1 Chronicles 28, Micah 5

Read 1 Chronicles 28 and Micah 5.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 28:9: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”

Solomon left behind a kingdom that was incredibly wealthy, a city with impressive architecture, a government that was well-organized and well-run, and a library of wisdom literature that he personally authored. These are impressive accomplishments for anyone. If you consider the time in which Solomon lived, they are even more impressive.

That’s how Solomon’s public life ended but this chapter tells us how his public life began. David, his father, had already publicly enthroned Solomon as his successor; in this chapter, David publicly charged Solomon to build the Lord a temple (vv. 2–6).

But David wasn’t content to see that Solomon constructed a great edifice; he wanted his son also to walk with God. Embedded in the charge of this chapter was a charge from David to Solomon to walk with God (vv. 8-9). Part of that charge to walk with God was to do so “with a willing mind” (v. 9b). The word translated “mind” here is a word that describes someone’s “spirit,” his inner person. David’s command to Solomon, then, is not just to do the Lord’s work but to put his heart and soul into it.

And God would know whether or not Solomon directed the building of the temple this way because, as verse 9c says, “…the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.” This was a huge project; would it be done as an act of love for God or just to get it done as quickly as possible so that Solomon could move on to other things? God knows the difference even if nobody else can tell.

Think about your ministry for God–greeting people on Sunday morning, making coffee or serving donuts, preparing your AWANA challenge for Wednesday night’s counsel time, practicing your instrument for worship team, advancing the slides during the worship service, editing the video livestream, or any number of other ministries that you do for the Lord. Are you doing them with a “willing mind/spirit” or just half-heartedly doing what you have to because you were asked or volunteered out of guilt?

God knows when our ministry is wholehearted, halfhearted, or nohearted,. He will reward us accordingly in the last day. In my experience, the key to doing wholehearted ministry is to remember that you’re doing it for God not for recognition or because “somebody’s got to!” Let’s remind ourselves what God has done for us and that it is a privilege to serve him by serving his people. That will give us a willing mind as we going about serving Christ.

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

Judges 4, Jeremiah 17

Read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 17.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 17.

In this chapter, Jeremiah continued declaring God’s coming judgment on Judah (vv. 3-4, 27). In this chapter, God addressed the root problem which was a heart hardened against God. We saw this in verse 1 which said that Judah’s sin was “engraved with an iron tool… on the tablets of their hearts.” Verse 5 pronounced a curse on them both for trusting “in man” but also for a “heart [that] turns away from the LORD.”

So, God’s people turned to idols and rejected God because they had sinful hearts. As God spoke to them through his law and his prophets, they hardened their hearts to his word like a callous hardens your skin when a shovel or a rake beats against it. The result God promised was that their lives would dry up. Their withering joy and prosperity was a sharp contrast to “the one who trusts in the LORD.” That person is well watered (v. 8a) and “never fails to bear fruit.”

Verse 9 is one of the best known verses in Jeremiah. If you went to AWANA as a child or have ever used any kind of verse memory program, you’re probably familiar with this verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The deceitfulness of our hearts leads us into sin by telling us that our sin isn’t that bad or that some excuse or circumstance gives us an exception to do what God commands us not to do. The heart also deceives us by telling us that we are God-fearing, God-honoring people even while we live in sinful ways.

Verse 9 also tells us that our deceitful hearts are “beyond cure.” That informs us that we will revert to sin, no matter how much we swear and resolve to change our ways and do better. No amount of therapy, willpower, self-help literature, or human accountability can change the heart. If they succeed in changing our actions, it is only temporary or because we’ve replaced one sin with another.

The final phrase of verse 9 says, “Who can understand it?” That question is answered by verse 10, “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind….” God knows your heart and mine better than you do or I do. But what’s in your heart will eventually show itself in what you do. That’s why the last phrase of verse 10 says, “…to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” God knows our hearts but he judges our actions? Why? Because actions proceed from the heart.

Verse 11 prophesied humiliation for those who sin but verses 12-13 offer hope to those who will receive it. God’s temple (“our sanctuary”) is his “glorious throne,” place to bow ourselves in worship before him. In this age, we come to God’s throne spiritually through prayer (Heb 4:16) but, like God’s people in the Old Testament, we come humbly to him, putting our hope in him (v. 13) and crying out for his healing (v. 14).

God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. And that answer is delivered to us when we pray.

So…

  • Do you have a recurring sin problem? Cry out to God and believe the promise of verse 14, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed.”
  • Is your spiritual life dry? Remind yourself that God is “the spring of living water” (v. 13e).
  • Is your faith weak? Go to God in prayer saying, “…save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
  • Are you afraid of God’s judgment? Say to the Lord what verse 17 says, “Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.”

I’ll say it again: God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. Pray to him regularly until he answers with what you need.

Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, Psalm 141

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, and Psalm 141.

This devotional is about Psalm 141.

In this song, David calls for God’s help again (v. 1), looking to Him to deliver him from his enemies (vv. 8-10). Although there were immediate threats that occupied his attention, they did not keep David from being concerned about his own moral development. In verses 3-5 he asked God to help him in a few specific ways:

  • First, he asked God to guard his mouth in verse 3. That was a request for God to help him learn to choose his words wisely and righteously.
  • In verse 4 he asked for help guarding his heart. This was a request for God to purify his mind and his desires so that he wanted to do what was right rather than longing for pleasures offered by sin.
  • Finally, in verse 5 David resolved to receive correction from other people well. He regarded a rebuke from another righteous man to be “a kindness,” a blessing like “oil on my head.”

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas? Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right.

We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Even when we need God to work in our lives outside, it is important to remember to ask him to help us with our struggles within. Take time to pray now asking God to help you grow in obedience. Think about where your struggles are as a Christian and pray for God to help you.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36

Today we are scheduled to read Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36.

This devotional is about Psalm 36.

After we sin, and the pleasure of it is gone, and the price tag comes due, it feels pretty stupid.

Before we sin, however, sin seems like a great idea. We delude ourselves into the think that we won’t get caught or we justify our disobedience by telling ourselves that our case is exceptional. Or maybe we don’t even think very far beyond the moment; the promise of sin clouds our thinking and keeps us from counting the cost.

David had a message for us in this Psalm. Sin is not only stupid, it is arrogant. Verse 2 says, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” This is how our hearts deceive us. Your heart and mine tells you and me to ignore the truth of God’s word and the wisdom about life that is offered there and to trust our own judgment. When we choose to do wrong, we flatter ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out.

Verses 5-9 sing to the Lord, praising him for his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, his love, his abundance, his life, and his light. Believing these truths about God can cause us to make righteous choices in our lives. When I want to do wrong but choose to do right, it is a choice to follow God’s wisdom over my own. It is an act of faith, believing that God’s ways will be better than following my own ways–no matter how flawless my plans seem or how brilliant my evil heart tells me I am.

Verse 12 calls us to look at those who’ve come before us. They’ve already made the moral choices that we are tempted to make. They believed the lies of their sin-cursed hearts. What happened to them? “See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!”

Sin will please you for a moment and kill you in the end. God’s commands, however lead us to better things: “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (vv. 8-9).

Choose the light.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Psalm 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Psalm 16.

This devotional is about Genesis 17.

Two major events in Israel’s history were recorded in this chapter. First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (v. 5). Second, God commanded Abraham and his descendants to obey the covenant of circumcision (vv. 9-14). Of all the commands God gave to Israel throughout the generations, this is the only one that they obeyed faithfully. The generation that entered the promised land had not been circumcised by their fathers, but that appears to be the only time when this covenant was not practiced faithfully (see Joshua 5:2-8).

Circumcision created a permanent, physical mark on a man’s body that separated him from people in other nations and specified that he belonged to the nation of Israel. That was important for preserving the unique ethnic identity that God wanted. The Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaites, and later the Philistines and many others had their own identity for a time, but then were absorbed into other nations and ethnicities. Circumcision set God’s people apart from these other nations.

But the covenant of circumcision had a much greater importance than just creating and preserving a national identity for Israel. God told Abraham here in Genesis 17:7 that the purpose of the covenant was, “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Although it was a physical mark, it had a spiritual purpose. Faithfully marking each man physically, apart from the spiritual purpose, made it an empty ritual.

Rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faithful church attendance, and Bible reading and prayer are some of the ways in which God’s grace helps us to grow in Christ. But you can observe these rituals without God actually becoming “your God.” And, even as Christians, we can lose focus on our walk with God while continuing to practice these rituals; our practice of them becomes work that we do by habit or by willpower or because we think they earn merit with God rather than expressions of our love for God.

Is there anything you’re doing as a Christian that is expected of Christians but that does not come from your heart? Ask God to re-ignite your passion for him so that you become again a person who walks with God faithfully from the heart.