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Epaphras…always laboring

[I’m studying through the prayers of Paul in my devotion times. I really enjoyed Colossians 4:12 recently. Just wanted to share some of the things I found about this guy named Epaphras—a lot of cut-and-paste, but also some of my own notes as well as my prayer response at the end.]

“Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12)

  • This prayer is unique in Paul because it was actually Paul reporting what Epaphras was praying for the Colossians. I include it here because it is in one of Paul’s letters, and because Epaphras was such a great example.
  • “Epaphras…”
    • Epaphras (shortened form of Epaphroditus—“lovely”), a Christian worker with Paul who served as missionary to Colossae (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philem. 23). (Nelson’s Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 636)
    • <ep’-a-fras> ([ Ἐπαφρα̂ς, Epaphras]): A contracted form of Epaphroditus. He must not, however, be confounded with the messenger of the Philippian community. He was with Paul during a part of his 1st Roman imprisonment, joining in Paul’s greetings to Philemon (Philem 1:23). Epaphras was the missionary by whose instrumentality the Colossians had been converted to Christianity (Colossians 1:7), and probably the other churches of the Lycus had been founded by him. In sending his salutation to the Colossians Paul testified, “He hath much labor for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:13). Epaphras had brought to Paul good news of the progress of the gospel, of their “faith in Christ Jesus” and of their love toward all the saints (Colossians 1:4). Paul’s regard for him is shown by his designating him “our beloved fellow-servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ” (Colossians 1:7), and “a bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Colossians 4:12 margin) . The last designation Paul uses several times of himself, but only once of another besides Epaphras (Philippians 1:1). (S. F. Hunter, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1915)
  • “Who is one of your number”
    • Most translations (NIV, NKJV, TM, LEB, KJV, etc.), “who is one of you.”
    • He was a Colossian himself. Perhaps this is the secret behind his earnest labor in prayer: He was a companion of the Apostle Paul and he traveled throughout the Roman Empire for Christ (if he was part of the Pauline team), but never forgot who he was and where he was from. Lord, help me to pray as “one of CBC’s number”.
  • “A bondslave of Jesus Christ”
    • Bondslave—37.3 δοῦλος, η, ον: pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something—‘subservient to, controlled by.’ (Louw-Nida)
    • NET Bible, Deuteronomy 15:16-17 and note: “However, if the servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, 17 you shall take an awl and pierce a hole through his ear to the door. Then he will become your servant permanently (this applies to your female servant as well). (Footnote #34: sn When the bondslave’s ear was drilled through to the door, the door in question was that of the master’s house. In effect, the bondslave is declaring his undying and lifelong loyalty to his creditor. The scar (or even hole) in the earlobe would testify to the community that the slave had surrendered independence and personal rights. This may be what Paul had in mind when he said “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17).
    • The phrase δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ occupies a special position when used in self-description, as often in Paul, but also in the salutations of Jm., Jd. and 2 Pt. We might also add Col. 4:12, where Paul describes his fellow-worker Epaphras as a δοῦλος Χριστοῦ. Even as a self-designation the phrase δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ cannot be separated from the understanding of the relationship of Christians to Christ in terms of an interpretation of the work of Christ as redemption. If this is so, then it first suggests the conscious subordination of the one who uses it to the claim of Christ, and therefore his integration into the community. In this sense, it is fully consistent with our picture of Paul as derived independently from other sources. The aim of Paul is not to dominate the Church. He seeks rather to edify it as one who, set in the service of Christ, discharges his office in the place appointed…the self-designation δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as used by Paul expands the parallel ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. If the latter describes Paul’s office according to its significance and operation towards those without, the former describes it according to the relationship to Christ and therefore its final basis, which consists in the fact that Christ has won Paul from the world and made him His possession. (TDNT)
    • Jesus’ servanthood radically revised the ethics of Jew and Greek alike, because He equated service to God with service to others. When we minister to the needs of the hungry or the lonely, we actually minister to Christ (Matt. 25:31–46). And when we fail to do so, we sin against God (James 2:14–17; 4:17). In this light, all who took part in the fellowship of service were ministers. The concept is strengthened when the use of the Greek word doulos is noted. This was the term for a bondslave, one who was offered his freedom but who voluntarily surrendered that freedom in order to remain a servant. This idea typified Jesus’ purpose, as described by Paul in Philippians 2:7. This passage alludes to the “servant of God” teaching of Isaiah 42–53. Truly Christ fulfilled this exalted calling, because His life was dedicated to the needs of others. Following our Savior’s example, all believers are bondslaves of God (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Col. 4:12). We are to perform “good deeds” to all people, with a responsibility especially to fellow Christians (Gal. 6:10; Heb. 10:24). (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary; under “Minister”)
    • Lord Jesus, I am Your bondslave. I surrender my independence and personal rights. My aim is not to dominate Your Church. I seek rather to edify it as one who, set in Your service, discharges my office in the place appointed—CBC/Lawrence.
  • “Always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers”
    • For the haphazardly intent, prayer is the overflowing of a heart longing for intimacy with a personal God. Paul Rees, traveling lecturer for World Vision International, talks about prayer as relationship, not discipline: “There is biblical justification for referring to prayer at times as real discipline. Paul speaks about Epaphras as one who labored in prayer. But prayer is a relationship so intimate and so dynamic that it should be easy to listen for God’s voice and to respond by articulating some confession or petition. This idea of prayer as a relationship has grown on me through the years, so that now for me prayer is the healthy expression of this intimacy with God.” (Muck, T. C., Liberating the Leader’s Prayer Life, Vol. 2, p. 44).
    • “You can pray when you can do little else. Robert Murray McCheyne…wasn’t well. He experienced “violent palpitations” of the heart, growing so weak and frail that he took an extended trip, seeking to recover. But he missed his church, and on February 27, 1839 he wrote them these words in a pastoral letter: ‘I wish to be like Epaphras in Colossians 4: “Always laboring fervently for you in prayer.” When hindered by God from laboring for you in any other way, it is my heart’s joy to labor for you thus. When Dr. Scott of Greenock, a good and holy minister, was laid aside by old age from preaching some years before his death, he used to say, “I can do nothing for my people now but pray for them. … ” This I also feel.’ …He once said, “If the veil of the world’s machinery were lifted off, how much we could find is done in answer to the prayers of God’s children.” How much indeed.” (Morgan, R. J., On This Day; Heart Palpitations, February 27)
    • “My favorite text in this regard is Paul’s greeting at the end of his Colossian letter. He commends to his readers their pastor Epaphras, who is visiting Paul, and who is “always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Then he adds, “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for all those at Laodicea and Hierapolis” (Col. 4:12–13). What hard work could Epaphras possibly be doing for these people, while he is away from them? His wrestling in prayer for them is hard work. Prayer actually gets God’s work done. Mary Slessor was a missionary to West Africa in the nineteenth century. Her work among orphans there was nothing short of remarkable. Single and an activist, her days were long and arduous and at times lonely. She did the work of ten “normal” people in her lifetime. But she named prayer, not mere “doing,” as the real dynamic of her accomplishments. In letters home to her friends she wrote: “My life is one long, daily, hourly record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for enmity to the gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything else that goes to make up life and my poor service.… I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I … know God answers prayer.… Prayer is the greatest power God has put into our hands for service. Praying is harder work than doing … but the dynamic lies that way to advance the kingdom. I have no idea how and why God has carried me over so many hard places, and made these hordes submit to me … except in answer to prayer at home for me. It is all beyond my comprehension. The only way I can explain it is on the ground that I have been prayed for more than most. Pray on—power lies that way.” “Praying is harder work than doing.” If Mary Slessor, the busy activist, could say that, it must be true. It is harder to pray than to simply “do.” That’s why Eugene Peterson says that the pastor who claims to be too busy to pray is really a lazy person. In busyness, he or she is procrastinating, avoiding the real work of prayer. Why does God tell us to pray for the things he has promised to do anyway? For instance, he tells us to pray that his name will be hallowed and his kingdom come, things he has assured us he will bring to pass, anyway. After all, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess one day that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11). French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal suggests that God does it to give us the dignity of causality. When my children were young, they would “help” me mow the lawn. The grass was too thick and the mower too heavy for them to push. So I stood over them, hands on the mower handle with theirs, my body bent slightly forward, and pushed as they “pushed” it through the grass. I could have done the job better and more easily alone, but I wanted the pleasure of their company. I also wanted them to have something to do that mattered, to have the dignity of causality. I think God commands us to pray for much the same reasons. (Deepening Your Conversation With God, pp. 25–27).
    • Lord, forgive me for my laziness. Help me to “labor earnestly in prayer” for CBC.
  • “That you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”
    • The Request: Maturity! Assurance of God’s will!
    • “Perfect”:
      • 88.100 τέλειοςe, α, ον: pertaining to being mature in one’s behavior—‘mature, grown- up.’ εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ‘to the mature person, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ Eph 4:13. It is also possible to interpret τέλειος in Eph 4:13 as meaning ‘perfect’ (see 88.36). In Mt 5:48 it is possible that τέλειος also means maturity of behavior, but it is usually interpreted as ‘being perfect,’ since the comparison is made with God (see 88.36). (Louw-Nida)
      • Biologically “full-grown,” “mature,” e.g., sheep…For Plato the τέλεος … ἄνθρωπος is he who has attained φρόνησις, “firm and true views,” insight and philosophical knowledge, and the goods which these things carry with them…In the LXX (all instances given) the word means “unblemished,” “undivided,” “complete,” “whole”; it is thus used esp. for שָׁלֵם, תָּמִים and cognates. For this τέλειος occurs esp. with καρδία (elsewhere πλήρης → VI, 284, 37 f.), so of the heart which is “undivided” πρὸς κύριον or μετὰ κυρίον in exclusive worship, without idolatry, wholly obedient to God’s will, 3 Βασ‌. 8:61; 11:4, (10B); 15:3, 14; 1 Ch. 28:9 (only here with ἐν καρδίᾳ, elsewhere in predicate clauses); of “total” carrying away, Jer. 13:19 (→ n. 20); the whole offering, Ju. 20:26; 21:4B (sc. θυσίας, A in both vv. σωτηρίον). For תָּמִים it is used of the people which should serve Yahweh wholly and undividedly τέλειος ἔσῃ ἐναντίον κυρίον, Dt. 18:13; of Noah who was “blameless” in his generation (par. δίκαιος) and pleased God, Gn. 6:9 (TDNT)
    • “Fully assured in all the will of God.”
      • 31.45 πληροφορέομαι; πληροφορία, ας f: to be completely certain of the truth of something—‘to be absolutely sure, to be certain, complete certainty.’ πληροφορέομαι: πληροφορηθεὶς ὅτι ὃ ἐπήγγελται δυνατός ἐστιν καὶ ποιῆσαι ‘he was absolutely sure that (God) would be able to do what he had promised’ Ro 4:21. πληροφορία: ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ ‘for we brought the good news to you, not with words only, but also with power and the Holy Spirit, and with complete certainty’ 1 Th 1:5. The phrase ‘with complete certainty’ may be expressed in some languages as ‘you may surely believe it’ or ‘there is no reason at all for you to doubt.’ (Louw-Nida)
      • In R. 14:5 Paul does not lay down any specific rules on the question of eating flesh (→ IV, 66 f.) or the observance of set days. He simply asks that each should “achieve full certainty” in his own judgment, so that his conduct may build on this without wavering (on the origin of this certainty, cf. v. 22f., → 219, 33 ff.). In Col. 4:12 πεπληροφορημένοι is used in the abs. Formally possible is an interpretation along the lines of R. 14:5: “filled with certainty,” though the general drift of Col. would suggest “brought to full measure.” The latter rendering is favoured by the combination with τέλειοι (→ 285, 10–13): As those who are mature and have come to full stature (the stature of Christ) in Christ, Christians stand firm (R. 14:4b) ἐν παντὶ θελήματι τοῦ θεοῦ (→ III, 59, 6 f.). (TDNT)
  • “…Passion for maturity in the Body is a prominent New Testament theme. Paul told the Colossians, ‘We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ’ (1:28). Paul would settle for nothing less than maturity in his converts. Then there was Epaphras, “a bondslave of Jesus Christ…always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12; emphasis added). Epaphras is not famous like Paul, but he prayed passionately that every member of the Body would reach maturity. This is always to be the passion of gifted leaders. The call to the ministry is not a call to a profession, but to a passion. God gives gifted leaders to the church—not to entertain it, program it, or organize it—but to bring believers to maturity. Nothing less satisfies God’s chosen leaders (Heb. 13:20–21; James 1:4)” (The Body Dynamic, pp. 76–77).
  • “Epaphras had evidently been instrumental in the founding of the church at Colosse (1:7). His concern for the Colossians is clear from his zealous prayers for their maturity and their full perception of God’s complete will for them. These concerns are the burden of this epistle. Epaphras’ fervent agonizing in prayer (cf. Luke 22:44) reflects his understanding that God would provide illumination and continued growth in proportion as people requested these of Him (James 4:2). This is spiritual work that only God can do. Epaphras’ concern for the Christians in the other towns near Colosse suggests the possibility that he evangelized these communities too.” (Constable, p.54)
  • “Epaphras holds the unique distinction among all the friends and co-workers of Paul of being the only one whom Paul explicitly commended for his intensive prayer ministry. The passage quoted above [4:12-13] may well be called his diploma of success in this ministry.” (D. Edmond Hiebert, Working With God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, p. 77; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “Epaphras grasped, what many of us are slow to realize, that the tactics of the Christian battle are born of the strategy of prayer.” (Harrington C. Lees, St. Paul’s Friends, p. 157; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “There are many things outside the power of ordinary Christian people, and great position, wide influence, outstanding ability may be lacking to almost all of us, but the humblest and least significant Christian can pray, and as ‘prayer moves the Hand that moves the world,’ perhaps the greatest power we can exert is that which comes through prayer.” (W. H. Griffith Thomas, Christ Pre-Eminent, p. 191; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “It is related of an old pastor who every Saturday afternoon could be seen leaving his study and entering the church house by the back door, and about sundown he would be seen going home. Someone’s curiosity was aroused enough to follow one day and watch through a window. It was in the days when the family pew was an institution of the church. The old pastor was seen to kneel at each pew and pray for every member of the family that was to occupy it on the Lord’s Day. He called each member by name as he poured out his heart to God for his flock. His was a ministry of power and his people reflected the grace of God upon them. Blessed is that church which has such a praying shepherd.” (Hiebert, p. 83. See also idem, “Epaphras, Man of Prayer,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136:541 (January-March 1977):54-64; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • Father, help me be like Epaphras. Transform my mind so that I think of myself as “one of CBC’s number”. This is my home. This is my church family. Transform my heart so that I’m not just talking about being “a family of families,” but actually living it. I commit myself to you as “a bondslave of Jesus Christ”. I surrender my rights—I am Your servant forever because I love You and trust You as King and Lord. I resolve to pray—always laboring earnestly for CBC in my prayers. Forgive me for failing to do this in the past. Strengthen me, lead me, remind me, teach me to do this in the future. And, I pray that CBC may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. Lord Jesus, help me to model and teach spiritual maturity and a complete assurance that Your will is always good and right and best. Help me to clarify—and teach clearly—what spiritual maturity is. Help me to unapologetically call Your people to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called.

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 God is here. God is wherever you are.

If that’s not amazing enough, get this: God—Almighty God, Lord of the Universe—wants to meet with you and me in a personal way. He went to great lengths to make it happen. Read Psalm 139:7-12:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,’ Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” (NASB95)

The expected answer, of course, is “nowhere!” “Heaven” and “Sheol” (lit., grave) represent the farthest distances you can go up or down. The sun “dawns” in the east and the “remotest part” of the Mediterranean Sea was west of Israel, so no matter what direction David went, he could not “flee” from God’s presence! These verses tell us God is omnipresent (i.e., everywhere present). But don’t misunderstand—this is not teaching Pantheism. Pantheism does teach that God is everywhere, but also teaches that God is everything—it denies His personality. The Biblical doctrine of “omnipresence” means that God is a person who is distinct from creation, but He is also everywhere.

David’s point in worshipping God this way is to celebrate the fact that because God is everywhere He sees everything and knows everything. God is an eyewitness to everything that happens! David’s questions in v.7 and his discussion of “darkness and light” in vs. 10-12 might imply that He had tried to get away from God for some reason, but v.10 seems to indicate that he was mostly comforted by God’s presence.

What about you? Do you find it comforting or frightening to know that God is everywhere and knows everything? In one sense, this should be frightening. God sees all our sin—every time we rebel against Him. When Adam and Eve sinned against God (Genesis 3:6-8) they were afraid. Their sin caused Adam and Eve to want to hide from God. If that seems silly to you, think about it. Ever since the Garden of Eden, all of us—all of mankind—have tried to hide from God. Different people do this in different ways, but mostly we just pretend He isn’t there. We ignore Him. We forget Him.

Adam and Eve tried to hide, but God didn’t let them. He showed up in a unique way, “walking in the garden”. I’ve personally never seen God walking through my neighborhood, but obviously God can show Himself to us when He chooses—in a way that we can detect Him despite our limitations. This is what is meant by the “manifest presence” of God. God sometimes chooses to “manifest” (i.e., show, demonstrate, give evidence of, prove) Himself to people. There are several examples of this in the Bible. One of the most prominent was the Tabernacle.

God instructed Moses and the Israelites to construct this Tabernacle during their wanderings through the desert. The innermost chamber of the Tabernacle was called the “Holy of Holies”. No one was allowed to enter this room (except the high priest one day per year). Leviticus 16:2 tells us why this little room was so holy: “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.’” (NASB95) Do you see it—why this Holy of Holies was so holy…and dangerous? “For I will appear…!” God chose to “manifest” His presence there! Now, one more thing about the Tabernacle: a very thick veil hung in front of this Holy of Holies to separate people from the place where God manifested Himself. It highlighted the separation between God and man. God is holy, which means “separate”—He is completely separate from that which is sinful. The Most Holy Place was the throne of the Holy One and only those who are holy can approach Him. This was the picture God gave to His worshipers in the Old Testament.

Now, with all this in mind, fast-forward to the New Testament—Jesus on the cross. Look at what Matthew reported: “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51, NASB95).

Do you see the great significance? Jesus’ death opened the way to God’s presence! The veil—the entire tabernacle, in fact—was no longer necessary in order to approach God. Jesus had removed all barriers. Later, the writer of Hebrews would elaborate on the significance of all this:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NASB95).

The veil was a picture of Jesus’ crucified body. So, the God-man stood in that gap between Holy God and unholy man and brought us together. He opened the way up for us to be in God’s presence.

So, what is the logical response? “Draw near!” Go into the holy place! Take full advantage of what Jesus has done! Get near to God! Remember where we started? God—Almighty God, Lord of the Universe—wants to meet with you and me in a personal way. He went to great lengths to make it happen. Jesus died to make it possible for us to enjoy God’s presence—it is a precious privilege bought for us by the blood of Jesus. It only makes sense for us to “draw near”!

But how exactly? What does it look like to “draw near”? Four ideas come to mind—based on Hebrews 10:19-22—for how we can get started:

1. Draw near by thanking Christ for the Cross. He gained us access by dying for us. Start by thanking Jesus for paying such a high price to get us through the door.

2. Draw near by praising Christ as our High Priest. As our High Priest, He intercedes for us—He is our go-between. Our access to God is not dependent upon us (i.e., good works, religious activity, sacraments), but on our great High Priest. As long as Jesus is our High Priest, we can get in!

3. Draw near by being completely honest. “Sincere heart” means we’re not talking about meeting God in a physical place (i.e., Tabernacle) anymore. We meet with God in our “hearts.” The heart in Scripture represents our entire inner person—not just our emotions. Just as the heart of the tabernacle was where God manifested His presence to people in Old Testament worship, so the heart of His people is where He manifests His presence now: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). “Sincere” means “true” and is translated that way in some versions. A sincere or true heart means one that is honest and without deceit. Think about this: We are allowed to be honest with God. We can tell Him what we really want—what we really feel. God wants us to be completely honest with Him.

4. Draw near by confessing your sins. “Sprinkled hearts…and washed bodies” must be taken together. These phrases should remind us of the fact that a priest—before he went into the Holy Place (which is just outside the Most Holy Place)—had to wash his hands in a large basin of water. This communicates the idea of moral purity. (cf., James 4:8-10 and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NASB95).

This isn’t just a description of “devotions” or a “quiet time.” As important as that is, “drawing near” to God is a constant invitation. It should be a way of life. Because we meet with God in our hearts, rather than a building on the other side of the planet, we can meet with Him anywhere, anytime.

A.W. Tozer captured the idea well:

“Ransomed men need no longer pause in fear to enter the Holy of Holies. God wills that we should push on into His presence and live our whole life there. This is to be known to us in conscious experience. It is more than a doctrine to be held; it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day” (Pursuit of God, p.34).

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Sixteenth Strophe—Psalm 119:121-128

121 I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors. 122 Ensure your servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. 123 My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. 124 Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. 125 I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. 126 It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken. 127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.

How bold! Can he really do that? Can you say to God, “It is time for You to act, O Lord!” (v.126). How gutsy is that?! It takes a lot of confidence to pray like that, doesn’t it?

But, these verses do not communicate self-confidence. They communicate God-confidence. Confidence in God’s sovereign ability to protect. When the Psalmist is faced with “oppressors” (v.121) and “the arrogant” (v.122) and law-breakers (v.126), he doesn’t take matters into his own hands or curl up in the fetal position and worry. He confidently turns to God and states: “It is time for you to act, O Lord!” God is the only one who can “ensure…well-being” (v.122) and provide “salvation” (v.123). So, it only makes sense to turn to God! The psalmist isn’t demanding anything. He’s acknowledging that God and God alone can help! Only God is powerful enough to rescue him! Expressing that kind of confidence in God is nothing less than praise.

Notice also that he asks God to “act” because God’s “law is being broken” (v.126). The basis is not the psalmist himself. The psalmist’s happiness and safety is not the primary focus. It is God’s law. It is a love for God’s righteousness. God’s law is being ignored and disobeyed. But he’s not just talk either. It is only after he has “done what is righteous and just” (v.121) and because he “loves God’s commands” (v.127) and “hates every wrong path” (v.128) that he prays with such confidence.

One more observation. The psalmist presented himself as God’s “servant” three times (v.122,124,125). He knows who he is in relation to God. He is not God. God does not serve him. God is not a genie that pops out of a lamp whenever the psalmist needs help. God is Master. We are His servants. The idea seems to be, “Take care of me so I can continue to serve You.” God doesn’t answer everyone’s prayers. Those who have no interest in serving Him have no promise of salvation (i.e., rescue). Atheists may cry out for help in fox holes, but they can have no confidence that God will hear.

So, how about you? Do you turn to God with your problems? Or do you just worry? Do you love God’s commands or do you love wrong paths? Do you pray as one of God’s servants or do you just pray self-serving prayers? Put your confidence in God, His laws and His lordship over your life.

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You Are Lord

I met a lady yesterday who was wearing a scarf on her head. It was obvious she was going through chemotherapy. A family member just went through a divorce. A girl I know lost a dear friend recently. Another friend is discouraged. Can you relate? As I was thinking about these people today, my prayer came out in a song. Here is a poor recording using cheap talent (me), but I hope you find it encouraging.

Click here to listen

Here are the words:

You Are Lord

Does the clay speak to the Potter?

Does it ask, “What are You doing?”

Does the arrow tell the Archer

How and when to shoot?

Does a servant tell His Master

YOU don’t have the right?

Does a soldier defy His King

And refuse to fight?

Whatever YOU tell me I will do

Wherever YOU lead is my way too

YOU are Shepherd, YOU are Lord

Whenever YOU speak I will believe

Whatever YOU give I will receive

YOU are Sovereign, YOU are Lord!

I don’t like this place YOU’VE brought me

I don’t like what I’m going through

But I know YOU’RE right here with me

And I need to say, “I trust YOU!”

Not mine, but YOUR will be done!

Not mine, but YOUR will be done!

Not mine, but YOUR will be done!

Not mine, but YOUR will be done!

(Shaun LePage, March 29, 2008)

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A couple days into the new year, I noticed about 30 geese in perfect formation. Beautiful. Flying in a V-pattern helps them cut through the cold wind better. The geese in the back have less wind resistance. The geese in front work harder, but they take turns being in the lead. They can fly farther distances if they fly together. I’ve often thought this is a testament to the creativity of God. Even the goose is fearfully and wonderfully made. A well-designed creation. Maybe the writer of Psalm 19 should have written another verse: “The geese declare the glory of God.”

But something looked wrong. I had to think about it for a second, but then it came to me: That gaggle was flying north! Now, I’m no gooseologist, but I think geese fly south in the winter. Why were they flying north? I’m sure there’s a good explanation. Maybe they left a buddy behind at the last pond and they were going back for him. Maybe the warm temperatures are throwing them off and they think its time to head north already. Maybe someone tried to shoot them and they fled in the wrong direction.

I’m like that. We’re like that, aren’t we? Sometimes we’re just headed in the wrong direction. I’m not talking about traffic problems. I’m talking about life. Our spiritual walk with the Lord. Sometimes we get turned around. Sometimes we get lazy. We get caught up in our circumstances. Sucked into the sensual offerings of the world one M&M at a time. Before we know it we’re flying north for the winter. We’re spending less and less time in prayer. Less and less time with an open Bible in front of us. Less time thinking about God and what He thinks of us. Less time with our church family. More and more time in front of the TV. More and more time thinking about ourselves. More time looking in catalogues and store windows. More concerned about what other people think of us. The whole time we keep getting colder and colder.

We have to be careful. It’s so easy to get turned around. Sometimes we don’t even realize its happening. But something else crossed my mind when I saw those geese. They were in trouble! If they didn’t get turned around quick, they were headed to serious danger. That’s true for us, too. If we’re headed in the wrong direction, we’re headed for trouble—serious danger.

Ephesians 5 gives us a great tool. A compass to help us get turned around. Look at verses 15-18:

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit…”

Notice five words. Five markers that help us move in the right direction:

Walk. Life is a walk. Moving in one direction or another. Heaven is our ultimate destination, so our goal in this life is not destination. It’s direction. God will take us to our destination when He’s ready. We’re supposed to be heading in the direction of spiritual maturity. Perfection. Completion. We’ll never make it in this life, but our goal is to keep heading in the right direction. Spiritually maturing. Perfecting. Completing. The Christian life is about process. It’s walking in the right direction. What direction?

Wise. In contrast to “unwise men,” we are to walk wisely. What does it mean to walk wisely? Simple—God’s commands, imperatives, principles, directives. God is the only source of true wisdom. His Word is rich with guidance on how to walk through life. We must start with knowledge (knowing what God’s Word actually says). Then we must gain understanding (knowing what God’s Word means). Wisdom is the final stage (knowing how God’s Word works). I said walking wisely is simple—not easy. Simple in that we simply trust God to show us how to live. How to enjoy our youth. How to find meaning in our work. How to make sure we don’t have regrets. How to be a man. How to be a woman. How to love! How to live! That’s not easy, but it is important. Why? Look at our next word.

Evil. Why do we need to walk wisely? Because the days are evil. This is why we’ve got to “be careful” how we walk. The world is trying to pull us down. Suck us dry. Turn us in the wrong direction. Can such things happen to real Christians? You bet! That’s who Ephesians was written to—real Christians. There is real evil out there and it will do anything necessary to try to get us to walk in the wrong direction. The problem is, the evil is usually disguised in something that appears harmless. You won’t find a sign that reads, “Turn right for lots of evil fun!” or two free bus tickets to Evilville. We spot those things. No, the evil that drags Christians off the road is usually very subtle at first. That’s why we don’t pick up on it until we’re off the path and wondering where we are. How’d we get so far from where we should be? One step in the wrong direction leads to the wrong direction. No matter how small.

Lord. The answer is to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” The exact opposite of “foolish”! It is foolish to ignore what God wants. What God wants is what is best for us. So when we’re faced with a choice, and we understand what the will of the Lord is, we choose the Lord’s choice. It’s really pretty simple. But, what do we do when we don’t know what the will of the Lord is?

Spirit. In our own limited, human minds, we will not know what the will of the Lord is. Even if we study the Bible from sunup to sundown. The Spirit leads us into all truth according to Jesus in John 16:13. In Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, he prayed “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). The contrast between us without the Spirit’s leading—our natural, human selves—and us with the Spirit’s leading is great. Paul said, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things…” (1 Corinthians 2:14,15). The point is, if we’re “walking wisely.” If we’re walking with the Spirit, we’re “making the most of our time.” If we’re not walking with the Spirit, we’re in trouble. We’re flying north in the winter. God’s wisdom will look like foolishness to us!

The great thing about Ephesians 5 is that we’re given some clear landmarks. There are signs you can look for to see if you’re headed in the right direction. Right after the command to “be filled with the Spirit,” in verse 18, Paul tells us (in the rest of the book) what you’ll look like if you are. You’ll be “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” That’s joy! Do you have joy? He tells us you’ll be “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gratitude! Are you thankful for “all things”? He tells us we’ll be submissive. Wives will submit to husbands “as to the Lord”. Husbands will love their wives sacrificially. Children will obey and honor their parents. Parents will be gentle and spiritually involved with their children. We will serve our masters with good will and masters will show no partiality. That’s the perspective only the Spirit can give. Does that describe you? If so, you’re headed in the right direction. If it doesn’t, you’re in danger—like those geese. The good news is you can turn it around.

Start with prayer. If we’re praying and asking God to fill us with His Spirit we’re walking wisely. If we’re studying our Scriptures while we pray, “God speak to me!” we’re storing up wisdom for the journey and we’ll know what God’s will is—His directions for us. If we’re turning our backs on our sin so we don’t grieve the Spirit, we’re not getting sidetracked. If we’re following the Spirit’s lead—yielding to Him by obeying Him and responding to His leadership—we’re headed in the right direction. We’re walking wisely. South in the winter. North in the summer.

Two January days later—in almost the exact same spot—I saw another gaggle of geese. They were flying in a V-pattern and I once again stopped to enjoy the sight. I smiled. They were flying south.

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Ever prayed to a Scarecrow?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is spending 2.2 million dollars to study the effects of prayer on people’s health. Similar studies have also been done recently by the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

As part of this newest study, the NIH hired a “shamanic healer” (not defined, but basically a sorcerer or witch doctor) to pray for a woman who was having surgery. No word yet as to whether it worked. What I want to know is who this “shamanic healer” prayed to. Did he pray to a tree for help? Did he ask his dead cousin Bob to heal this lady? Maybe a cricket or a turtle? How about a scarecrow?

Some people just don’t get it. There’s nothing special about prayer exactly. Prayer is just words. Just talking. Just asking. What makes prayer special is the “who” being prayed to. Trees, dead people, crickets and turtles can’t do anything for you. No matter how sincerely or long or passionately someone prays to a scarecrow, he isn’t going to answer. It won’t do any good.

“Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them; they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
(Jeremiah 10:5; NIV)

That’s God talking! Trying to talk some sense into people who pray to someone or something other than Him. These “no-gods” can’t do anybody any good. Read what God told the nation of Israel when they started praying to little wooden statues:

The woodworker draws up plans for his no-god, traces it on a block of wood. He shapes it with chisels and planes into human shape—a beautiful woman, a handsome man, ready to be placed in a chapel. He first cuts down a cedar, or maybe picks out a pine or oak, and lets it grow strong in the forest, nourished by the rain. Then it can serve a double purpose: Part he uses as firewood for keeping warm and baking bread; from the other part he makes a god that he worships—carves it into a god shape and prays before it. With half he makes a fire to warm himself and barbecue his supper. He eats his fill and sits back satisfied with his stomach full and his feet warmed by the fire: “Ah, this is the life.” And he still has half left for a god, made to his personal design—a handy, convenient no-god to worship whenever so inclined. Whenever the need strikes him he prays to it, “Save me. You’re my god.” Pretty stupid, wouldn’t you say? Don’t they have eyes in their heads? Are their brains working at all? Doesn’t it occur to them to say, “Half of this tree I used for firewood: I baked bread, roasted meat, and enjoyed a good meal. And now I’ve used the rest to make an abominable no-god. Here I am praying to a stick of wood!” This lover of emptiness, of nothing, is so out of touch with reality, so far gone, that he can’t even look at what he’s doing, can’t even look at the no-god stick of wood in his hand and say, “This is crazy.”

(Isaiah 44:13-20; TM)

If you get the right “Who” then prayer is very special. It’s like asking the librarian for a book. Hiring a carpenter to fix a chair. Asking a singer for a song. If you ask the right “who” your prayer will be answered. “Answered” doesn’t mean you get whatever you ask for—like sticking a quarter in a gumball machine. Sometimes—for reasons we may never know—God says “No.” Sometimes His answer is, “Wait.” Sometimes He says “Yes!” and heals and provides and protects.

Prayer is all about relationship. God is a Father. The Father. Since becoming a father myself, I’ve come to understand these things better. Sometimes my kids ask for M&M breakfasts. Midnight bed times. Pet buffaloes. I know better than they do. The answer has to be “No.” I still love them! In fact, the answer is “No” because I love them. Sometimes they ask for the right thing at the wrong time. I ask them to be patient and “Wait.” But when they ask for the right things at the right times, I delight in saying “Yes!” God is our Father and He delights in listening to our prayers. Giving us His attention. Sharing His unfailing love with us.

The only study that needs to be done won’t cost 2.2 million dollars. These prayer scientists need to study the Bible. Study what God has said about prayer. Study the testimonies of those who wrote the Psalms.

Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out to him for help,praising him as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,my Lord would not have listened. But God did listen!He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer and did not withdraw his unfailing love from me.
(Psalm 66:16-20; NLT)

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