Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If God were to give you today the answer you’ve been asking him for in prayer, how would that answer spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

Exodus 31, Ecclesiastes 7, Luke 11

Read Exodus 31, Ecclesiastes 7, Luke 11.

This devotional is about Luke 11

Luke 11 begins with a request. The disciples asked Jesus for lessons on how to pray (v.1). Jesus responded with what is called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” But maybe it should be called, “The Lord’s Lesson on Prayer” because these verses don’t tell us what to pray but how to pray. In other words, this was not given as a prayer to be recited or repeated. Instead, it was an outline for how to pray (vv. 1-4). Pray about these things, Jesus is saying.

But that’s only the beginning of his lesson on prayer. After giving the lesson on how to pray, Christ told them a story to encourage them to pray. That story, in verses 5-8, could be called, The Parable of the Annoying Friend.

It goes like this: A man and his family are trying to sleep (v. 7). A friend of his comes knocking at midnight to ask for some bread to feed his unexpected (and nocturnal) visitors (vv. 5-6). Nobody wants to get up in the middle of the night if he can avoid it. That’s especially true if you live in a one room house, like most people in Christ’s lifetime did. You might wake your little children if you get up and they might not go back to sleep very easily. So the sleeping man refuses, at first, to do anything for his nighttime-knocking friend (v. 7).

However, the foodless friend will not take no for an answer. So, Christ said, the annoyed would-be-sleeper will finally get up and give up the bread “because of your shameless audacity…” (v. 8). In other words, if you can be annoying enough, you can get what you need from a friend who has better things to do. Your “friend” will do it just to make you go away, not because he values your friendship so much.

This, Christ argued, is how you and I should pray. We should pray with the kind of (annoying) persistence that the midnight knocker displayed. Christ applied this parable to prayer in verses 9-10: “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

There are two lessons about prayer in this parable. First, pray boldly. Ask God for what you want, not what you think is reasonable. Second, pray persistently. Don’t give up asking God for what you want even if he doesn’t give it to you right away.

Now, the lesson here is not that God is busy with other things, or too lazy to help. The lesson isn’t that God doesn’t really want to answer your prayer with yes, but you can badger him into giving you what you want if you’re annoying enough. In verses 11-13, Jesus said that God is a loving father. He waits with answers to prayer, sometimes, for your growth not because he’s unwilling.

So…, how’s your prayer life? Do you pray daily? Do you keep asking for things even when God doesn’t give them? How much will you pray for something before you give up? Are you praying for spiritual things? Jesus said that God wants to “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). This isn’t saying that you don’t have the Holy Spirit but that God gives spiritual things to those who ask through the power of the Spirit.

If you’re praying for a wayward child, don’t give up. Keep pounding on that door in prayer. If you’re praying for an unsaved spouse or parent, keep audaciously asking for the Lord’s attention on that. Whatever you do in prayer, don’t give up praying. That’s the lesson of Luke 11:5-13.

Exodus 18, Job 36, Luke 2

Read Exodus 18, Job 36, and Luke 2.

This devotional is about Luke 2.

Joseph and Mary each received a dramatic, miraculous announcement about the conception of Jesus. After he was born, angels celebrated his birth, then shepherds and wise men showing up out of nowhere to see him. When they took him to the temple for the rite of circumcision, two people appeared to thank God for Jesus and prophesy about him. Although Luke did not record it, Matthew told us that Joseph and Mary received divine guidance to protect Jesus from the murderous intentions of Herod the Great.

So their family life started off very dramatically, to say the least. God was working through them and for them like he never had before for anyone. No wonder “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (v. 19) and “his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51).

Those statements about Mary were not at all the point of Luke 2, of course. The point of this chapter is to record the birth of Jesus and all the signs that affirmed God’s plan and God’s word about him.

But these two statements about Mary cast light on an important side truth: remember to remember God’s work in your life. Walking by faith is often difficult.

Mary and Joseph experienced the difficulty of living by faith in the past when people whispered about her pregnancy. Simeon prophesied that the days ahead would be painful, too, when he told Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul too” in verse 35.

One thing that gets us through the hard days in our walk with God is remembering God’s work in the past. God’s work does not–will not–be miraculous and dramatic for you like it was for Joseph and Mary. But God’s answers to prayer, his leading in your life through providence, the encouragement of other believers just at the right time are just a few examples of God’s work in your life. Treasure them up in your heart as Mary did! Remember them and tell your kids and your friends about them. They will help you keep walking by faith in the dark days of the Christian life.

Genesis 47, Job 13, Hebrews 5

Read Genesis 47, Job 13, and Hebrews 5. This devotional is about Hebrews 5.

Hebrews 4 began comparing Jesus to the OT priests. That comparison was continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task?

Verses 7-9 answer that question. Many times I’ve felt that “Jesus had it easy” compared to the struggles that you and I face as fallen people. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), I sometimes think, then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of that nonsense. The truth is that Jesus felt the power of temptation more powerfully than we do because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like we often do.

Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in Jesus’s earthly life. Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine.

Verse 7 describes Christ as a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross–not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils.

But the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin on the day he was crucified.

That included physical death but also spiritual death–separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently–in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too–for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request!

Think about that the next time God answers your prayer with a “no.” Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking his Father for something that God was not willing to grant.

Why?

Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” As a parent, you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term.

Similarly, God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father (again, verse 8).

These days, Jesus is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries.

Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest?

Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know?

Be encouraged! Whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father.

There is nobody better or more qualified to do it.

2 Chronicles 24, Zechariah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar:

  • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)
  • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

As for king Joash, who unjustly killed Zechariah, he did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this story when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions, as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Kings 13, Hosea 4-5

Read 2 Kings 13 and Hosea 5-6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 13.

Have you ever spoken to someone who was clearly not a Christian but who prayed to God–to our God–for something and he or she believes that God answered that prayer?

If so, then you know how difficult it is to reconcile that with our theology. Either God answered the prayer of the wicked or the person is mistaken. This chapter of scripture may provide some insight for us. In it, Israel’s new king, Jehoahaz “did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them” (v. 2). As a result, he and the rest of Israel were oppressed by the Aramaeans (v. 3). This is all pretty standard stuff for unbelieving Israel in the divided kingdom age.

Until we get to verse 4, that is. Weary of the oppression of Hazael king of Aram, “Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and [amazingly] the Lord listened to him” (v. 4a). God provided a deliverer for Israel and they were relieved of their oppression. But this was not an act of genuine spiritual repentance. Verse 6 says, “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” Jehoahaz did not turn in repentance and faith to YHWH when oppressed by the Aramaeans; he simply cried out for relief and, when he got it, changed nothing about his worship or his life.

So why did God answer the prayer of this unbeliever? Because God is compassionate and gracious, that’s why. Verse 4b says that God did it “for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” Despite the unbelief and disobedience of Jehoahaz and most of the rest of Israel, God answered the king’s prayer because of who HE is not because of who was asking for help.

God certainly is not obligated to answer the prayer of unbelievers and I don’t think he regularly does so. See Proverbs 15:29 for a verse about that.

Also, it is important to see what the author of 2 Kings wrote in verse 23: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.” Note that phrase, “because of his covenant with Abraham….” God’s compassion was tied to his covenant with Abraham. That covenant may be the only reason that God answered Jehoahaz’s prayer. But I think this passage at least suggests that God, at times, will hear and answer the prayers of unbelievers just because he is loving, gracious, and compassionate.

Theologians call God’s kindness to humanity in general, that is, to both believers and unbelievers, “common grace.” If God ever answers the prayers of an unbeliever, it is an act of his common grace. No unbeliever should ever look to answered prayer as confirmation that God is pleased with him or her. All the answered prayers in the world do not neutralize the need of everyone for the gospel. But this passage is a good reminder of the loving, gracious nature of God. He answers prayer, not because we deserve it but because of who he is.

Are you regularly seeking the Lord’s favor in prayer as Jehoahaz did? If God was gracious to an unbelieving king of Israel, how much more will he listen and answer us, his children, who know him by faith?

2 Kings 6, Daniel 10

Read 2 Kings 6 and Daniel 10.

This devotional is about Daniel 10.

The section of Daniel’s book dealing with direct revelations continued in this chapter and Daniel saw a vision “concerning a great war” (v. 1). This vision shook him emotionally (vv. 2-3). Daniel was always a man of prayer as we read back in chapter 6. The fact that he “ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all” (v. 3) suggests that he fasted and devoted himself to extra prayer because of this revelation.

The “man” that he saw in verse 5 told Daniel that he “was highly esteemed” (v. 11) and that he was sent in response to Daniel’s prayers. In fact, this messenger said that he was heard from “the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God” (v. 12). The context suggests that Daniel was heard AND that God responded immediately by sending this messenger. Then why did Daniel have to wait three weeks for this answer? Because, according to verse 13, “the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”

The messenger, “princes” and “king” in this passage have usually been interpreted as other angels–demons, really–who opposed this angel who was sent with revelation for Daniel. Although God immediately sent an answer to Daniel’s prayer, that answer was delayed by demonic power.

We don’t get very much insight from scripture about the angelic world and how it works. This is the only passage that I can think of where an answer to prayer was delayed because of demonic resistance. Some believers have taken this passage much further than the Bible ever does; nevertheless, it is scripture and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Based on this chapter, then, maybe one reason that the Bible urges us to pray continually, patiently, without giving up, is that God’s answers to our prayers are sometimes delayed spiritually by forces we can’t see and rarely think about. That is not the only reason answers to prayers are delayed but it maybe one reason why. So the lesson is to persevere in our praying even when God doesn’t answer. There may be more going on with God’s answer than you realize.

Have you given up praying about something–or nearly given up–because the answer hasn’t come yet? Take courage from this passage and keep on praying. No matter what, God is not ignoring your prayers.

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Read 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense. Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21).

While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve endured the ups and downs of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience them again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “…the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then, they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, except for Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter–ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said.

Are you fully committed to that–to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word? Or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord: Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped off Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy that she had prayed so earnestly for, but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143

Read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would they respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer than what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23). “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?