“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!” (Revelation 19:6-7)
Are you beaten down by circumstances? The antidote to our depression and anxiety is surprising to many. But those who have put into practice the prescription of Scripture have found an amazing truth: Praising God lifts us above our trials and reminds us of how He overcomes them.
Why is that? It’s a matter of perspective. When we focus on the turmoil of life and the weakness of our flesh, we get discouraged. When we focus on the problems of the day and the people who seem to oppress us, we get intimidated. On the other hand, our praise reminds us of who God is. As we worship Him, the threats and burdens that weigh us down grow smaller and He grows bigger—at least in our eyes. The thought of an exalted God who is entirely on our side is an awesome inspiration.
We don’t find that perspective in our minds very often. We have subtly but persistently trained our minds to think negatively. We don’t feel like praising God when the bills are overdue or our loved one is lying sick in the hospital. We don’t even feel like praising Him when our lives have gotten mundane and we’ve gotten restless. Perhaps we mistakenly think that our praise is based on how much of His power and love we’ve seen today. It isn’t—or shouldn’t be, at least. It is based on who He is. And He is who He is all the time. For that, we can praise Him. All the time.
That might sound like a platitude, setting us up for insincerity. How robust will our praises be when life has beaten us into the ground? We could end up mouthing the words without ever passing them through our hearts, and we know that’s wrong. But we must try. The more we worship, the more we see who He is and the more sincere our worship becomes. And our perspective jumps from one lowly, impossible place to the side of the God who reigns, both now and forever. Our praise opens our eyes to the truth of the situation: God rules.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
Since the days of the Exodus, wherever a tabernacle or temple stood, faithful Jews would bring the best of their flocks and herds to a priest standing at the altar of God. It was an act of devotion, a commandment handed down by God Himself. There were various reasons for the command: The offering would, at times, serve as a symbol of sin and its ugly consequences; as a sacrifice of gratitude, acknowledging that every good gift comes from God; or as an act of devotion and worship, a gift from a loving heart. Regardless of the reason, the sacrifice always came from God—human beings clearly never created a ram or a bull— and the sacrifice was always a reminder of the horrible gap between the Creator and the created.
God bridged that gap with His ultimate sacrifice, of course—the body of Jesus on an altar made of Roman lumber. The wages of sin were paid in full. There are no more guilt offerings. All that was left for us is to place our lives in Him. Never before had such a gift been given, and never since. Those who accept it have no sin to work off, no condemnation to dread. We’re left standing with nothing but our gratitude.
There is, however, an appropriate response. It has nothing to do with merit or guilt, but only with the thankfulness that should naturally flow from a redeemed heart. It is our spiritual act of worship.
The response is for us to walk to that tabernacle or temple as they did in days of old, approach the Priest, and hand Him the sacrifice we brought out of our gratitude: ourselves. We’re to envision our Priest doing His duty by taking the sacrifice, placing it on the altar, and accepting it in His name. But unlike the death of old sacrifices, this sacrifice lives. It lives a given life, a dedicated life, an altar life. It now belongs to the Priest. We are in His hands.
August 29 – September 4
Love the Lord, all his faithful people! (Psalm 31:23)
Being a living sacrifice is more than a holy obligation; it is a holy passion. It’s the lover who says, “I would do anything for you. I’d sacrifice my life, my dreams, my everything for your welfare.” Few of us love God like that with any consistency, but that’s our goal. And the only way to get there is to ask Him for that kind of love. It’s supernatural. Only He can offer it and maintain it in our hearts.
How do we know if we have it? We’ll know by what fills our minds when we lie down at night and when we wake up in the morning. We’ll know it by where we direct all of our resources and all of our abilities. And we’ll know it by the things we pray for.
If a stranger were to pick up the ledger of our checkbook and read it, would he know that we are lovers of God? If he were to examine our calendar, would he be able to tell that we have a holy desire for a beloved Savior? If he were to hear our prayers, would he find that we’re wholly dedicated to the will of Another? We’re reluctant to answer, because we know our shortcomings. We know how fickle our hearts and how self-directed our desires are. We know we have more than one agenda—God’s plus our own. We know we have a long way to go to be filled with a holy, God-centered love.
That’s okay. God’s grace is more than enough to cover our lukewarm hearts. But He doesn’t want us to remain ambivalent toward Him. He wants to stir us up to a consuming obsession with His goodness, His love, and His plans. He wants us not just to try hard to please Him—we’ve done that and failed so many times—but to delight in Him. Like any lover of another, He wants to be our joy. Like a wife who craves evidence of her husband’s affections, or a husband who looks expectantly for affirmation from his wife, our God—though never needy—wants to be adored.
Can we adore Him? We must—it’s our created purpose, and it’s the only love we’ll ever have that will leave us completely satisfied. All others fall short. But passion for Him always fulfills.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
When you were first saved, you probably told God that you surrendered all of your desires, plans, skills, talents, relationships, and resources to Him. (If not, stop reading and consider doing that now.) That pledge is a serious one, and most of us have made it with all sincerity and even enthusiasm. We’ve begun to see ourselves as His possession, available for His purposes. We gave Him the keys to our lives—keys that we wrongly held as our own. And, according to His plan, He probably began to test our devotion.
That’s the catch. The thought of letting Jesus have our all was liberating when we first had it. But when He begins to take our word for it, we balk. Did He remove a loved one from you? Threaten your financial security? Limit the use of your time or talents? It hurt. It had to. He has to make our devotion more than theoretical. He won’t let us live under an illusion that we have surrendered all to Jesus when we haven’t. In our hearts, we have to let everything go but Him.
It’s often a shock that God would actually take us up on some of our offered sacrifices. When we tell Him we’ll go anywhere and do anything for the glory of His name, we have to mean it. He already knows whether we’re authentic in our devotion, but do we? No, we have to see for sure. When we develop hard feelings toward Him because He has not given us what we wanted, He has opened our eyes: We wanted some things more than Him.
Did you mean it when you told God, “I give my life to You”? If so, His removal of your props should be no surprise. We cannot “give” Him our lives and then complain when He takes them—or painfully touches them. Our lives are His. What business is it of ours if we are uncomfortable under His management? He has higher purposes than we do, and we trust Him. We’ve surrendered all.
September 12 -18
Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. (Psalm 97:11)
We want our lives to be filled with light and joy. So often, they aren’t. Discouragement, depression, and darkness threaten often. Why? Are we targets of the dark enemy? Are we victims of circumstance in a fallen world? Or might we be contributing to the problem ourselves?
There are many possible sources for our dark days, but one of them is a possibility we’d rather not face. We don’t want to think that we’re responsible for our downcast hearts, but we may be. God has given a promise. Those who are righteous see light, and those who are upright in heart have joy. The blessings of a life that is right with God are certain.
Why don’t we experience those blessings as often as we’d like? It can’t be that the promise of God has failed. Perhaps we have. Perhaps we aren’t righteous or upright in heart. Perhaps what is stealing our joy is a struggle within us for dependence on Jesus’ righteousness and victory over sin.
Think about it: We’re most discouraged when we feel defeated. And when would a Christian feel defeated? When he or she knows that God has commanded an obedience or an attitude that we just can’t seem to comply with. In other words, sin gets us down. The primary struggle in the human heart is a battle of the wills. When we lack joy, it may be because we’re losing that battle—or, more accurately, winning it when we shouldn’t. The heart laments its own unbelief and disobedience, and when it does, there is no peace.
Do you lack joy? It probably isn’t a fault of your circumstances or your brain chemistry, although those can certainly have their effects. Look first at your heart. Is it questioning promises that God has emphasized? Is it reluctant to surrender all your cares to Him? Does it trust His will? Is it able to say, even when life is tough, that God’s grace is greater? Those are hard questions, but our internal struggles demand answers. We can’t know peace until these are settled. He has promised: Joy and light come to those who are unreservedly His.
Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)
Nowhere in the New Testament is love defined simply as a human emotion. Biblical love is much more radical than that. It extends farther than the world’s love—to enemies and strangers—and it also goes deeper—to sacrificial offerings of adoration. We love because God adamantly insists that we be like Him. So where would we go to take our cues? Jesus is our example.
Jesus loved us and gave Himself as an offering. He considered His momentary human feelings of no account; a higher consideration than self took Him to the cross. He defined love for His disciples as laying down a life for a friend; and He gave them an object lesson they would never forget. The visual illustration of this kind of love is to stick with us as well. It’s the example Paul gives to the Ephesians: We are to love in the same way that Christ loved us. Paul wrote to the Romans of the call to be a living sacrifice. Using Jesus as our model is a reiteration of the same theme.
Think of Jesus’ kind of love: He embraced cheaters and prostitutes. He touched lepers and dead people. He was sometimes very tender and sometimes very harsh. He always told the truth, even when it hurt. He loved sinners but hated sin. He let people self-destruct, never compromising principles for the sake of sentiment. He was incredibly patient with hardheaded disciples. And He bled.
Does that description of Jesus’ love reflect the kind of love we show each other in the church and in the world? Probably not. We have a long way to go. But there’s no way we can worship this God without a desire to be like Him— especially in His love.
Paul frequently makes Jesus our prime example. So much for attainable goals. But a God worth worshiping would never settle for mediocrity anyway. We must press on. His love compels us.
September 26 – October 2
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
The resurrected Jesus showed His wounds to the doubting disciple, and floodlights filled Thomas’ mind with truth. He couldn’t restrain his reaction: He not only called Jesus “Lord”— he had likely done that many times before—but he also called Him “God.” That doesn’t flow easily from the mouth of one human being to another. Only a crisis of the soul can lead us to such a conclusion. Thomas had such a crisis. He had doubted the Resurrection and then was confronted with the incarnate Word about it. It blew his mind.
The same thing happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. Initially, Paul didn’t know whom he had seen, but he knew enough to call Him “Lord” (Acts 9:5). The response must have been staggering: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Like Thomas, it blew Paul’s mind.
This world isn’t very comfortable with God-men. We’ve only had one—the only One—and He didn’t fare too well in public opinion polls. Neither have His disciples. We’ve had a hard time convincing the skeptics that there really are holes in the hands and feet, and that there really is a dazzling Lord who can appear to His persecutors whenever He wants. Many in the church are not exactly comfortable with the deity of Jesus, either. Teacher, Healer, Prophet, and such titles are generally not a problem. Even “Lord” seems to fit. But God Himself? In human flesh? A rabbi in the Middle East a couple of millennia ago? We’re not sure we want to go that far.
The story of Thomas’ moment of truth is noteworthy because of Jesus’ silence on the subject of His deity. Thomas calls Him “God” to His face—and Jesus never corrects him! Angels who are mistakenly worshiped in Scripture correct their worshipers, but not Jesus. He let it go. He let it go because Thomas wasn’t wrong. His moment of truth was entirely true. And that’s critical for us to grasp. We can’t worship the Father in truth without worshiping the Son. Maybe it takes a crisis of the soul to get there, but we must. Jesus is our God in the flesh—and that blows our minds.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
How do we honor God? One of the best ways is to breathe His desires and to crave His will. There aren’t many of us in His body who do that consistently; it isn’t very natural, and it doesn’t appeal at all to the fallen self. But if we knew the glory and the peace of being at one with His will, we’d have no greater craving. God’s desire for us is for us to desire only Him.
To desire God goes beyond the need for His fellowship that we so desperately seek. It is a desire with feet. It works. It isn’t content with only the emotional side of the relationship; it must put godly emotions and allegiances into action. Our desire for Him necessarily includes a desire to work with Him. There’s no way to separate our love and our will.
Jesus didn’t just seek to do His Father’s will from a sense of obligation. There was no drudgery in it. It wasn’t a matter of gritting His teeth and getting it done so He could go about His other business. There was no other business. This was His food—His life, His breath, His passion. Doing the Father’s will was the entire preoccupation of His life. And at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that they are sent out in the same way the Father sent Him (20:21). His food is their food. His love of the Father’s will was to be theirs. And ours.
How can we accomplish such a thing? There’s no way other than God’s way: He fills us with His Spirit. It is He who is working in us, both to will and to work for the Father’s purposes (Philippians 2:13). Not only does He give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), but He also gives us the desires of our hearts. He puts them in there, if we’ve submitted our hearts to Him with delight. Is God’s will your food? Do you seek to accomplish His will as a bonus to pursuing your own, or is His the only one you really care about? The single-mindedness of someone passionate about His will is liberating. Crave His will alone.
Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:18-19)
What would we know of Jesus if everyone had taken care of their own problems? What would Jesus have done if all of His hearers were self-sufficient? Would He have been proud of them? Given His blessing and moved on? Sadly, the nature of Jesus would have remained unrevealed in any place with a high standard of health and welfare.
That fact should not escape us. We often try to clean ourselves up for God so that He won’t have to expend so much time, so much effort—so much mercy—to keep us going. We sometimes feel guilty about needing so much from Him. We don’t want to be the problem child.
But God specializes in problem children. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 should convince us: The good, older brother who complained about the favor given to his younger, more rebellious sibling actually turned out to be the father’s greater problem. That son’s self-sufficiency made him harder to reach and caused him to question the father’s mercy. Jesus’ response to the religious authorities should convince us as well: Those who “have it all together” don’t really have it at all. And God can do little for them.
In the four Gospels, it was the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers, and the demon-possessed who glorified Jesus. How? In their need. They became the platform for Him to demonstrate His mercy. We can do that too.
Are you aware that your neediness honors God? Well, for many of us it isn’t always an occasion for His glory; but it can be—if you will present it to Him humbly and without using your own devices to supercede His. Don’t catch yourself lamenting that you are a high-maintenance disciple. We need to be high-maintenance. We need to realize we can’t—and shouldn’t—maintain ourselves. He is glorified in the way that He keeps us, heals us, restores us, and builds us up.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
God’s Word through Isaiah tells us what kind of God He is. Granted, this prophecy was given to Israel, but logic applies it to everyone He has redeemed. Those whom He has purchased and summoned by name are His.
That has plenty of implications. We might read it as our obligation to serve Him and depend on Him to the neglect of our own sense of autonomy. And it’s true; as His redeemed ones, we are obligated to Him. We were bought with a price. But there’s a warmer, more encouraging side to this verse: God doesn’t go to the trouble to save and cultivate a people only to let them flounder in their own troubles. Even in their rebellion, He saves.
Think of what that means. When we pass through the waters— and we will pass through them—He will be there. When we walk through the fire, no matter how hot it feels, we will not be burned. The Holy One of Israel is the Holy One of all He has bought. He didn’t redeem us to then leave us alone.
Do you see how that changes everything for us? The knowledge of what God has already invested in us ought to be enough to convince us that He will not give up on the investment. A shortsighted, double-minded god might drop his precious investments when they go bad, but not the eternal God of well-laid plans. He knew the day He redeemed you what your future would look like. And He committed to it.
That means that there is nothing you are experiencing now that was not part of His foresight in your redemption. God does not fly by the seat of His pants, picking up those whom He can and abandoning those who have become too difficult. You were redeemed; you are His. That’s a huge obligation, but it’s a huge relief. You are His. He will watch over you as a treasured possession because that is what you are. He is never careless with His property. There is nothing more secure in the world.
October 31 – November 6
“You are . . . the Son of the living God.” . . . “On this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:16, 18)
What is the church? To someone who worships God in spirit and in truth, the church becomes more than an institution. Before that, it can be any number of things: a service organization, a social club, an educational institution, an obligation, a hobby, or even a passion. But as worshipers of Jesus, we know there is something more supernatural about it. It is His body.
Do you see it that way? Many don’t. Many see it as one way to serve humanity among many other ways. Others see it as a fellowship of like-minded friends, akin to a fraternity or a country club. Still others see it as a place of learning, responsible for teaching religion to those who can’t get it in public places. But it’s more. It isn’t just a service organization, though it absolutely must serve others. It isn’t just a social outlet, though it absolutely must have fellowship. And it isn’t just a school, though it absolutely must educate. No, above all of these functions is the church’s essence: It’s a living organism, the actual physical body of Christ in this world. Jesus lives in us— not just individually, but also corporately. Especially corporately.
That only makes sense. Any one of us is insufficient to embody His fullness. So is the church, but a body of millions does so better than a body of one. In our spiritual fellowship, Jesus dwells. Not just the teaching of Jesus, but Jesus. Not just the philosophy of Jesus, but Jesus. Not just His goodwill or His good works, but Jesus. Yes, there will be teaching, a Christian worldview, goodwill, and good works. But that’s because He really lives there, not because we live simply as a memorial to our Founder.
Do you realize the significance of the body of Christ? Do you realize also your significance as a part of it? We do not live simply in remembrance of a Savior. A Savior actively lives in us. We don’t just ask what Jesus would do, we ask what He is doing—right now, in us. Together.