2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, Mark 16

Read 2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, and Mark 16.

This devotional is about Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remained influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b).

When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job.

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him.

As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith.

May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

2 Samuel 12, Daniel 2, Mark 12

Read 2 Samuel 12, Daniel 2, and Mark 12.

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. Nebuchadnezzar therefore 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–God’s will–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 winners and losers. Some people feel hopeful, even victorious, after an election and a nearly equal number of people feel hopeless and defeated.

If you care about politics at all, then you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life. And, you will likely experience that again. If our only hope was to reforming this world and its 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.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 10.

Here in 2 Samuel 10, David—the great warrior king—tried to build a political alliance. According to verse 1, the Ammonite king died and verse 2 tells us his name was Nahash. This man was mentioned in 1 Samuel 11, where he was instrumental in beginning Saul’s career as Israel’s king. Back then, Nahash had besieged Jabesh Gilead and demanded incredibly cruel and gruesome terms for a peaceful settlement (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Saul mustered the men of Israel and defeated Nahash and his army which rallied the nation to Saul as their leader.

Given the events of 1 Samuel 11, it is quite surprising to read that David said, “Nahash… showed kindness to me” (v. 2a). He must have treated David much differently than he did Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11. Maybe being defeated by Saul made him treat Israel with much greater kindness and generosity. Or maybe this is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Nahash was kind to David because Saul hated David and Nahash was the enemy of Saul. We don’t know because Nahash is not mentioned at all between 1 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 10. Whatever Nahash did for David left a very favorable impression on him, so David desired to show kindness to Hanun, Nahash’s son. Sending a delegation to express sympathy, as David did in 2 Samuel 10:2c, was an act of political diplomacy. It was a personal kindness, yes, but it was also a political one—a way to encourage peaceful relations between two nations who were near each other geographically. 

David’s kindness, however, was interpreted as espionage (v. 3). Hanun, therefore, humiliated David’s men. In Israelite culture, the beard is a symbol of manhood. Only women and boys had hairless faces, so shaving half of a man’s face was a way to humiliate him before everyone who saw him. That insult was bad enough but cutting off someone’s garments to expose them would be even more humiliating to anyone. These men arrived unarmed since they were on a peaceful mission, so to treat them this way was both personally humiliating and politically insulting. It was an act of war which is how David responded to it (vv. 5-7). 

There is a difference between cautious and paranoid, between skeptical and cynical. A cautious person will trust someone more and more as that person demonstrates trustworthiness over time. A paranoid person trusts no one, ever. A skeptical person wants to believe the best about someone but has plenty of doubts. A cynical person consistently believes the worst about others. A young king like Hanun should have expected to be tested by other nations, so caution and even skepticism were warranted and wise. But Hanun and his military advisors went way beyond skepticism. They were paranoid—unreasonably suspicious. They were also cynical—assuming the worst motives in any and every situation. They reacted as if David’s men were caught spying, not suspected of it. Their response was unjust and unwarranted. It was also unwise.

There is an old saying, “Once burned is twice shy.” That saying expresses something you and I know to be instinctively true—we are doubly cautious toward anyone we feel has burned us or betrayed us in the past. Trust is like a wall of dominoes: it takes a long time to build, one positive act placed next to another with perfect spacing between them. But, just as one flick of the finger can take down the carefully built wall of dominoes, so one foolish act, one rash statement can destroy years of trust and credibility. These are facts of human nature.

Cynicism, however, is far worse. A cynical person believes the worst about others by default. The cynic believes that everyone’s motives are not just suspect but evil, so every act is interpreted as an act of war, even acts that are designed to be peaceful. But cynicism is an incredibly costly way to look at the world. A cynic will never trust anyone enough to have a truly good relationship with that person. A cynic will wound even the person who wants to nothing more than to befriend him. Jesus commanded us to look at others far differently than the cynic looks at others. He commanded us to be kind and generous to everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He commanded you to forgive the guy who sins against you 490 times, if he asks forgiveness (Matt 18:22). If you are a suspicious, cynical, paranoid person, people may not be able to take advantage of you, but they also can’t really love you. If you respond badly to those who try to show you kindness, everyone will end up being your enemy. As followers of Jesus, we must learn to be open-hearted to others around us. We should take some appropriate caution, to be sure, but value the difference between careful and closed. Not only are there eternal rewards for trusting Jesus enough to be good to those who are not good to us, there is the immediate return of cultivating friends instead of creating enemies.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of cynicism because in him we learn what mercy is, what grace is, what forgiveness really means and how costly it is. We also learn that he is sovereign over every event in our lives so that even if others wound us or even kill us, he will bring justice when he determines. Lean on these truths when you are tempted to distrust others; if others sin against you, trust God to take care of you instead.

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, Mark 6

Read 1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, and Mark 6.

This devotional is about Mark 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important–a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some of these people might have remembered that time he got lost, as a child, in Jerusalem. How was that kid now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes? He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “…they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God.

The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism–aka their unbelief–meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance.

I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, Psalms 105-107

Read 1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, and Psalms 105-107.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 25.

David was an emotional guy. That is a good thing; we have the incredible gift of so many Psalms that came from the deep feeling he had in his walk with God. Being corrupted by depravity means, however, that most human strengths can also be human weaknesses. In the hands of God, our strengths are great tools for his glory; when in the grasp of our sinful nature, our strengths can do great damage to ourselves and others.

Here in 1 Samuel 25, David asks Nabal, a wealthy rancher, for food (vv. 2-8). David’s request was sent respectfully. David started his message with a friendly greeting (vv. 4-6). He pointed out that Nabal’s sheep had not been forcibly taken by David’s men even though they were hungry and had the opportunity (vv. 7-8a). David did not make demands, but rather asked for “whatever you can find for them” (v. 8b).

Nabal, on the other hand, acted according to his nature (v. 3c) and was, therefore, rude and selfish in his response (vv. 10-11). 

David, emotional guy that he was, reacted with anger to Nabal’s response and was ready to be the warrior that he was (vv. 12-13). David’s response was completely unjustified; Nabal should have been generous to David, but he was under no moral or legal obligation to give David anything. David’s intention to respond with violence to Nabal shows that he was acting out of his sinful nature, not in wisdom, self-control, or in reverence to God.

Fortunately, there were two people who were able to think clearly, rationally, and strategically in this situation.

The first person to act appropriately was an unnamed servant of Nabal who knew all the relevant information about the situation and knew who to contact about the impending threat (vv. 14-17).

The other person who did well was Nabal’s wife Abigail. As soon as she heard what was going on, she quickly formulated and executed a plan. She prepared food for David and his men and went on the road to meet David before he brought violence to her house (vv. 18-22). Where her husband was brash and rude, she was apologetic and reverent (vv. 23-25). Although she may have said more about her husband than she should have (v. 25), she was acting in his best interests. The things she said about Nabal in verse 25 demonstrate her frustration. It must have been very difficult to be married to someone who was as unkind, self-centered, and sinful as Nabal was. Yet Abigail was not defecting from his team and trying to join David’s instead. Although she seems to have dropped a hint of her interest in David (see v. 31b), everything she did in this passage is righteous. It was righteous of her to protect her husband and their household from the danger his foolishness was bringing. It was righteous of her to see what God was doing in David’s life and to dissuade him from sinning against God in a way that would hurt him later (vv. 26, 28-31a). It was righteous of her, having saved her family, to tell her husband what she had done and not keep it secret from him (v. 37). No wonder David wanted to marry her once she became a widow; not only was she “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3) she was faithful to her husband despite his foolishness and truly acted in his—their—best interest. Because she trusted God and acted righteously in a very tough situation, God brought justice into her life by punishing her husband and bringing her a spouse she could truly admire.

I wonder how many people would have acted this way? I wonder how many people would have just gotten themselves to safety and let David do what he wanted to do? I wonder how many would be tempted to defect to David’s army and overtly court David’s attention, feeling justified that Nabal deserved to get what was coming to him through David? I have talked to enough people with troubled marriages to know how hard it is to do what is right when your spouse does what is wrong. Yet the Lord’s will for his people is not to give up on one’s marriage, betray one’s spouse, or hope for God’s judgment so that you can have another chance at a better life. Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. Read that sentence again: Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. It impacts the lives of your children and the relationships they’ll have with their spouses and children, creating a legacy that, potentially, will replicate itself for generations. If you cultivate a good marriage, your spouse will be there for you when life goes sideways; in fact, he or she may bail you out of your own foolishness just as Abigail did for Nabal. What your spouse says about you and thinks of you may be the most accurate assessment of your life that anyone but God will ever have. Others may be impressed by your professional achievements and think you to be a great man or woman, but if your spouse thinks differently, what does that suggest about you? Wouldn’t it be wise to strive to be the spouse your spouse wants and needs? 

Nabal had so much wealth but apparently took the incredible wife he had for granted. It is easy to do that with any of God’s blessings. Yet for all of Nabal’s problems and failings, she was good and faithful to him until the very end. If you’re mentally comparing your spouse to Nabal after reading this, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Focus on being like Abigail. Do you have your spouse’s back, even when he or she does something foolish? If you have issues with your spouse, are you looking at things objectively or are you too focused on his or her flaws to see what a blessing, overall, he or she is to you? Seek to live like Abigail and ask God to build the same desire in your spouse. 

If you’re single, be wise about who you date. Someone said, “Every date is a potential mate” and that’s a very good, wise way to look at it. If you can’t see yourself married to the person you’re dating, or know that you shouldn’t marry him/her, those are clear signs that you shouldn’t be dating that person. Abigail, likely, had no choice but to marry Nabal with arranged marriages being what they were. You have the freedom to choose your spouse, so look for someone who will bring the same blessing into your life through wisdom, loyalty, and righteousness.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 23.

God had chosen David to be Israel’s next king. David knew this, because Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam 16). Saul’s son Jonathan knew it, and he claimed that Saul knew it as well (v. 17). It was inevitable. Despite Saul’s best efforts to hunt David down and kill him, “God did not give David into his hands.”

This passage demonstrates David’s love for the LORD and his desire to please and obey him:

  • David sought the LORD’s will when the Philistines were attacking a Jewish city (vv. 1-2). He attacked the Philistines and defended them successfully, despite the fears of his men, because the LORD commanded him to do it (vv. 2-5).
  • David sought the LORD when he heard that Saul was coming for him (v. 10), and he believed and acted on what the LORD told him (vv. 11-13).

Why did God subject David to this relentless attack by Saul? Why did David have to wait for many years to become king, given that God had chosen him? Why did David have to travel from place to place to be safe and experience so many close calls (vv. 26-28)?

The answer is not specified in this passage, but it is revealed in many other passages of scripture. The LORD makes us wait and puts us in pressure situations to test our faith. Testing reveals whether we truly trust the LORD or whether we are following him only for the benefits he promised. It

Testing also strengthens our faith and teaches us to pray. When David did become king, he had experiences like this one to look back on. He could remember how God used him in military campaigns to save his people (v. 5). He could remember how God protected him from Saul (v. 14) and how God answered his prayers. These incidents would strengthen his resolve to do what was right when he became king later and they would form a habit of asking for God’s will and God’s guidance in his decisions as king.

But none of this was easy. It must have been discouraging and unpleasant to live on the run the way David and his men did. The Psalms that David wrote while he was on the run show that he struggled with fear as Saul chased him (see Psalms 59 and 63 for two examples).

So it was appropriate and necessary for Jonathan to encourage David, as we’re told he did in verses 15-18. But notice that Jonathan didn’t encourage David by telling him, “Everything will be ok. You’re too good at hiding for Saul to ever find you. He’s getting too old and won’t be around much longer.” In other words, Jonathan didn’t minimize the problem to try to make David feel better.

Instead, verse 15 tells us that Jonathan “…helped him find strength in God.” How did he do this? Two ways:

  1. By telling him not to be afraid (v. 17a). Fear is a natural human emotion, but it is the opposite of faith. When Jonathan told David not to be afraid, he was reminding him of the power of God. The LORD God who had protected David’s life to this point would not fail to keep protecting him in the future. So David had nothing to fear.
  2. By reminding him of God’s promises. When Jonathan told David that he would be king, he wasn’t making up a fanciful wish out of thin air. He was reminding David what God had promised. Samuel had delivered this promise to David when he anointed David. Jonathan believed it and reminded David of it.

What a great friend Jonathan was! Not just because of his humility (v. 17e), but because of his godly heart, solid theology, and determination to bolster David’s faith when his circumstances were bad.

Do you have any Christian friends who are discouraged? Follow Jonathan’s example. Remind him or her that God is all powerful, so there really isn’t anything to fear because the LORD’s will will overcome. Remind your friend, too, of God’s promises: that Christ is coming again for us, that he will raise us again to new life, wipe every tear from our eyes, vanquish his enemies and bring us safely into his kingdom where we will rule and reign forever.

A friend who can speak this kind of encouragement is a godly friend. Help your friends “find strength in God.”

1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, Philemon

Read 1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, and Philemon.

This devotional is about the book of Philemon.

This is yet another of Paul’s prison letters as we saw in verse 1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ….” Verses 1b-2 tell us the recipients of this letter who were, “Philemon… Apphia [almost certainly Philemon’s wife] our sister and Archippus [possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia].” When we take this mention of Archippus and compare it to Colossians 4:17, “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord’’ we begin to see that Philemon lived in Colossae.

This family was not the only recipient of this letter, however, for the last part of verse 2 says, “…and the church that meets in your home.” Although Paul has a couple of big, generous things to ask of Philemon, he did not want his requests to overwhelm the people too much.

In verses 4-7, Paul described his prayers for Philemon and the others. Then, in verses 8-19, Paul got to the core of the letter–to ask Philemon to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus (vv. 17-19).

After he forgave Onesimus, Paul then wanted Philemon to free Onesiumus so that he could serve with Paul.

But the verse that intrigues me in this chapter is verse 6: “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” Paul considered Philemon a partner because of his faithful giving to God’s work (v. 7). But here in verse 6 Paul prayed for a spiritual benefit to come to Philemon. That benefit was that the “partnernership with us… in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul wanted Philemon’s financial support and prayer investment to strengthen Philemon’s faith. He wanted Philemon to know God better as a result of his “partnership” with Paul’s ministry.

Have you ever considered that serving the Lord and giving to his work could actually be good for you, spiritually? Not only do others benefit from this kind of “partnership” but YOU benefit from it because it “deepens your understanding” of Christ and his mission.

So I have to ask, What is your level of spiritual growth? Did it peak when you were called to be saved or is it growing? If you feel that you are stuck and not growing, then you need to find a place to serve. Serving Christ, investing in his kingdom, is helpful to your spiritual life. So, find a place to serve if you don’t have now already and watch how your understanding of God, his goals, and his people grow as a result.

1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, Proverbs 20:1-15

Read 1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, and Proverbs 20:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 20:4: “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

A sluggard is someone who is sluggish. It is a word that describes a person’s work habits, or, to be precise, his lack of work habits. A sluggard is lazy. He avoids work as much as possible and, when he does work, he moves at the slowest possible pace. When I was in college, I worked landscaping for two summers. We called one of the guys I worked with “two speed.” He never asked why we called him that, but we called him that because he had two speeds–slow and slower. He dragged his feet at everything, so working with him was a drag for the rest of us.

The book of Proverbs contains many sayings about sluggards. This one tells us that sluggards “do not plow in season.” Plowing was hard work. If you didn’t have a donkey to pull the plow, it was really hard work. But it had to be done so that you could plant and, later, reap. This proverb says that sluggards won’t “plow in season.” They avoid doing the hard work of breaking up the ground “in season,” meaning at the time when it should be done. Instead of starting early in the semester on a term paper, the sluggard does nothing. He waits until the night before the paper is due to get started. Or, if he’s in the workforce, the sluggard doesn’t follow up on customer calls or sales leads quickly. He doesn’t get to work when the work shows up. Instead, he shuffles papers, talks to colleagues, gets more coffee, writes another to do list, or does anything he can to appear working without actually doing the productive thing.

What is the consequence of being sluggish about one’s work? The last part of Proverbs 20:4 says, “…so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” For the lazy student, it is failing a class or not getting nearly as good a grade as the student could. For the lazy worker, it means missing promotions and raises or being the first to get laid off when the company needs to cut costs. The point is that the lazy person fails to get results. The lack of results are not because the sluggard lacked ability; instead, it is because he did not work when he could have worked. He avoided the hard work, so the results avoided him.

Are you a sluggard anywhere in your life? Are you dragging your feet, procrastinating on tasks that really need to be started or completed soon? A sluggard must live on the kindness of others, such as a boss who is too compassionate to fire him or a relative who can’t bear to let his family member get evicted, or become homeless, or accumulate debt to have food to eat and clothing to wear.

There is a type of sluggard that we Christians sometimes meet. That sluggard says, “The Lord will provide” or “I’m waiting on God” instead of working or seeking work or just putting basic effort into life. It sounds spiritual, but it is just a covering for laziness. There are times when we do have to wait on God because we’ve done everything we can. But, too often “waiting on God” is justification for doing nothing.

We do need God to provide. The anti-sluggard may plow diligently, plant and cultivate carefully, and still miss the harvest because of drought. Hard work usually pays off, but not always. There are circumstances that only God can control.

But from the very sixth day of creation, when God created man, his will was for humanity to work. God provides for us most often by us putting effort into our work. So, don’t procrastinate today. Don’t make excuses or avoid doing hard things.

In fact, if there is something you’ve been avoiding–a phone call you need to make, a problem you need to address, a client who has been waiting too long–do that first today and stick with it until it is done. That’s the way to become an anti-sluggard, a believer who lives a work-life that is pleasing to God.

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s final judge. After him, kings took over.

Samuel was also Israel’s best judge, even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given to each of us, as believers, his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you.

Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read all the chapters, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, Ephesians 4

Read 1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, and Ephesians 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 4.

This passage records one of the darkest days in Israel’s history. Not only did God’s people lose in battle to the Philistines, they lost the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of God’s presence with his people.

And why did they lose it? Because they treated it as a good luck charm, a super-weapon of mass destruction rather than what it was intended to be—a place where atonement would be made for the people of God.

What was a terrible day for Israel nationally was also a horrible day for Eli and his family personally. Just as God had prophesied to Eli through the prophet in 1 Samuel 2:30-34, Eli’s family was cut out of the priesthood and his two sons died on the same day. Just as God had reaffirmed his prophecy through Samuel in chapter 3, so it happened here in 1 Samuel 4. Furthermore, the wife of Phinehas also died giving birth to their son, leaving the boy orphaned. 

This is why we should respond in repentance when God speaks to us through is word about our sin. If we refuse to turn at God’s rebuke, he will bring correction into our lives. 

This is also why we should not treat our faith as a good luck charm. God did not save you so that you would disregard and disobey him for most of your life, then call on him to fix your life when things go badly. Instead, he saved us and called us so that we would bow before him in worship and honor, not only pleasing him with our prayers and our praise, but with a life of obedience to his word.

It is easy for us to act like practical atheists, affirming God with our mouths, but disregarding his word and his ways until trouble comes into our lives. Then, like a spare tire, we pull God out and ask for his help. God is gracious and does help us in our needs and trials, but that should be an outgrowth of lives that are devoted to him, not our fix-all when our sins have put us in jeopardy. 

1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. That is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as a priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”

Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, Ephesians 1

Read Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, and Ephesians 1.

This devotional is about Ruth 2.

As we read through the book of Ruth together, it is helpful to remember that this story took place during the period of the Judges (1:1). Because we’ve just completed reading through Judges, you are aware that not much was happening spiritually in Israel at the time. The nation of Israel worshipped idols, so God allowed their neighbors to oppress them. Then Israel would repent and God would send a deliverer to defeat their attacking neighbors. That became a cycle that happened repeatedly throughout the book of Judges.

But even the judges God sent were poor spiritual leaders, often living in disobedience to the Lord themselves. The impression one gets from reading Judges is that nobody in Israel was really following and serving the Lord from the heart.

The book of Ruth, however, indicates that more was going on spiritually than Judges suggests. Although it is true that there was a lot of disobedience, there were also men like Boaz, whom we met here in Ruth 2. Everything about Boaz exudes a strong faith in the Lord and desire to please him:

  • When he greeted his workers, he pronounced a blessing on them in the Lord’s name (v. 4).
  • When he saw Ruth gleaning in the field, he did not throw her out; he followed God’s law and let her glean.
  • Even more than that, he invited her back (v. 8), protected her safety (v. 9a), and even encouraged her to use the water provided for his worker (v. 9b).
  • When asked why he would do this in verse 10, he acknowledged Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi (v. 11) and asked for God to reward her for it (v. 12).

One thing to take away from this story is how God provided for Ruth based on her faith. The language in verse 3 could lead one to think that her choice of Boaz’s field was random (“as it turned out”). But this was God’s providence working in her life.

It is important to remember that the events our lives that seem like chance have been ordered by God who is working for his glory and our good.

This passage also calls us not to despair when the people surrounding us are insensitive to God’s word and ungodly in their lives. Boaz stood out because of his faith. He not only spoke faithful words that glorified God, he lived a life that was obedient to God’s word because he trusted in the Lord.

Although we live in a culture that is darkening morally and we may feel at times like we are the only ones trying to serve the Lord, we should not be fearful or tone down our faith. Instead, like Boaz, we should live what we believe no matter what and trust God for his provision and work in our lives.