Tag Archive | Repentance

Importunate Prayer

Do you ever go to a prayer meeting – or open our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Prayer Group page – and wonder why the requests seem so familiar? Why the same or similar requests keep coming up over and over again? In the case of our prayer group, one reason for this may be the fact that all of our members deal with chronic illnesses, which means new issues constantly need to be dealt with. Another, the fact that God uses our difficult circumstances to do a work in our lives that He counts as more important eternally than an immediate healing.

As I was praying about this characteristic of our times of prayer, I came across a concept I knew little about, that of importunate prayer.

In his book The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds defines importunate prayer and explains why it is important.

“He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold prayers have no claim on heaven & no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.

“Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results or to gain complete victories.”

Jesus spoke of the need for persistence in prayer in two parables that are recorded in the book of Luke. In Luke 11:5-8, immediately after teaching the disciples how to pray according to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He shares a story about a person who goes to his friend for help feeding unexpected visitors.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

In Luke 18:2-8, He shares a second parable to encourage us to not lose heart in prayer. This time, the story involves an unrighteous judge who did not fear God or respect people, and a widow who is seeking legal protection, which he gives her, not because he cares about the widow but because of her persistence in asking.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

‭‭These parables don’t teach that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. He delights in answering the honest requests of our hearts. But at times, God’s timing is not the same as ours. At times, God wants to deal with an unconfessed sin in our lives before answering or to build some positive character quality in our lives that will only grow under pressure.

Importunate prayer is first and foremost prayer that keeps asking, that is persistent in asking a God who sometimes delays the answer, not because He is indifferent to our needs but rather because He wants us to learn how to walk in faith and consistency.

Importunate prayer is the opposite of lazy or lukewarm prayer. It is prayer that comes from a trusting and godly heart, a pure conscience, and a determination to keep praying until we have an assurance that God has heard and will answer. It is prayer that is built on the foundation of the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and persists in praying until an answer is received.

Seeking God with Our Whole Heart

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord,” Jeremiah‬ ‭29:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This promise from Scripture is one of my favorites. It comes immediately after one most of us are familiar with, Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds us that God has a good plan for our lives, a plan to give us a future and a hope. Often, I see this verse quoted, with no mention of the following verses that are directly related to it. They speak of the focus that is to be present in our life as we realize God is good and His plan for our lives is good.

Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, we read a solemn warning of what was ahead for Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) if they continued down the path they had been trodding (see Jeremiah 9). If they continued stubbornly ignoring God’s law, determined to follow their own desires, judgment was ahead.

Unfortunately, this stern warning had not been heeded, and that judgment had arrived. God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him, and in B.C. 587 Jerusalem was attached, the city destroyed, and the people taken into captivity to Babylon.

Jeremiah 29 begins with these words. “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:1‬)

In this letter, Jeremiah gave clear instructions from the Lord to the exiles. They were to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, marry and have children, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they in turn would have children, and seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent into exile. (https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.5-7.esv). In other words, this would not be a brief interlude in there lives, so they needed to accept the consequences of their failure to obey God and live in the best way possible during this time.

In verse 10, Jeremiah gives them a promise that this time of exile will come to an end. Jeremiah writes, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

This is the setting of Jeremiah 29:11-14. The season of exile would come to an end, the people of Judah would return to their promised land, and in having gone through the Lord’s discipline they would have a hopeful future, as they chose to seek God with their whole heart.

While we have not experienced exile because of disobedience to the Lord, like Judah we are recipients of this promise. This is a conditional promise, requiring something from us. To seek God is to desire His presence more than His presents. While God has promised to never leave or forsake us, our awareness of His presence is affected by the depth of our relationship with Him. To walk in God’s presence daily, we must seek Him with our whole heart.

What does it mean to seek God with our whole heart?

  • It is to seek Him with a deep longing that makes the things of this world pale in comparison.
  • It is to recognize receiving life from Him is a vital necessity, something without which we can’t truly live a meaningful life.
  • It is to realize without Him we can do nothing of lasting value, and therefore make abiding in His presence daily our highest priority in life.
  • It is to respond quickly to the conviction of the Holy Spirit

Remember, we are seeking the presence of a God whose desire for us to live daily in His presence is so great that He sent His own Son to earth as a man, to live the life we were called to live but could not, and then to die as our substitute on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, was raised on the third day, and He now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live in a way that pleases the Father.

Once we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sin and become children of God, we can seek Him with confidence that He desires a close relationship with us even more than we desire to walk close to Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the way has been opened for us to encounter God based fully on His grace, mercy and love for us. All that is required for us to experience God is to set aside time daily to seek Him with ears open to His voice and a heart ready to receive and obey.

Original photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Are You a “God-fearer” or a Born Again Christian?

I’ve been doing an in-depth study of the book of Acts, and today’s lesson was on the beginning verses of Acts 10, which focus on Cornelius. Luke, the author of Acts, describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), yet as the chapter continues we learn he was still a man who needed to hear and receive the good news of salvation by grace.

My Christian life began in a series of Methodist churches, so when I read the following quote by Warren Wiersbe comparing Cornelius to John Wesley it stood out to me.

“In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a ‘religious club’ at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.

“On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. ‘About a quarter before nine,’ Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action.”

This is also a good description of my life. From the time I was a small child, I was in church most Sundays. But like John Wesley and Cornelius, while I believed in Jesus Christ, I did not trust in Him alone for salvation. My trust was in my good works. That changed when I was in my first year of teaching kindergarten, when my eyes were opened to the need to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross alone for salvation.

What about you? Are you like Cornelius at the beginning of this chapter, “a devout man (or woman) who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts‬ ‭10:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Are you a seeker or a true believer in Christ?

Salvation is by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a gift of grace, based on what Jesus has already done.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans‬ ‭10:9-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Only Because of God’s Mercy: God Uses Imperfect People

Hebrews 11 has been called the “Hall of Faith,” but have you ever really examined the lives of the people listed there? These are the people God used to change history, but Max Lucado has described the men and women listed in this chapter as “a rag-bag of ne’er-do-wells and has-beens who found hope, not in their performance, but in God’s proverbially open arms.”

Let’s examine a couple of these men of faith. Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, lied about his wife Sarah, as recorded in Genesis 12:11-20, saying she wasn’t really his wife but his sister – a half-truth – even asking her to join in the lie because he was afraid the Egyptians would notice her beauty and kill him to take her as their own. And then a little later, he did it again. Not what I would call a man of integrity! And yet he has a major part in the Hall of Faith. God forgave Abraham and continued to use him for His purposes.

Then let’s look at David, whom God called a man after His own heart. 2 Samuel 11 gives us a dark picture of an episode of his life when he saw a beautiful woman and decided he wanted her, even if she was married to one of his faithful soldiers. He not only took Bathsheba for himself and got her pregnant, but when his scheme to cover up his sin failed, he came up with a plan to have her husband killed on the battlefield. Again, not exactly the kind of man I’d look up to. Yet David repented and was forgiven for these sins, and God continued to work through him in spite of his huge failure in this situation.

And there are lots of other imperfect people listed in this chapter, men who had genuine faith in God and were used by Him but still had major flaws in their character. And unfortunately, this wasn’t limited to the men God used in Biblical times. Even the genealogy of Jesus includes some women we definitely would not look up to as examples of godly women: Tamar was guilty of adultery, and Rahab was a harlot, just to name a couple of the women who are discussed in the Bible.

As I read a devotional from Max Lucado’s book Chronicles of the Cross earlier this week that spoke of the men and women God used in the Bible, the message was clear. God uses people to change lives and to change the world – and the only kind of people He has to choose from are imperfect people. He did this during biblical times, and He still does it today. God never condones sin – and there are consequences when we make wrong choices. God allowed Abraham to be chased out of Egypt because of his sin. David repented, yet he faced serious ramifications as a result of his sin. But what a clear picture of the loving and forgiving nature of our merciful and gracious God.

On this Thankful Thursday, lets give thanks for our God who doesn’t treat us as we deserve to be treated, but who gives us both mercy – not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace – blessing us in spite of the fact that we fail daily to live up to His standards. And let’s remember that God uses imperfect people – the only kind He has to choose from. In light of the amazing love and mercy of God, make yourself available to serve Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who served God faithfully in the midst of intense persecution by the Nazis that led to his martyrdom, said “Once a man has truly experienced the mercy of God in his life, he will henceforth aspire only to serve.”

Entering the Trail to True Freedom

Today is a special day in the United States of America, the birthday of our nation and the day we focus on the liberty and freedom God has blessed us with as a nation. But there is an even more essential freedom than political freedom.

As I was reading today in Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, I was reminded that the key to true freedom is knowing Jesus Christ personally. As Beth says, “Christ is the only entrance to the freedom trail.”

John 8: 36 expresses the truth so clearly: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

One of the most beautiful elements of salvation is its simplicity. Christ has already done all the work on the cross. Your response includes four elements:

  1. Recognize that you are a sinner and that there is nothing you can do to save yourself.
  2. Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and only He can save you.
  3. Believe that His death on the Cross paid the penalty for your sin, that He died on your behalf
  4. Surrender your life to Him and ask Him to be your Savior and Lord.

If you do not know Christ personally, there is no better time to make that decision than today. If you already know Christ, is your relationship distant, close and personal, or somewhere in the middle? Knowing Christ begins with an initial decision, but growing in our knowledge of Him is an on-going process. My prayer for this day our nation turns it’s focus on freedom is that each of you will experience the freedom that comes from personally knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and growing daily in your knowledge of Him.

Return to Me and I Will Return to You

As soon as I saw this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt was RETURN, the current Proverbs 31 Ministries First 5 study on the book of Zechariah came to mind. The theme of this book is found in the first chapter, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

As I’ve studied this book, I’ve seen the call to RETURN more clearly. It is a call to three things. And in this verse, it is also a promise.

  • RETURN is a call to REPENTANCE. Repentance is a recognition I am on the wrong path and a decision to turn around and head in a different direction. It begins with a change of heart and is lived out with a change in how I live.
  • RETURN is a call to REVIVAL. Revival is a spiritual reawakening from a state of stagnation in the life of a believer. It is a continuing process.
  • RETURN is a call to REST. Rest is ceasing from our labor entering into the rest and peace of God. Jesus Christ invites us to enter rest as we take His yoke upon us and allow Him to help us carry the burdens of life.
  • Finally, RETURN is a PROMISE. Zechariah 1:3 makes it clear that RETURNING is a action that brings a response from the Lord. When we RETURN to Him, He has promised to RETURN to us.

Today, is anything causing spiritual stagnation in your life? If so, it’s time to RETURN in repentance. With repentance comes revival and rest, and we become recipients of God’s promise to reciprocate and RETURN to us.

St. Patrick’s Day: The True Story Behind the Annual Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17th, is about more than shamrocks and leprechauns. St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of an early Christian missionary.

In the fifth century, Ireland was a beautiful island enshrouded in violence and spiritual darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But one man would be used by God to break through the darkness and introduce the light of Christ to this heathen land.

The man we now know as St. Patrick was born in Roman ruled Britain to a middle-class Christian family around A.D. 390. The grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, Patrick was exposed early to the truth of the Gospel, yet by the time he was a teenager he had rebelled against his Christian upbringing to the point that he was pratically an atheist.

Then his life took a drastic change for the worse. Irish raiders attacked his home and he was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland. At 16 years of age he found himself a slave in a foreign land, separated from everything he’d ever known. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Milchu, who put him to work as a shepherd.

Patrick saw this difficult situation in his life as God’s chastising him, believing he deserved what had happened because of his rejection of the faith of his fathers. And while a slave in Ireland, his life began to change. Instead of becoming bitter, he turned to the God he knew about but had previously refused to acknowledge as his God.

Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland, says of young Patrick,

“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”

Patrick’s hard years of slavery came to an end six years later, when during a time of prayer and fasting God spoke to him that he would soon return to his own country and gave him clear direction when it was time to leave. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to the west coast, where he found a ship – the ship God had shown him in prayer – ready to sail. Though at first refused passage, after desperate prayer Patrick was allowed aboard. He returned to his home and family, where he began to study for the ministry.

Patrick had no desire to return to Ireland, but that was exactly what God asked of him. Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland, says:

“One night, he had a dream. There was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, ‘Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'”

Patrick struggled in his soul, not convinced this dream was from God and having no desire to return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him. Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream. God truly was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary, and he stepped out in obedience to God’s leading.

Patrick gave 29 years of his life to ministry and established the first Christian church in all of Ireland. During that time, he preached the Gospel, baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and planted 300 churches. Freeman declares, “What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity.” Because of Patrick’s willingness to die to his own will and return to Ireland, the land of his suffering, in obedience to the Lord’s call, that nation was forever changed. Reflect on this truth as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.