Category Archives: Ray Stedman

September 3 Suppressing the Truth

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:18-20

Here we see the cause of the wrath of God. The apostle explains that it is “the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” that causes God’s wrath. The tragic aspect of life is caused by the attitudes men have and the subsequent actions that follow. Notice the order of this — godlessness and then wickedness. It is the godless attitude that produces the wicked actions, and that is why the wrath of God is being revealed constantly from heaven against man. What is godlessness? Godlessness isn’t necessarily atheism, the belief that God doesn’t exist. Godlessness is acting as though he doesn’t exist. It doesn’t necessarily deny that there is a God, but it never takes any account of him; it doesn’t expect him to be active.

As a result of godlessness, there is unrighteousness or wickedness, selfish and hurtful acts of men toward one another. Why do we act selfishly? Why do we hurt each other? Because we disregard God, and expect there will be no consequences. That is Paul’s analysis. By means of these hurtful and selfish acts, the truth is suppressed.

Here we are in a world in which truth from God is breaking out all around us, but we are busy covering it up, hiding it, suppressing it, keeping it from being prominent and dominant in our thinking. The reason life has turned tragic in so many cases is because the world is deprived of the truth that is necessary for life and liberty and freedom and godliness, and it is hidden by men and suppressed by them. The nature of the truth that is suppressed is the existence of a God of eternal power and majesty.

How has God made truth plain? The Scripture says that God has revealed himself to man. Truth is not a vague, invisible, difficult thing to comprehend; it is clearly seen. God himself has insured that. How? The Scriptures say, “It is seen in that which is made,” i.e., creation. From the creation of the world it is visible; i.e., it has been always and everywhere present. There is no one who is left out — all can read this revelation of God if they want to do so. This argument from creation’s design and order has never been rebutted. Those who disregard God cannot explain it because truth about God is breaking out everywhere around us.

Thus, says the Scripture, people are without excuse. No one who really wants to find God need miss him.

Father, help me not to suppress the truth, but to bow before you as both my Creator and Redeemer.

Life Application

Blatant suppression of Truth in the public square is undeniable. What about our lives? Are we suppressing God’s Truth by neglecting to know and obey the revelation of Truth in His Word?

Source: Suppressing the Truth

August 5 Do You Remember?

The word of the Lord came to me: Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them, declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 2:1-3

This is part of the first message of Jeremiah to the nation of Judah. It highlights for us what God has to say to someone who has begun to drift away from him. Have you ever had that problem? I find there are times in my life when, without even realizing it, I have begun to lose some of the fervor and the joy and the peace which marks the presence of God in my life, flowing through my life as it ought.

The tragic thing about that condition, as so exemplified in the nation of Judah, is that this can happen, but nobody knows what is wrong. That was happening to Judah. They really blamed God for the whole thing. That is what most of us do, too. Judah said it was God’s fault, that he did not keep his promises, did not deliver them when he ought to, did not keep them from their enemies as he promised. They were charging God with gross misconduct and with inability to keep his promises.

So God has something to say to this nation. What does he say? The first thing he says is call them to look back and reflect on what life was like when you first began a love relationship. God says, I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me. In marital counseling I have dealt with couples who have been married twenty-five or thirty years but who are having difficulties. They are tense, angry, upset, and sometimes they will not even speak to one another. I have had to sit down with couples like that and try to find a way to begin a healing process. Long ago I learned the best way is simply to say, You know, before we start, I need to get acquainted with you a little bit. Tell me something about yourselves. How did you meet, and where? You can feel the atmosphere soften, and their hearts begin to expand a bit, as they think back to the days when they were not angry or upset, but were in love, and as they remember what that meant. Half the battle is won when you can get couples thinking back to what it was like when they first knew each other.

Do you remember those first days in the relationship between you and the Lord — the wonder of love, and the joy of it? What the prophet is bringing out here is that at such a time, the loved one is the chief priority of life. No other relationship is more important than yours with him, or his with you. He is preeminent in your affection. This is what God is wanting you to recall. This is the first thing God says to a heart which has begun to drift — Remember, remember — what it was like when you were secure in my affections, separate unto me, like Israel, holy to The Lord and exclusively his. Remember that you are the first fruits of his harvest. Remember that you are safe — I protect you. Do you remember your first days?

Thank you, Father, for the way you call me back to my first love with you.

Life Application

‘The bride eyes not her garments but her dear Bridegroom’s face.’ Have we become so self-consumed we have lost our focus on our Bridegroom? Do we need to return to our first-love?

The Way Back


Source: Listen to Ray

June 12 In My name

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

“Whatever … anything … I will do it.” We sense immediately that this is too wide. If we take this as absolutely unlimited, a sort of magical Aladdin’s lamp that we can rub and ask for any possible thing in the world, certainly we have missed the true point of this passage. It is too wide to take unreservedly. We sense also that it is too contradictory if taken without limit. We can see problems arising. What if a Christian athlete is praying for clear weather and a Christian farmer is praying for rain? Which one wins?

No, this promise cannot be limitless. There is a condition here. Our Lord means exactly what he says but we must understand what he says. This is a magnificent promise of vast scope, of tremendous encompassment, but what he says is “if you ask in my name.” This is the condition.

That certainly means a great deal more than a magical formula to tack on to the end of our prayers. There is nothing quite as pagan, or silly, as this meaningless phrase, “this we ask in Jesus’ name,” added to our prayers without any understanding if the prayer is actually being asked in Jesus’ name. We do this because it is traditionally acceptable, and we do not understand what “in his name” means. “In Christ’s name” means in his authority and on the basis of his character.

All of us are familiar with the phrase, “In the name of the law.” Policemen do their business “in the name of the law.” Suppose a policeman goes into a cheap slum area of the city at three o’clock in the afternoon. He is called there because of some murderous activity that is going on, and he comes up to the address that has been given him, and knocks at the door, and says, “Open in the name of the law.” No one opens the door, so after he knocks again and requests that it be opened in the name of the law and there still is no answer, he breaks it down and goes in. But what if that same policeman is drunk? He is out in a residential area and for some reason on his own, in his drunken stupor, he stumbles up the steps of a house, and knocks on the door, and says, “Open in the name of the law.” Those within hear the thick voice and recognize that it is a drunk and refuse to open. So the policeman breaks down the door, and when he does, he is arrested and taken to jail himself.

Why? It is the same action, and exactly the same man. What is the difference? One was truly done in the name of the law, the other was done outside the law, even though the same words were used. One was authorized activity, the other was unauthorized. That is what Jesus means. When we ask in Jesus’ name we are to ask within the realm and scope of his work and his character. Whatever he is interested in having done on earth, then we, as the instruments of his activity, are involved in accomplishing it. “Whatever you need,” he says, “ask for it and it shall be done.” Whatever! Anything! If it is a need within this limit, you can ask for it and it shall be done, without failure.

Lord, search my heart and save me from talking truth and not living it, of echoing orthodoxy but refusing to submit in practical ways. Keep me from this, that I may know the fulness of the glory of these promises fulfilled in my life.

Life Application

Have we been naively tacking the name of Jesus onto our prayers? Is this equivalent to using his name in vain — a manipulative gimmick? How can we truly honor the name of our Lord Jesus in our prayers?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Holy Spirit and Prayer

Source: https://www.raystedman.org/daily-devotions/prayer/in-my-name

June 10 Ask, Seek, Knock

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Take careful note of what Jesus says, for he suggests that there are three levels of prayer: ask, seek, and knock. You can remember them, incidentally, if you will take note of the fact that the initial letters spell the word “ask,” “a” ask, “s” seek, “k” knock. There you have a little formula for prayer. Now mark these three different levels. The circumstances of each are vastly different, but the answer is the same.

The simplest and easiest level, of course, is ask. What he means is that there are certain needs which require a mere asking to be immediately and invariably met, and the range of these needs is far wider than we usually give credit for. For instance, reading through the New Testament, it becomes clear that our need for Christlike attributes lies in this category. If we need love, courage, wisdom, power, patience, they all lie in this realm. Simply ask, that is all, ask, and immediately the answer is given. Is that not what James says, “If any man lack wisdom.” What? “Let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,” (James 1:5 KJV). And what? “It shall be given.” That is all, it shall be given. Let him ask and it shall be given.

A second level of prayer is denoted by this word “seek.” You cannot think of what it means to seek without seeing that our Lord injects here an element of time. Seeking is not a simple act, it is a process, a series of acts. Jesus says there are areas of life that require more than asking; there must be seeking, searching. Something is lost, hidden from us, and prayer then becomes a search, a plea for insight, for understanding, for an unraveling of the mystery with which we are confronted. Again, the answer is absolutely certain. Seek, and you will find!

There is still a third level which involves knocking. Here, both time and repetition are involved. A knock is not a single rap, it is a series of raps. It is a request for admittance, repeated if necessary, and it suggests situations where we seek an entrance, or an opportunity. Someone has perhaps erected a barrier against our witness or against our friendship and we are seeking to surmount that, to get behind the wall of resistance and to have an opportunity freely and openly to speak, or to share, or to enter into a life. That requires knocking. Perhaps we have an unshakable desire to begin a certain type of work or ministry from which we are now excluded. We long to move into that area, we feel God leading us, calling us, to be this or do that. That requires knocking. We hunger, perhaps, after knowledge or friendship or as the Word of God says, “Hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). We are looking for an opportunity, seeking an entrance into an area that is now restricted from us. This requires knocking. We come before God and boldly and repeatedly ask, each time making an endeavor to enter in, for we are resting on the solid assurance that what Jesus says here is true, “Knock, and it shall be opened.”

Lord Jesus, I ask that these words may come with fresh and vital meaning to my heart; that there are things I need to ask for and take immediately from your hand, others that I need to seek for, still others for which I need to knock and wait, and knock again, knowing that in every case without exception your word is sure.

Life Application

Are we carefully noting the three aspects or stages of prayer given us by Jesus? Are we observing these as we make our requests of our Father? Do we have not because we are not even asking Him?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

Prayer’s Certainties

Source: https://www.raystedman.org/daily-devotions/prayer/ask-seek-knock

June 9 Unrecognized Temptation

And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:4b)

This part of the Lord’s prayer deals with the realm of the spirit. In the unseen war of the spirit, the greatest needs of our life are deliverance and protection. But an immediate problem arises here, for Scripture reveals that temptation is necessary to us, a very real part of our life in this fallen, flawed world. No one escapes it in the Christian life. Furthermore, though God himself never tempts us to sin, yet he does test us in these difficult and discouraging circumstances, and these things become the instruments of God to strengthen us, to build us up and thus to give us victory. When we read this prayer, then we are confronted with this question: “Are we really expected to pray that God will not do what he must do to accomplish his work within us?” After all, even Jesus, we are told, was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. What then does he mean?

I confess I have puzzled and prayed and read about this, and I am convinced that what he means here is that this is a prayer to be kept from unrecognized temptation. When temptation is recognized as such, it can be resisted, and when we resist, it is always a source of strength and growth in our life. If I am filling out my income tax and I find that some income has come to me through other than ordinary channels and there is no way of anyone checking it, I am confronted with a temptation to omit it, but I know it is wrong. No one has to tell me; I know it is wrong. When I resist that, I find I am stronger the next time when a larger amount is involved. You see, when we recognize lust as lust and hate as hate and cowardice as a temptation to be a coward, this is one thing. It is a rather simple matter to resist obvious evil, if we really mean to walk with God. But temptation is not always so simple. There are times when I think I am right, and with utmost sincerity and integrity of heart I do what I believe is the right thing, and, later, look back upon it and see that I was tragically wrong.

Peter is an example on this. In the Upper Room, with brashness and confidence and utter naiveté, Peter said to the Lord, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). They walked out of the Upper Room with the words of our Lord ringing in his ears, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Still confident, Jesus said to him there in the Garden, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). But Peter did not heed that word. Instead he slept, and our Lord came and woke him again and asked him to pray. But Peter did not pray, and when he came into the court of the High Priest and was standing before the fire, Satan took him and wrung his courage out like a dish rag and hung him up limp, to dry in the presence of a little girl. There, with cursing and swearing, he found himself trapped, denying his Lord, and in the awful realization of what he had done he went out into the blackness of the night and wept bitterly.

This is what our Lord refers to in this phrase. This prayer is the recognition of our foolish weakness and our tendency to stumble on into blind folly. It is what we desperately need to pray.

Lord, I confess my utter helplessness apart from you. Lead me not into unrecognized temptation.

Life Application

Are we self-confident about our own ability to recognize the subtleties of temptation? Do we follow our own instincts or do we honestly, consistently pray for the discernment of God’s Holy Spirit?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

When Prayer Becomes Personal

Source

June 8 Forgiven and Forgiving

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4a)

Here is the need for a cleansed conscience, for a sense of peace, of rest with God and man. This is the arena where the emotional clutter of our life takes a very deadly toll. Who of us has not experienced troublesome mental symptoms, morbid depressions and unreasoning fears and insecurity? Both Scripture and modern psychology, in its groping after truth, agree that underneath these symptoms lurk two frightening monsters: Fear and Guilt. If we can find a way to slay these fiery dragons, the whole emotional atmosphere of our life will pass into peace.

When we pray, “Forgive us our sins,” we are asking for the reality that God promises to every believer in Jesus Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1a KJV). I do not know anything that troubles Christians more than a sense of guilt. But in this simple prayer is a fully adequate answer, for if we have laid hold of the forgiveness of God, we know there is nothing any longer between us and the Lord. Our hearts there are absolutely free before him and the result is a pervading sense of peace.

But notice, now, Jesus immediately adds a limitation to this. We cannot say to God, “Forgive us our sins,” unless we are willing and have said to others that they are forgiven for their sins against us. Jesus is not referring here to that divine forgiveness that accompanies conversion. The Lord’s Prayer is meant for Christians — for only Christians can really pray it intelligently. No non-Christian ever receives forgiveness from God on the basis claiming to forgive everyone else. It is impossible for him to forgive until he himself has first received the forgiveness of God, and that forgiveness is offered because of the death of Jesus. We Christians come thanking him for what the death on the cross has already done in taking away the awful burden of our sin.

But, having received that forgiveness, we will still never rest in God’s forgiveness for the defilements of our Christian walk unless we are ready to extend that same forgiveness to those who offend us. This forgiveness keeps us enjoying unbroken fellowship with the Father and with the Son, which is the secret of emotional quietness and rest. Jesus is simply saying that, if you are a Christian, then there is no use praying “Father, forgive my sins” if you are holding a grudge against someone else, or burning with resentment, or filled with bitterness. Your soul will always be distracted. What he says is, face that first, “First be reconciled with your brother, then come and offer your gift at the altar,” (Matthew 5:24b RSV). Forgive him, and then the healing forgiveness of God will flood your own heart and you will find there is nothing then that can destroy the God-given peace down at the very center of your being. If we refuse to forgive someone else we are really withholding from another the grace that has already been shown to us. It is only because we have already been forgiven the great and staggering debt of our own sins that we can ever find the grace to forgive the relatively paltry slights someone else has heaped upon us.

Father, thank you for the forgiveness you have promised through the work of Jesus on the cross, and thank you that knowing this forgiveness frees me to forgive others.

Life Application

Are we blocking the fullness and freedom of God’s forgiveness of our sins by refusing to extend to others the same grace of forgiveness God has made available to us?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

When Prayer Becomes Personal

June 7 Praying for Your Body

Give us each day our daily bread.” (Luke 11:3)

Jesus begins this section of the prayer with the needs of the body. I like that! We have such distorted ideas about prayer that we often feel there is something wrong with praying about physical needs. This is a reflection of a pagan concept of life. The Greeks regarded the body as unworthy of redemption and they therefore mistreated it. They beat their bodies and tormented them. You find this philosophy widespread today, this idea that the body must be subdued by physical torment or suffering, but you never find this in the New Testament.

Prayer must begin on this level. God likes bodies. God engineered and designed them. It is perfectly proper that we pray about the need of the body. Bread here is a symbol of all the necessities of physical life. It stands for all that our physical life demands — shelter, drink, clothing — anything that the body requires. The vital concern in this area is that there be available to us an immediate unbroken supply. So this prayer moves right at the issue when it says, “Give us each day our daily bread.” The only limit in this prayer is that we are never to pray for a warehouse — a full supply for a year ahead. We are to pray for one day’s supply.

Do we pray daily for our physical needs? Do we pray about the supply of our food, clothing, shelter, and all the physical necessities of life? Do we take time to ask God for them or at least to give thanks for them? Perhaps this has become such a familiar request in the repeating of The Lord’s Prayer that we do not take it seriously. It may be that this is the most flagrant and frequent area of Christian disobedience. For, after all, our Lord meant it when he told us to pray “give us each day our daily bread.”

Some might argue that Jesus said elsewhere, “Your Father knows that you have need of these things even before you pray” (Matthew 6:8), so it is not to inform God of our needs. There are others who say it really makes little difference, whether they pray about physical things or not. They get the necessities of life regardless. Furthermore, some say there are many people who never bother to pray at all and who are eating steak and ice cream while we Christians are trying to get along on hamburgers and jello. What is the point, then, of praying?

If you want to see why, ask yourself, “What happens to me when I neglect this area of prayer?” If you are honest, you will see that a slow and subtle change occurs in the heart of a Christian who does not pray about material things, who does not take time to thank God for his daily supply of the necessities and the luxuries of life. What happens is that we take these things for granted, and gradually we succumb to the quite foolish delusion that we can provide these necessities ourselves. We become possessed with the incredible vanity that our wisdom and our abilities have really made these things possible. And when we begin to think that way, we find pride swells within us and a kind of blindness settles upon us, a blindness which darkens our spiritual insight, and we become moody, restless and depressed.

It is we who need to give thanks to God, it is we who must always be reminding ourselves that everything we have comes from his hand, and that any moment he can turn it off if for any reason he may choose, that it is only his grace and his goodness that keep it flowing unhindered to us. The only way that we can avoid this terrible sin of ingratitude is to pray daily for our physical needs.

Father, today I can’t but echo these words the Lord Jesus taught me: Give us this day our daily bread.

Life Application

Do we take for granted the daily supply of our physical needs? Are we neglecting both petition and gratitude? Is that negligence resulting in despair? Or self-congratulation?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

When Prayer Becomes Personal

June 6 A Cry of Hope

He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.’” (Luke 11:2c)

The third cry of true prayer, again concerned with God, is a cry of hope, “Your kingdom come.” Now this can be a sigh for heaven. Who of us does not get homesick for heaven once in a while, longing to be free from the boredom of life and to experience the glory we read of in the Bible. Or this can be, as it ought to be, a cry for heaven to come to earth. That is, “Your kingdom come,” meaning, may the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. There is much in Scripture about this, and who of us does not weary of the sickening senselessness of war and poverty, and misery and human despair, and long for that day to come when God shall rule in righteousness over all the earth?

But I think this prayer is more than that. It is more than a long, wistful look into the future, whether on earth, or off earth. It is a cry that God’s will may be done through, and by means of, the blood and sweat and tears of life, right now. That is, “Your kingdom come through what I am going through at this very moment.” That is what this prayer means. Scripture reveals to us a truth that man would never know by himself, but which becomes self-evident as we look at life through the lenses of the Word of God, and that is that God builds his kingdom in secret, so to speak. When it is least evident that he is at work this is frequently the time when he is accomplishing the most. Behind the scaffolding of tragedy and despair, God frequently is erecting his empire of love and glory. In these trials, hardships, disappointments, heartbreak and disasters, when we think God is silent, and when we have been abandoned, when we feel God has removed his hand and we no longer sense the friendship of his presence, God frequently is accomplishing the greatest things of all.

I once sat down with a young man who told me the story of his life. He had gone through a fearsome accident which had left a physical mark upon him, but a broken marriage had caused an even deeper scar. He had been raised in a church environment and, before some of these things took place, his outlook was one of self-righteous judgment of others, sort of a pious disdain for those who could not keep free from troubles or problems. But he said, “You know, the humiliation of my divorce cut the ground right out from under my self-righteous attitude. I know that I never would have come to my present joy and understanding of God’s purpose if I had not been a divorce statistic.” It is through these ways that God builds his kingdom.

What a glorious mystery this is! Out of darkness God calls forth light, out of despair, hope. From death comes resurrection. You cannot have resurrection without death, hope without despair or light without darkness. By means of defeat, the kingdom of God is born in human hearts. This is what this prayer means.

“Oh, Lord, I am but a little child. I do not understand the mysteries of life. I do not know the ways in the world of men, but Lord, I pray that through these very circumstances in which I now find myself, through these present troubles, these present struggles, your kingdom come.”

Father, how frequently I misunderstand life even though you have been at such great lengths to show me the secrets of it. How many times, Father, have I rebelled in some foolish resentment against you and your workings in my life? But I have also seen that through these hours of resentment and bitterness, you have been at work in love to bring me to an understanding of reality, to bring me back to your loving heart.

Life Application

Do we pray with joyful anticipation for Christ’s triumphant reign on earth? Do we simultaneously pray for his unbridled reign in our personal, daily walk with him?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Pattern Prayer

June 5 His Name is Holy

He said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name…’” (Luke 11:2b)

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is one of surrender, “Hallowed be your name.” I am quite sure this is the petition that makes hypocrites out of most of us. For we can say, “Father” with grateful sincerity, but when we pray “Hallowed be your name,” we say this with the guilty knowledge that, as we pray, there are areas of our life in which his name is not hallowed and in which, furthermore, we don’t want it to be hallowed. When we say, “Hallowed be your name,” we are praying, “May the whole of my life be a source of delight to you and may it be an honor to the name which I bear, which is your name. Hallowed be your name.”

The trouble is that we so frequently know there are great areas of our life that are not hallowed. There are certain monopolies which we have reserved to ourselves, privileged areas which we do not wish to surrender, where the name of our boss or the name of our girl friend or some other dear one means more to us than the name of God. But when we pray this, if we pray it in any degree whatsoever of sincerity or openness or honesty, we are praying, “Lord, I open to you every closet, I am taking every skeleton out for you to examine. Hallowed be thy name.” There cannot be any contact with God, any real touching of his power, any genuine experiencing of the glorious fragrance and wonder of God at work in human life until we truly pray, and the second requisite of true prayer is that we say, “Hallowed be your name.”

But we are not only aware that in each of us there are areas where God’s name is not hallowed, but furthermore we are aware deep in our being that no matter how we may try to arrange every area of our lives to please him, there is a flaw that somehow makes us miss the mark. Even when we try hard we find ourselves unable to do this. But you will notice that this prayer is not phrased as simply a confession or an expression of repentance to the Father. We are not to pray as so frequently we do pray, “Father, help me to be good,” or “Help me to be better.” Throughout this whole pattern for prayer, not once do you ever find an expression of a desire for help in the sanctification of life. No, Jesus turns our attention entirely away from ourselves to the Father. This phrase, “Hallowed be your name” is really a cry of helpless trust, in which we are simply standing and saying, “Father, not only do I know that there are areas in my life where your name is not hallowed, but I know also that only you can hallow them, and I am quite willing to simply stand still and let you be the Holy One who will actually be first in my life.”

The person who lets God be his Lord and surrenders to him is drawn quite spontaneously into a great learning process and becomes a different person. Martin Luther once said, “You do not command a stone which is lying in the sun to be warm. It will be warm all by itself.” When we say, “Father, there is no area of my life that I’m not willing to let you talk to me about, there is no area that I will hide from you, my sexual life, my business life, my social life, my school life, my recreation times, my vacation periods,” that is saying, “Hallowed be your name.” When we pray that way we discover that God will walk into the dark closets of our life where the odor is sometimes too much even for us to stand, and clean them out and straighten them up and make them fit for his dwelling. “If we walk in the light,” John says, (and that is not sinlessness, that means where God sees everything), “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7 RSV)

Father, teach me to say these words, “Hallowed be your Name,” with a heart of both complete surrender and faith that you are the only One who can make me holy.

Life Application

What is our attitude toward the hallowed name of our Father? Do we use his name with shallow flippancy? Or evading the implications of being his name-bearers? Do we experience prayer as a personal, awesome encounter with our awesome, holy Father?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Pattern Prayer

June 4 Prayer to the Father

He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father…’” (Luke 11:2a)

The Lord’s Prayer begins with a word of relationship, “Father.” May I point out that it is “Father,” not “Daddy-o”! There is a reverence about the word father that is absent in some modern expressions of fatherhood. It is essential to know to whom we are praying. We are not, when we come to prayer, talking about God. We are not engaging in a theological dialogue. We are talking with God. We are going to converse with him directly and so it is very essential that we understand to whom we are speaking. Our Lord gathers it all up in this marvelously expressive word and says true prayer must begin with a concept of God as Father.

Immediately that eliminates a number of other concepts. It shows us that prayer, real prayer, is never to be addressed to the Chairman of the Committee for Welfare and Relief. Sometimes our prayers take on that aspect. We come expecting a handout. We want something to be poured into our laps, something that we think we need, and in making an appeal we are but filling out the properly prescribed forms.

Nor is prayer addressed to the Chief of the Bureau of Investigation. It is never to be merely a confession of our wrong-doings, with the hope that we may cast ourselves upon the mercy of the court. Nor is it an appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury, some sort of genial international banker whom we hope to interest in financing our projects. Prayer is to be to a Father with a father’s heart, a father’s love, and a father’s strength, and the first and truest note of prayer must be our recognition that we come to this kind of father. We must hear him and come to him as a child, in trust and simplicity and with all the frankness of a child, otherwise it is not prayer.

Someone has pointed out that this word father answers all the philosophical questions about the nature of God. A father is a person, therefore God is not a blind force behind the inscrutable machinery of the universe. A father is able to hear, and God is not simply an impersonal being, aloof from all our troubles and our problems. Above all, a father is predisposed by his love and relationship to give a careful, attentive ear to what his child says. From a father, a child can surely expect a reply.

We are not only to address God a Father, that is, simply taking the word upon our lips, but we are to believe that he is a Father, for all that God makes available to mankind must always come to us through faith, must always operate in our lives through belief. Belief invariably involves an actual commitment of the will, a moving of the deepest part of our nature. Therefore when we come to prayer, if we begin by addressing God as “Almighty God,” or “Dreadful Creator,” or “Ground of all Being,” this betrays our fatal ignorance or unbelief. The greatest authority on prayer says that God is a father! When I come home I do not want my children to meet me in awe, and say, “Oh thou great and dreadful Pastor of Peninsula Bible Church, welcome home.” It would be an insult to my father-heart. I want my children to greet me as a father. It is never prayer until we recognize that we are coming to a patient and tender father. That is the first note in true prayer.

Thank you that you invite me to call you Father. Teach me to trust that you are patient and tender, always welcoming me into your arms.

Life Application

What attitudes are implied in addressing our prayers to God as our Father? Should we think of prayer as theological dialogue?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Pattern Prayer

June 3 How Jesus Prayed

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

This is a very significant request, because these disciples were undoubtedly already men of prayer. When they say to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” they do not mean to imply that John had a superior school of ministry. They are not saying, “In that traveling seminary that John conducted he had a course on prayer, but you have not told us anything about this yet.” What they mean is, “Some of us once were John’s disciples and were taught by him how to pray, but Lord, we have been watching you, and we see that you are a master at prayer. Now as John once taught us how to pray, would you also impart to us the secrets of prayer? For, as we have been watching you, we have seen that in some manner the marvel and mystery of your character is linked with your prayer life, and it has made us aware how little we really know about prayer. Lord, would you teach us to pray?” What did they see in his life that wrung this cry from their hearts? What was it that impressed them as they watched Jesus pray and convinced them that his prayer life and his amazing power and wisdom were somehow together?

They saw that, with Jesus, prayer was a necessity. It was more than an occasional practice on his part, it was a lifelong habit. It was an attitude of mind and heart. It was an atmosphere in which he lived, it was the very air he breathed. Everything he did arose out of prayer. He prayed without ceasing.

It was not always formal prayer. He did not kneel every time. He did not stand with bowed head in an attitude of prayer continually. If he did, of course, he could not get anything done. The amazing thing is that he fulfilled his prayer life in the midst of an incredibly busy ministry. He was subjected, like many of us, to a life of increasing pressure, of continual interruption. Yet, in the midst of this life of tremendous pressure, he was constantly in prayer. He was praying in spirit when his hands were busy healing. He gave thanks as he was breaking the bread and feeding the five thousand. At the tomb of Lazarus before he commanded Lazarus to come forth, he gave thanks to the Father openly. When the Greeks came and wanted to see Jesus his immediate response was one of prayer, “Father,” he said, “glorify Thy name,” (John 12:28a KJV). There was a continual sense of expectation that the Father would be working through him and thus he was praying by his attitude all the time.

Surely this is what our Lord is teaching us. This is what we must learn, that there is no activity of life which does not require prayer, a sense of expectation of God at work. Is not this what that disciple felt as he watched our Lord praying? He knew that, to him, prayer was an option. He prayed when he felt like it, he prayed when he thought it necessary, thinking that prayer was designed for emergency use only, for the “big” problems of life. Do we not need to begin right here? This phone call that I am about to make, I can’t do it right except in prayer. It will never have the effect it ought to have except as my heart looks up to God and says, “Speak through me in this.” This email I am about to write, how can I do it right except as I look to you, Lord, to do it through me. This interview that I am about to conduct, this chart that I have to make for my studies, this report that I must turn in tomorrow, this room that I am sweeping, this walk I am going to take, this game I am about to play. These are the unending needs from which prayer rises.

Father, what can I say in this hour but to cry out as these disciples cried out, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Give me a conscious sense of dependence, an awareness that nothing that I do will be of any value apart from a dependence upon you.

Life Application

Is prayer so important to us that we cry out with the disciples, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’? What is the profound implication for us that Jesus consulted his Father about everything? Are we people of prayer?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

How Jesus Prayed

May 31 The Folly of Pride

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. Acts 12:21-23

The Jewish historian, Josephus, also records the death of Herod. He describes this occasion when Herod met with the people of Tyre and Sidon in what we now call Lebanon. These people were dependent upon Judea, and especially upon Galilee, for food. So when the king came out, dressed in his royal robes, they flattered him. When he spoke to them they cried out, “Why, this is a voice of a god, and not a man!” And this pompous, vain king believed them. It is almost incredible — the tragic, twisted mentality of a man like this, who could actually believe that he had so much power that he had become a god.

But this was not uncommon in those days, nor is it in our own day. This, of course, is exactly what happens in any man’s mentality when he begins to think of himself as what we call a “self-made” man. Sometimes you talk to men who own a lot of property and they will tell you, “Well, I worked for it. I produced it all myself. Nobody helped me.” They are falling into the same tragic error as this vain and fatuous king who imagined that he had power in himself to operate. But Luke tells us that he was immediately stricken by an angel of the Lord, and he was eaten of worms and died. I do not know what Luke’s exact diagnosis is here, but some sudden catastrophe befell Herod and, as Josephus tells us, within two or three days he died.

What does this mean? This is God’s way of demonstrating the ultimate folly of the person who thinks that he can live without God, who thinks that we are not dependent people. This is the tragedy of mankind. You can frequently discern from our newspapers or from our television programs that, as a people, we imagine that we have what it takes to produce all that life requires, and that we do not need anyone or anything else — especially God. The great tragedy of the American nation is that, more often than not, in a sense, we are saying to God, “Please, God, I’d rather do it myself!” We want to do it all ourselves. But God often strikes to remind us that our very life, our very breath, all that we have and are, is coming from him, and that we are fools to think that we can exist and live, act and react, on our own. This episode shows how blinded, how distorted, how tragically twisted becomes the thinking of men who depart from a sense of dependence upon God.

Father, forgive for the folly of my own pride and dependence on self. Teach that in everything I am dependent on you.

Life Application

‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.’ Do we aim to have the mind of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, humbled himself, became obedient unto death on a cross? This is ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’!

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

When Prison Doors Open

May 26 Forgiven!

All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Acts 10:43

Peter says, “You may not appreciate this fully, but everything that Jesus did was predicted by the prophets. Long before he ever came, what he would be like and what he would do was written down. Every prophet bore witness to this one fact: The only way you could ever find forgiveness of sins is by believing in him. That is the great, final, glorious thrust of the gospel. The good news is that men have been given a way to be forgiven of their sins.”

That is the basic need of every human heart. Each of us suffers from the terrible consciousness of guilt. We are guilty people; and we know it. That is what makes us so restless. That is why often we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves, because we are afraid of that sense of guilt which oppresses us. So the prime need of our lives is to be forgiven, to have nothing in the past to worry about, to have nothing that makes us uncertain of the future and, especially, nothing which makes us unwilling to appear before God. Through Jesus Christ sins are forgiven.

Have you reflected upon that, Christian friend? Have you recently stopped and thanked God that your sins are forgiven? Have you ever? Not just the ones you committed before you became a Christian; all your sins. All the future ones as well as those of the past are forgiven already in Jesus Christ. God therefore has no quarrel with you, he loves you, he accepts you. Whatever you do he will continue to love you and accept you.

No one can take that truth and use it as a license to sin, to go out and do as you like. To do so would indicate that you have never been regenerated, have never understood why God bore your sins. But if you have been born again you know that this is the greatest and most unending blessing of your life — to wake up every morning and remember that you stand as a beloved child in God’s presence. He loves you and accepts you. You are his, and for that reason he will be with you all day long, in every circumstance of your experience.

Thank you, Father, for the forgiveness of my sins. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me so this could be possible. And thank you that he rose victorious over death to give me the hope of eternal life.

Life Application

The apostle Paul exults: ‘your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ (Col.3:3) Such is our security, our identity in Christ, that nothing can separate us from Him. Are you living in the understanding of Christ’s total forgiveness of you? Will you each day wake to the guilt-free joy of His presence?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

Life for All

May 25 The Cure for Death

Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. Acts 9:40-41

This is a marvelous miracle — a restoration from the dead. Here is a woman known for her ministry of love and selflessness, and then this ministry was interrupted by death. But now, by the hand of God and the power of Jesus Christ, she is restored to ministry and she resumes her good works. Of course she later died again because this is but a picture, intended to teach us that this can happen to the human spirit too. Something can interrupt the progress of a spiritual life which is beginning to blossom, to flourish and bear fruit, to grow and minister to others. Some circumstance, some event or experience, can interrupt and change it and cause it to die. The person loses that zeal, earnestness, and eagerness, and becomes cold and hard, indifferent and unconcerned, bitter of spirit. He literally is like someone dead.

Many people are like that. Some have been dead for years and are still walking around. That reminds me of the famous comment by Dorothy Thompson, the newspaper reporter, when she heard of the death of Calvin Coolidge. She said, “How could they tell?” Many are like that. Their life of service has been interrupted by some incident which has been like the hand of death laid upon a zealous and earnest ministry. They have grown cold and indifferent, the very picture of death.

This can go on for years. Edwin Markham, the great Christian poet, once knew a banker whom he entrusted with the settlement of an estate. The banker betrayed him, and Markham lost all his money and was rendered penniless by the deed. It made him bitter and for several years he could write no poetry. Then one day as he was trying to write he was sitting at his desk aimlessly scrawling circles. As he doodled, making these circles, suddenly the thought struck him of the great circle of God’s love, of how it takes us in. He was struck with inspiration and wrote these words:

I drew a circle and shut him out;

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.

He forgave the banker and was able to resume his ministry. After that came some of his greatest poems. This is what Jesus Christ can do. He can heal a dead spirit, raise it to life and restore it. He can heal the bitterness that may be in your life, rendering you cold and indifferent to the needs of others.

Lord, I pray that your Spirit would keep me alive and responsive to you, confessing my sin and allowing your life to work through me.

Life Application

‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.’ Are we choosing life, seeking the renewal of our minds through honest confession of named sins? The alternative is spiritual death, the wages paid by sin.

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Cure for Death

May 24 Learning Meekness

After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. Acts 9:23-25

What humiliation! Here Paul was, equipped to win the day for Jesus Christ. He was going to show the world how much he could do for this new Master that he had found. But instead he finds himself humiliated, cast off, rejected, repudiated. His own friends finally have to take him at night and let him down over a wall. He walks away into the darkness in utter, abject failure and defeat.

The amazing thing is that many years later, as he is writing to the Corinthians and looking back over his life, he recounts this episode. He says, “You ask me to boast about the most important event in my life? The greatest event in my life was when they took me at night and let me down over the wall of Damascus in a basket. That was the most meaningful experience I have ever had since that day when I met Christ…” (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

Is that not amazing? Why would this be so? Because then and there the apostle began to learn the truths which he records for us in the third chapter of Philippians, where he says, “Whatever gain I had, I learned to count as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 3:7-8 RSV). That is, “All the things that I felt were so necessary to do what God wanted I had to learn were absolutely useless, worthless. I did not need them at all. Everything that I thought I had and needed to serve him I had to learn I didn’t need at all. The beginning of that great lesson was the night they let me down over the wall in a basket. There I began to learn something. It took me a long time to catch on. But there I began to learn that God didn’t need my abilities; he needed only my availability. He just needed me, as a person. He didn’t need my background, he didn’t need my ancestry. He didn’t need my knowledge of Hebrew. He didn’t need my knowledge of the Law. He didn’t need these at all. In fact, he didn’t have any particular intention of using them to reach the Jews, he was going to send me to the Gentiles.” And though he did not understand it fully then, he began to assume the yoke of Christ and to learn that which Jesus Christ says every one of us must learn if we are going to be useful to him.

Jesus tells us what the curriculum is: “I am meek and lowly in heart…” (Matthew 11:29b KJV). Ambition and pride must die. We learn that we do not live to aggrandize ourselves any longer. We do not live to be a big shot, either religiously or secularly. We live only to be an instrument of the working of Jesus Christ. And we must learn the truth which Jesus taught his own disciples when he was here in the flesh, “Without me you can do nothing…” (John 15:5b). You can do what? “Nothing!” You may do a lot in the eyes of the world. What you do might be esteemed there. But in the eyes of God, without him it is nothing. If you are depending on yourself, God evaluates all you do as worth nothing. This is what Paul began to learn. Through this experience his pride began to die.

Lord, I pray that I will learn the lesson, and that I will be willing to be a person no longer holding onto control of the program myself but quite willing to follow where you lead, and to trust in your life in me to be all that it takes to do all that needs to be done.

Life Application

Are we learning the liberty and beauty of humility, or are we still counting on our personal resources, real or imagined, to accomplish God’s work in us or through us?

Related Message

For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:

The Yoke of Christ

May 23 Beloved Enemy

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, Ananias! Yes, Lord, he answered. The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight. (Acts 9:10-12)

Paul has been converted. Now he is a Christian. And what is the first thing he experienced as a Christian? The life of the body of Christ. That is wonderful, is it not? Two unknown, obscure Christians are sent to him. He meets them and is immediately helped by the strengthening that can come from the body, from other Christians. First there is a man named Judas. That is all we know about him. Saul is led to his house whom he has never met before. While he is there a man named Ananias is sent to minister to him.

Is there not a joyful, poetic irony about this, that the Holy Spirit has chosen two names which are tainted names elsewhere in the New Testament, Judas and Ananias. These names belong to two other people: Judas the betrayer of our Lord; and Ananias, the first Christian to manifest the deceit and hypocrisy of an unreal life. Yet, here are two people, bearing the same names, that are honored and used of God. It is just a little touch, but it seems so much like the Holy Spirit to use names like this.

These men come and minister to Paul. Ananias was understandably reluctant to come. Saul had been ready to drag people off to prison and put them to death because they were Christians, and so he is understandably hesitant. But the Lord reassures him, telling him to go because Saul is praying.

That is the first mark of a Christian; he begins to pray. He recognizes that God rules, and there is a relationship between man and God, and so he begins to pray. God says to Ananias, You needn’t be afraid of a man who prays. Go to him, because he is praying. Thus Saul of Tarsus began to experience the joy of body life through these other Christians ministering to him.

Father, thank you for this amazing story of Saul of Tarsus. Thank you for the impact his life has had upon the world as a result of this encounter with you on the Damascus road. Thank you for this wonderful picture of one like Paul being included in the body of Christ. Teach me to include others with the same spirit of love.

Life Application
Do we tend to think of non-believers as pariahs, enemies, adversaries? Have we forgotten our own state but for God’s saving grace? Are we available to be instruments of Grace to whoever God leads us?
Related Message
For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:
Beloved Enemy

May 22 The Divine Wind

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, Go south to the road — the desert road — that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Acts 8:25-26

An angel suddenly appeared to Philip. I’ve never had an angel appear to me. I do not know anyone else to whom an angel has appeared. You may ask, Does God still work through angels today? and the answer is a resounding Yes! He does. But they are not always visible. The ministry of angels, according to the Bible, goes on all the time. They are ministering spirits sent forth to serve those who are heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). All of us are being touched and affected by the ministry of angels, but we do not see them. There have been well-documented experiences and incidences of the appearance of angels recorded in church history. I believe that, as we draw nearer to the days of the return of Jesus Christ, we may well expect to see a return of angelic manifestation.

Here is an unexpected agency through which the Holy Spirit works. An angel appears to Philip and gives him an unexplained command to go south and take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. He could not have picked an emptier stretch of road. It is desert road. There are no cities or villages there. The wonderful thing to me is the beautiful way in which Philip obeyed this command of the angel. He did not say, Well, I’ll have to pray about this. He did not say to himself, Well, I wonder if this is a call to a larger field of service. He just went, that is all. He left the awakening that was going on at Samaria, with its demands for training and teaching. He arose and went down to a desert road.

This is a beautiful picture for us of what we might call the wind of God, the sovereign blowing of the Holy Spirit, and of the adventure that is always characteristic of someone who is being led by the Holy Spirit. Verse 25 and Verse 26 are both records of Spirit-filled activity. Peter and John were obeying the Holy Spirit when they testified, prophesied, and evangelized. But Philip is also obeying the Holy Spirit when he is being sent by an angel out to a desert place. Both are part of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led life.

That needs to be made clear because we tend to run to extremes. The Spirit often leads through the ordinary, the usual, and he can be very effective that way. But that is not the only way. This is the lesson that God is forever teaching us. This is the creative strategy of the Holy Spirit, the freedom to interfere, the freedom to override a program, and to change it, and to make something new. The church has suffered terribly by ruling that out, by so organizing everything that there is no room for the Spirit to move.

Father, thank you for the sovereign ability of the Holy Spirit to direct me in ways that I cannot predict. What a note of excitement this adds for me, Lord! What a glorious sense of expectation becomes mine as I constantly wonder when you are going to break through and do the unusual again in my life.

Life Application
Is the ‘wind beneath our wings’ the Holy Spirit, or are we guided by whim, or another lesser motivation? Are we missing the wonder and worship of being led by the Spirit of the Living God?
Related Message
For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:
The Divine Wind

May 21 Christ Centered or Self Centered?

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, This man is rightly called the Great Power of God. Acts 8:9-10

All false faith exalts personalities, makes much over men. It involves the inflation of an individual, usually by self-aggrandizement. These individuals are always egocentric, always pointing to themselves, exalting themselves, and using religious terminology to make a great deal over themselves. That is the quality of counterfeit Christianity. Genuine Christianity makes nothing of the individual. For what we preach is not ourselves, says the Apostle Paul, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves your servants, for Jesus’ sake… (2 Corinthians 4:5). But here we have a man who exalts himself.

I remember a few years ago attending a service put on by one of the famous faith healers of our day, a man who has milked millions of dollars from earnest Christians. I attended this meeting just to hear what he was saying. He began preaching what I thought sounded like a good gospel message. He started out well, took his text from the Scripture, began to develop it well, and I began to settle back and say to myself, I’ve been wrong about this man! — until he came to the conclusion! Rather than giving an invitation to the thousands who were present to come to know Jesus Christ, this is what he said: If you want to know God, then have faith in my prayers. If you want to meet God, believe that my prayers will lead you to God. Come forward and kneel here, and I’ll pray for you. The whole direction of his message was toward himself and his prayer.

That is false Christianity. It always attempts to interject a mediator between a believer and his God. But, There is God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5); no other. Counterfeit Christianity tries to insert a priesthood of one sort or another, a mediator, someone great, someone who has an in with God, someone who has a special channel to God that other people don’t have. When you hear that sort of thing, you know that you are hearing again the same kind of false Christianity that appeared here in the book of Acts.

Thank you, Father, for the exhortation of this passage to my heart — that I should be Christ centered instead of self centered.

Life Application
Why is it sometimes easier to identify self-centeredness in others than in ourselves? Do we grasp the reality of our true identity in Christ, which sets us free to live for Him?
Related Message
For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:
The Gospel versus Magic

May 20 From Persecution to Proclamation

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:1-4)

It was by means of the persecution that arose over Stephen that these early Christians were pressed out of Jerusalem, spurted out into the areas around, into Judea and Samaria, and began to preach the word, all according to the program of God. God used Saul of Tarsus, even before he became a Christian to accomplish this. God works to use the very obstacles thrown in the path of Christians to advance his cause. You can picture young Saul, enraged over what he regarded as a heresy, trying to stamp it out with all the energy of his flesh, entering house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. This is the rage of a tortured conscience, which tries, by zealous activity, to cover up its anxiety, emptiness, and hurt. Yet God uses this as an instrument to accomplish his purpose.

God does two things with this rage of Saul’s: He forces the church out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria to fulfill the divine program as he had outlined, and he makes the early church depend not upon the apostles but upon the gifts of the Spirit distributed to everyone — for these who were scattered abroad were not the apostles. Dr. Luke is careful to tell us that. These were ordinary, plain-vanilla Christians like you and me. And yet they had gifts of the Spirit. But they would never have discovered their gifts if they had not been pushed out, and put to work. So God used this pressure to place them in circumstances where they began to develop the gifts of evangelism, of witnessing, of helps, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, prophecy, and all the other gifts of the Spirit that had been made available to them.

Sometimes I think that God will have to do this in our day before people will begin to believe that they have spiritual gifts and put them to work. He may have to bring persecution upon us so that there cannot be dependence upon a central ministry, but each one will begin to utilize the gifts that God has given him.

Are you going through some kind of pressure today? Well, it is not punishment for our sins — Jesus took our punishment fully, on the Cross. The pressure, the trials, and the problems that come are by no means always the result of sin in our lives. Sometimes they are, but it may be God’s way of moving you, of pressuring you into a new experience, into a new understanding of his truth and of his equipment in your life, and giving you a new opportunity to put it to work.

Thank you, Lord, that you are completely sovereign over my life and I can trust you to use me wherever you see fit to do so.

Life Application
Jesus said, ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!’ (Jn.16:33) Our ‘cheer’ (contentment) is not with our trials, but with God who is at work, causing ‘all things to work together for His good.’ (Rom.8:28) Will you rest in God as He works within your difficulties to make you more like His Son?
Related Message
For more on this portion of Scripture read the message:
The Gospel versus Magic