

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

The devil will fight to keep you from sacrifice because he knows several things.

1.  He understands that sacrifice brings the presence of God.  Throughout the Old and New Testaments you will find that whenever men and women sacrificed, God's presence came.  The devil doesn't want more of the presence of God in your life.  He would love for you to live a mediocre, half-hearted life.  But to follow Jesus means self-denial.  When Jesus leads you to sacrifice, it will always bring a greater measure of His life and His presence into your life.  And the devil understands that.

2.  He understands that sacrifice opens a great channel of blessing that otherwise we will not experience.  Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I've received your gift.  It is a sacrifice, a sweet-smelling aroma to God, and my God will supply all of your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."  That promise of needs being met according to a heavenly standard was directly linked to sacrificial giving.

3.  He understands that those who have changed the world were always men and women who sacrificed.  You will not find anyone who has changed the world for good that has not been a person of great sacrifice.  The devil knows that is true!
Don't let Satan keep you from the sacrifice God is calling you to make. 

~Bayless Conley~
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Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”—Matt 26:36    

It is a hard thing to be kept in the background at a time of crisis. In the Garden of Gethsemane eight of the eleven disciples were left to do nothing. Jesus went to the front to pray; Peter, James and John went to the middle to watch; the rest sat down in the rear to wait. Methinks that party in the rear must have murmured. They were in the garden, but that was all; they had no share in the cultivation of its flowers. It was a time of crisis, a time of storm and stress; and yet they were not suffered to work.

You and I have often felt that experience, that disappointment. There has arisen, mayhap a great opportunity for Christian service. Some are sent to the front; some are sent to the middle. But we are made to lie down in the rear. Perhaps sickness has come; perhaps poverty has come; perhaps obloquy has come; in any case we are hindered and we feel sore. We do not see why we should be excluded from a part in the Christian life. It seems like an unjust thing that, seeing we have been allowed to enter the garden, no path should be assigned to us there.

Be still, my soul, it is not as thou deemest! Thou art not excluded from a part of the Christian life. Thinkest thou that the garden of the Lord has only a place for those who walk and for those who stand! Nay, it has a spot consecrated to those who are compelled to sit. There are three voices in a verb—active, passive and neuter. So, too, there are three voices in Christ’s verb “to live.” There are the active, watching souls, who go to the front, and struggle till the breaking of the day. There are the passive, watching souls, who stand in the middle, and report to others the progress of the fight. But there are also the neuter souls—those who can neither fight, nor be spectators of the fight, but have simply to lie down.
When that experience comes to thee, remember, thou are not shunted. 

Remember it is Christ that says, “Sit ye here.” Thy spot in the garden has also been consecrated. It has a special name. It is not “the place of wrestling,” nor “the place of watching,” but “the place of waiting.” There are lives that come into this world neither to do great work nor to bear great burdens, but simply to be; they are the neuter verbs. They are the flowers of the garden which have had no active mission. They have wreathed no chaplet; they have graced no table; they have escaped the eye of Peter and James and John. But they have gladdened the sight of Jesus. By their mere perfume, by their mere beauty, they have brought Him joy; by the very preservation of their loveliness in the valley they have lifted the Master’s heart. Thou needst not murmur shouldst thou be one of these flowers!

~L. B. Cowman~
____________________________


Isaiah 7:14
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Let us to-day go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see Him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in Him, and can sing, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance His miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, "The seed of the woman," not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to His human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that He may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note His humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as "a virgin," not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King! Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.

~Charles Spurgeon~



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity # 28

Faith In Relation to Life (continued)

a. Freshness (continued)

The Church is His new creation. The Church is His new cruse, to refer to Elisha and the falling fruit of the trees of Jericho, because of the lack of this vital element in the water. "Bring me a new cruse," he said, "and put salt therein" (2 Kings 2:20). The waters were healed. And Pentecost is the counterpart of that. The Church is the new cruse with the life in it, to counteract all the death in this world: there is newness of life, and newness of vessel. The Lord Jesus put His finger upon this very principle when He said: "No man" (He might have added, 'much less God') "putteth new wine into old wineskins" (Mark 2:22). It is folly. 'If you do that, you will lose everything', He said. "No man seweth a piece of undressed cloth on an old garment" (vs. 21); neither does God do that kind of thing. He must have everything new and fresh. We could go on. If you look up the words "new" and "Newness", you will be surprised how much they cover in the New Testament. Everything is new where this life is.

b. Productivity

The second feature of this life is its productiveness, or productivity. That is God's method of increase. There is all the difference between putting on, adding to, accretion from the outside, and increase from the inside. That is God's principle, the organic principle of increase and multiplication by life from within, and it really does happen that way. Life produces life, and life produces organisms after its own kind: the seed has the life in itself to reproduce, to multiply a hundredfold.

That is a testimony, but it is also a test and a challenge. If there is no increase, then there is something wrong in the matter of the life. If you and I are not bearing fruit, if we are  not really in the way of increase, then we need to look to this matter of our life. For it is inevitable, it is spontaneous. If there is to be productivity, there must be life: and if there is life, then there is reproduction - unless, of course, we thwart the life or get across the life. If somehow or other we block up the wells, then our fruitfulness ceases.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 29)

What's Your Deepest Desire?

What's Your Deepest Desire


What's Your Deepest Desire? 
Guest Writer: Meet my son-in-law Tripp Prince. We are blessed to have him as our guest writer.

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:51-52

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to rearrange your entire life in order to get it? Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a dream job, or an athletic achievement, we all have things that we deeply desire and pursue wholeheartedly. In fact, we can give ourselves so fully to these pursuits that we never stop and ask if they are, in fact, worthy of our investment of time, money, and emotion.

God deeply desires that we live full and meaningful lives. And yet, so often our picture of “life to the fullest” fails to match up with God’s desire for us. Culturally, we are bombarded daily with a tidal wave of competing promises of fulfillment and happiness. We’re told that happiness is found in sex, money, power, education, and social status. If we have all of these, then surely we’re living the good life! What else could we possibly want or desire?

If we buy into this picture of the good life, then fail to achieve all of these things, we believe that we are failures and we start telling ourselves lies: “If God truly loved me, he would have given me that job.” “If God knew just how deeply I wanted this relationship to work out, he never would have let him leave.” We must remember that the full and meaningful life is never found in our situations or circumstances. Our deepest desires are met when we seek to know and follow Jesus, not because of what he does for us, but simply because he loves us.

In Mark’s gospel, Bartimaeus asks Jesus to heal his blindness. This is a deep desire of his heart, yet he doesn’t simply view Jesus as a miraculous healer passing through town. He isn’t asking Jesus to swoop in and solve his problem so he can get on with living the good life. He knows that in Jesus the deepest desires of the human heart are met; in following Jesus every longing he’s ever had for identity and purpose is now met.

Jesus is inviting you today to explore the deepest desires of your heart. If you’ve sought to find answers in other places but have been left wanting, turn afresh to Jesus. Free yourself from empty promises of fulfillment and find your identity, purpose, and worth in “following Jesus on the way.”

Prayer: Father, give us a desire to know you and have our hearts transformed by your love.

Application: What desires do I have in my heart that I need to turn over to God and ask him to replace with a deep desire to know and follow him?

~Wisdom Hunters Devotional~


Monday, December 28, 2015

Daily Prayer

Daily Prayer

George Everard

Everywhere may prayer be offered up. As men are to pray at all times — so may they pray in all places. "I will that men pray everywhere."
Isaac in the field,
Eliezer by the well's mouth,
Hezekiah on his sick bed,
Nathanael under the fig tree,
Peter on the housetop —
these prayed, and their voice was heard above.
Could a pillar be erected in every spot where acceptable prayer had been offered, how many a place would be dotted over with these sacred memorials.
Far from his own native land, in the midst of a heathen city, a servant of Jehovah once bowed the knee before Him in devout supplication. Daniel was in Babylon; he was surrounded by enemies who were envious of his high position, and eagerly sought for some means of accomplishing his downfall. Yet for a while they seek in vain for some cause of accusation, "No error or fault was found in him, forasmuch as he was faithful." The only occasion they can hope to find against him, is the faithfulness with which he served his God. By their means a decree is made, that for the space of thirty days, no prayer shall be offered to God — except to the King. The penalty of disobedience is a cruel death.
The servant of God, however, abides steadfast in his allegiance. No danger shall make him swerve from the path of duty. He fears not man, for he sees Him who is Invisible. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before!" Daniel 6:10
This incident may guide our thoughts to a few PROFITABLE REFLECTIONS with reference to daily prayer.
It is possible to combine a devout spirit with the utmost diligence in a secular calling. Daniel had upon his hands, the affairs of a whole kingdom. He was no idler. In the due ordering of the realm over which he was set, so diligent and conscientious was he, that for his prudence and success he was highly commended by Darius.
Yet for all this, he was a thoroughly devout man. He walked with God. He retired again and again from the din and hurry of the world, and spoke words in the ear of his Father in Heaven.
With such an example before our eyes, it is in vain for any man to plead that in his particular station in life, to find time for prayer would be out of the question.
Not a few similar instances might be given.
Havelock was not a man to neglect duty, yet it is told us that he never left the camp in the morning without first securing time for prayer. Stonewall Jackson, so renowned for his bravery in the Confederate army, was marked often in the midst of the fight, his horse standing still, his eyes closed, his hand lifted up to Heaven. It was discovered that he was redeeming a moment for communion with God.
In the great Metropolis, a working man had to leave his home for the workshop every morning at six. He seldom failed to rise at four, that he might anticipate the trials and temptations of the day by a quiet season spent at the mercy-seat. It was the same with a Christian man, a gardener in a Suffolk village. Summer or winter, he would never commence his work, without an hour or two first given to the Word of God and prayer.
Does a man profess, "I would pray if I were less occupied — but I have no time!" Interpret this aright. It means, "I have no desire to pray, I have no heart for prayer." Consider honestly, whether this must not be a vain excuse, a mere screen to conceal the real feelings of the heart.
For indeed, what is the purpose for which life has been given? Why are days, and weeks, and months, and years allotted to us? Is it not that we may fear, and love, and serve, and worship Him who created, and then redeemed us? Has life any object worthy of it — if this is passed by? How then can men declare, that they have no time for that, on account of which God placed them in His vineyard? How can a man throw away these precious opportunities, and say, "I have no time to obey Him who gives me every moment I possess!"
Have not men time to sleep, to eat, to converse one with another, to enjoy many of the pleasant recreations of life, to plan for their own comfort and the welfare of their families, to fulfill the duties of their calling — and have they not time for that which is more important than all — to keep near to their Father and to enjoy His love? Let the reader be assured that all such pleadings are but the plain marks of a self-deceived soul. They only prove but too clearly, that those who make them, have never tasted that the Lord is gracious.
We observe also that prayer is a matter of very deep and solemn importance. In the face of a great and immediate danger, Daniel would not give up his usual habit of prayer. No doubt the flesh would shrink from the prospect that lay before him. The fierce monarch of the forest would be no pleasant companion. The den of lions would be no enviable resting place. Yet he dared all things, rather than forfeit the privilege of calling upon God. "He preferred a night with lions, to a day without prayer."
It was no false estimate which the Prophet made of its importance. Whichever way we regard it, we cannot fail to see that it is no light matter.
It is a test of the new-born soul. Whatever differences exist in the family of God, in language, in temperament, in the means of their conversion, in their rank and position — nevertheless, they are alike in this — that, without exception, prayer is as needful to them as the air they breathe. Go north or south, east or west, and where will you find a single one, taught of the Spirit, who does not continually bend the knee at the throne of grace? Since the days that men began to call upon the name of the Lord — since the time that Enoch walked with God, "the bending of the knee" has ever been a distinguishing characteristic of the household of faith.
Prayer is a mighty preservative from surrounding evil. Compassing us around on every side, are evil influences at work which may inflict deadly injury on our souls. Our necessary interactions with those who are not guided by Christian principle — books and publications teeming from the press, which cannot fail to give a wrong bias to the mind unless grace counteracts it — these and many similar perils are ever close at hand.
A humble, prayerful heart is our best defense. One earnest cry for help, casting ourselves upon the guardianship of the Most High God, will avail more than the strongest resolutions made in our own strength. It was thus that Daniel was safe in so ungodly a city as Babylon. It is thus that we too can be preserved.
A forcible illustration has been given of this. The steel workers in Sheffield are furnished with a mask, by which they are enabled to breathe, without taking in the particles of steel that are so dangerous to lungs. But where this needful precaution is neglected, the constitution is injured, and loss of life is frequently incurred.
As necessary to a Christian, is the spirit of constant prayer! The neglect of it imperils the life of the soul.
Walking through the crowded thoroughfares of London, a young mechanic would often tremble at the snares and temptations which were around. As he passed along, there would frequently arise from his heart the cry for help, "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in Your way!" He was kept from falling, he journeyed safely along his heavenly course, and in later years would thankfully recall the mercy that upheld him. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
Prayer is also the great balm of human woes. Go from house to house through a country village, or through a single street in a large town — and what a sad catalogue of sorrows may you reckon up! In one there is a dying parent, or a child fast sinking into the grave. In another there is distressing poverty or financial embarrassment. In a third, perhaps, there is a heart bleeding through some bitter disappointment, or the unfeeling conduct of one beloved. In a fourth there is some secret sorrow which may not be told. In every case, through prayer, relief may be found. By it the sorrowful, afflicted one comes near to a most pitiful Father, and His loving care becomes a sure rest to the weary spirit.
"Prayer is the unburdening of the soul,
The simple act whereby I roll
Each trial, trouble, cross, and care,
On shoulders able all to bear.
The aching heart — the heart oppressed,
Prayer places on a Father's breast,
However heavy be the load,
By prayer I roll it all on God."
The excellencies of prayer may be summed up in the words of John Chrysostom: "Prayer, in a spiritual sense, is . . .
  a haven to the shipwrecked man,
  an anchor to those who are sinking in the waves,
  a staff to the limbs that totter,
  a mine of jewels to the poor,
  a healer of diseases, and a guardian of health.
Prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities. O blessed prayer! You are . . .
  the unwearied conqueror of human woes,
  the firm foundation of human happiness,
  the source of ever-enduring joy,
  the mother of all comfort.
The man who can pray truly, though languishing in extreme indigence, is richer than all beside. While the wretch who never bowed the knee, though proudly seated as monarch of all nations, is of all men most destitute!"
 
The CHARACTERISTICS of acceptable prayer are plainly manifested in the example before us.
A genuine lowliness and humility of spirit was evident in Daniel. "He knelt upon his knees." The posture of his body, denoted the feeling of his heart. In his pleading for Jerusalem, in the ninth chapter, we find him seeking the Lord "with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." He presents his supplication "not for his own righteousness, but for the great mercies" of the Lord. He takes shame to himself for his own sin, as well as for the sin of his people Israel.
There can be no acceptable approach to the mercy-seat without this humble spirit. Pride of all things, is most hateful to the Most High, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." We must sink low in our own eyes, if we would rise high in the favor of God. Abraham accounted himself but "dust and ashes." Jacob regarded himself "as unworthy of the least of God's mercies." The Canaanite woman was willing to be reckoned as "a dog," if she might but receive the crumbsfrom the Master's table. Paul, the chief of the Apostles, esteemed himself "less than the least of all saints," and "the chief of sinners."
The late Haldane Stewart, after more than fifty years of faithful service, was heard to say that of all the prayers in Scripture, none suited him so well as that of the contrite publican in the temple, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Coupled with humility, in Daniel there was also earnest and hearty importunity. This stands out on the face of the history. No better example of earnestness can be found, except in the case of our Lord. Read over the ninth chapter of Daniel. See the earnestness of the prophet also in the fact that, not once or twice, but thriceeach day he called upon God. We must likewise be real and earnest. True heartiness in our petitions is like the hot coal to the incense, which makes the sweet fragrance arise. A languid, half-hearted prayer, petitions for its own denial. Can we expect that God should be earnest in giving — if we are not earnest in desiring and asking?
And as we pray earnestly, so we must also pray constantly. "Pray without ceasing!" 1 Thessalonians 5:17. With Daniel it was thrice a day. With David it was so also, "Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice."
Give special heed to secure time for the morning prayer. As the streets in hot and dusty weather are watered before the traffic of the day begins, so should our hearts by true prayer drink in the dew and rain of Divine grace, that worldly thoughts, murmuring thoughts, unholy thoughts may be kept down.
The prayer of eventide is also to be watchfully remembered. During a single day how much is there that needs forgiveness. Whatever we have done, either in our calling or in the service of Christ, can profit nothing without the Divine blessing. Before the dawn of another day, our summons may come, or the voice of the archangel may announce that time shall be no more. In all this we have reason to seek, evening by evening, the help and grace that are ready to be given to us.
It is also very greatly for our welfare, that the morning and evening prayer should be linked together by many short intervals of prayer during the day. At midday if we can secure but five minutes to be alone with our Father, they will not be lost. And if we have opportunity but for one sentence — for a look — for a thought of prayer — the arrow will not be shot in vain. Nehemiah in the presence of Artaxerxes lifted up his eye to the everlasting hills, and his petition was heard.
Many are the short prayers of Scripture which are very precious to use for such a purpose:
"Remember me, O my God, for good."
"Keep me as the apple of Your eye."
"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
"Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me."
"Lord help me!"
The firm confidence, and joyful expectation of Daniel in prayer, are also worthy of our imitation. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." He lifted up his eye toward Him who dwells in Zion. He believed the promises of Jehovah to those who should worship toward His holy temple. His trust and hope were in Him who had there recorded His name.
Christian, let your face in prayer be toward the heavenly Jerusalem. Let your eye be fixed on your merciful Father, who has said, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it!" Behold also your Advocate, the Righteous One, holding forth the golden censer, and placing therein the petition which you offer. Expect not to find in yourself or in your doings, one single plea on account of which your prayer can be received. Yet plead with sure confidence the Name, and Blood and Mediation of your Surety. He stands alone, as the one Great Priest of mankind. Depend on Him and you cannot fail. Expect confidently, for His sake, every possible spiritual blessing that you seek, and you shall not be disappointed. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24
To offer prayer in a doubting, mistrustful spirit is to hinder its progress towards Heaven. If you cut the wings of a bird before you let it fly — it will be sure to fall back to the earth. Don't cut the wings of your prayer by unbelief; rather fledge it by holy reliance upon the faithfulness of the promise. "Let a man ask in faith, without wavering."
We notice also, that the prayer of Daniel was accompanied with thanksgiving. "He prayed and gave thanks before his God." The two are rightly joined together. They should ever go hand in hand. Whenever a new prayer is recorded in God's book, answers to former prayers, proofs of His past loving kindness, should be recalled to mind. "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving — let your requests be made known unto God."
Praise is one of the most blessed parts of worship.
It is a joyful and a pleasant thing.
It unseals the lips.
It anticipates the joy of the redeemed above.
It banishes dark thoughts.
It puts the great enemy to flight.
It makes the Christian hopeful for the future.
It glorifies God.
A very large proportion of the Psalms consist of devout adoration and giving of thanks. The last five Psalms all begin and close with the same note: "Praise the Lord!" "O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
None other than the Holy Spirit can teach us to pray as God would have us. All true humility, all hearty fervor, all filial confidence, all joyful praise — is the sole fruit of the Divine Spirit. "Praying in the Holy Spirit." "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." "The Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." This must be our reliance.
The mouth of the well may be stopped by some stone of earthliness or unbelief, but the Spirit can roll it away, as easily as the angel rolled away the stone from the sepulcher of Christ. The inner man may be as a bird within a cage — it would fly upwards, but yet can only chafe itself against the bars of its prison-house. The Spirit, however, can unfasten the door, and the soul can then mount upward to the throne. Though our desires are faint, though our faith is but as a grain of mustard-seed, still let us wait for the anointing of the Holy One, and pray on.
Though I fail, I weep,
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To Your throne of grace.
We cannot close our consideration of this incident in the life of Daniel without observing, how surely the voice of believing prayer reaches the Father's ear.
Plain was the answer given. A marvelous deliverance was granted to the Prophet. The mouth of the lions was shut — they had no power to harm him. The word of David was true in his case. "You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent!" Psalm 91:13
Equally distinct and immediate, was the answer to the prayer of the ninth chapter. Even "while speaking in prayer," the angel Gabriel was sent forth to him with a message of peace. Very beautifully was there thus fulfilled the promise uttered some two centuries and a half before: "And it shall be that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear." Isaiah 65:24
A marvelous invention is at work, by which, with great rapidity, messages can be conveyed from city to city, and from country to country. Even beneath the waves of the wide ocean, the cable is laid down by which one continent is linked to another, and by which words, in a few minutes, can be spoken to a friend on a distant shore.
Just so, true prayer links together earth and Heaven, and is more speedy than any telegraph. One moment it arises from a believer's heart — the very same moment it reaches the ears of the Lord Almighty!
King Hezekiah receives from the lips of the prophet Isaiah, a warning that death is near. Immediately he turns his face to the wall, and prays that his life may yet be spared. Mark how quickly the petition has sped — how quickly the reply is dispatched. Before sufficient time has elapsed for the Prophet to leave the king's palace, "before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court," he was bidden to return to the king, and announce to him that his prayer was heard, and that fifteen years should be added to his life. (2 Kings 20.)
It is true waiting times are often appointed to praying souls. It is not however because the prayer is unheard — but the due time for the blessing has not yet arrived. The longer the delay — often the larger is the gift. It has been said, "Ships that make the longest voyages bring home the most valuable cargoes. So prayers, long unanswered, come home freighted with the richest treasures."
Whether sooner or later, God has pledged His faithful word, that no petition offered in Christ's name, and according to His will, shall fall to the ground. As a dying saint once expressed it, he could see "all his prayers as a cloud of blessing before the throne, there waiting to greet him."
Our part is faithfully, perseveringly to pray. It shall be God's part faithfully, abundantly to answer.
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us — unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end! Amen."
From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
'Tis found beneath the mercy-seat!
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads —
A place than all beside more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy-seat.

Ah! where could we flee for aid,
When tempted, desolate, dismayed!
Or how each mighty foe defeat,
Had suffering saints no mercy-seat?