Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 3.

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. Back in chapter 1:6 Paul mentioned that the Thessalonian believers suffered persecution for their faith in Christ from the very beginning. We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home.

Here in chapter 3:3-4, Paul reminded the believers that he had predicted persecution would come to them (v. 4a-c) and that his prediction had come true (v. 4d). Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we are not with the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer.

These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

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.

Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, Acts 14

Read Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, and Acts 14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 31.

The Assyrian Empire dominated the Middle East 700 years before Christ. They defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and scattered the people in those tribes away from the Promised Land. That was a direct result of Israel’s disobedience to God’s Law.

Although the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem remained in the Promised Land assigned to them, they were oppressed by the Assyrians and fearful that Assyria would defeat them as they had Israel.

Hezekiah was a godly king of Judah in many ways, be he also did some foolish things. His advisors urged him to create an alliance with the Egyptians but Isaiah pronounced a curse (v. 1: “woe”) on anyone who was looking to the Egyptians for military strength against the Assyrians. The reason for this curse is stated at the end of verse 1; they seek help from Egypt “… but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” As mighty as the Egyptians were, they were not nearly as powerful an ally as the Lord himself was for Judah, if they would only trust him. “But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together” (v. 3).

God had promised to protect and defend his people and that promise is repeated here in Isaiah 31 (v. 4), but humans naturally seek human solutions to human problems rather than looking to God for supernatural or providential solutions to human problems.

You and I do this, too. We go Googling for the answer almost immediately when we encounter a problem, but often we forget God altogether or pray as if he won’t help us anyway. This passage reminds us to turn to God, claim his promises and call for his help when we face pressures and problems in our lives.

Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2

Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2.

This devotional is about Acts 2.

Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There has been a lot of discussion in recent church history about whether what the disciples experienced here is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to that time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.

What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.

We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.

Leviticus 2-3, Song of Songs 6, Psalms 39-41

Read Leviticus 2-3, Song of Songs 6, Psalms 39-41.

This devotional is about Psalm 39.

Psalm 39 is a lament, a type of Psalm where the song expresses sorrow to God.

Usually Psalms of lament express sorrow regarding Israel as a group. This one, however, is an individual lament so the psalmist is sorrowful about his own individual pain and problems. Unfortunately, the psalm tells us nothing about what his problems were. Aging? Disease? Personal betrayal? A crisis of faith?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Clearly, though, something was deeply bothersome to him and affected his relationship with God. Although he was determined not to lose his testimony by saying something against God in the presence of the wicked (vv. 1-2a), he could not contain his pain completely. In verses 2b-11, he cried out to God. He asked God for wisdom in managing his life as he senses his days were few and fleeting (vv. 4-6). Then he asked God for salvation from whatever was oppressing him (vv. 7-13). He seemed to regard the problem as God’s discipline in his life (v. 11, 13a) and he begged God to remove it from him as the Psalm closed (v. 13b) so that he could enjoy what little time he had left in life. Unlike so many Psalms that end with an encouraging note of hope and confidence in God, this one ends with one man’s desperate plea for God’s help.

A Psalm like this may not stimulate us to worship, but it is helpful for us as believers. It shows us that there is an emotional range to our prayers that is much greater than we think is allowable or safe. Our praying tends to be very cautious, very measured, and very predictable. We’ve been taught that it is OK to ask God to save people, to ask God for healing, to ask God for his will to be done, to ask God to bless and help us. Of course these are biblical ways to pray, but Psalms like this show us that there is so much more.

God desires for us to speak to him from the heart. While we should remember that he is the Creator and we are the creation, we should also remember that he is our Father, that he loves us and wants us to pour out our hearts in humble dependence on him. Your questions, your tears, your screams of pain and anguish are not inappropriate expressions for God; they are a sign of your authentic faith. So, if you’re hurting, confused, sad, desperate, or whatever emotion you’re feeling, God gave you the gift of prayer so that you can speak to him from the heart. So, speak up!

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 27, Ecclesiastes 3, Proverbs 8:1-21

Read Exodus 27, Ecclesiastes 3, and Proverbs 8:1-21 today.

This devotional is about Exodus 27.

From Exodus 25 through 30, God spelled out for his people how to create the tabernacle and all the things that belonged in it. Chapter 25:31-40 described the lampstand that they were to build. Here in 27:20-21 the Lord told them how to make the oil that would be burned in that lamp.

The lampstand itself had seven lamps–one in the center and six branches–three on each side (25:32, 37). Remember that–seven lamps on one lampstand.

This lampstand was placed “outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21a). That means it was in the holy place, just outside the Most Holy Place (or holy of holies, as it is sometimes called). God’s command was that these seven lamps were to be burning at all times; that’s what “from evening till morning” (v. 21c) means. The only time these lamps would ever go out was if the people (and, therefore, the tabernacle) were moving to a new place. When the tabernacle was set up and in use, the lamps were supposed to burn night and day.

The people of Israel had their own lamps which they used in their tents at night. When it was time to sleep, the lamps God’s people used at home were extinguished because they were not needed and might prevent them from sleeping. God never sleeps, so the ever-burning lamps were a testimony to God’s wakeful watchfulness over his people. Because God was always awake and on duty, his people could pray to him anytime–night or day.

Notice also that the oil for these lamps was to be brought by the people. Verse 20 says, “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.” It was the duty of the non-priests to bring a constant fresh supply of this olive oil so that the lamps would never go out.

Also note that the responsibility to provide oil for the lamps passed from one generation to another. The last sentence of verse 21 says, “This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.”

Finally, note that a particular kind of olive oil was needed to fuel these lamps: “clear oil of pressed olives” (v. 20a). Commentators say that this kind of oil would burn with very little smoke. There was a purity to this kind of preparation that was fitting as a symbol of God and his presence.

So, what do we have here? Let’s review:

  • The priests were to make a lamp with seven spots on top where the fire light would appear.
  • This lampstand was placed outside the curtain where the Most Holy Place was. It was the closest thing to the Ark of the Covenant (beside the curtain that separated the Holy and Most Holy Places).
  • The seven lamps were never supposed to go out because they symbolized God’s presence and attention night and day.
  • The oil for this lamp was to be:
    • Pure olive oil to burn without smoke.
    • Provided by the people, not the priests
    • Continually provided by the people for every generation.

What does any of this have to do with us Christians? 

  • At the very least, it serves as a visual reminder to us of God’s constant presence. He is always awake, always alert, always watching over us and ready to hear our prayers.
  • The command for the people to provide the oil from one generation to another reminds us that we all contribute to God’s ministry. If we stop contributing to God’s work, the light of his presence may go out in the world.

But consider one more possible application of this passage: In Revelation 1:12, John saw “seven golden lampstands” and in verse 20 of Revelation 1 he was told that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Admittedly, the tabernacle/temple only had one lampstand with seven lamps emanating from it so there are some differences. But because there were seven lamps on the lampstand in Exodus 27, God may have chosen these seven churches and used the symbol of the lamp to call up this image from the tabernacle/temple.

In Revelation 2 in God’s message to the church at Ephesus was that unless they repent, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:5). That was a promise that the church would cease to exist. The light of the gospel would go out in Ephesus and there would be no indication of his vigilant presence there. That happened; the church in Ephesus no longer exists because Ephesus no longer exists. The region where Ephesus was located is modern day Turkey–a Muslim-dominated nation.

If the lamps in Revelation 1-2 are to remind us of Exodus 27, then the fact that the people were to supply the oil so that the light never went out is significant. The light of God’s truth and God’s presence is only one generation from being extinguished. Unless God’s people continue to cultivate purity and contribute to his work, the light can go out and God will remove the lamp. Note that the elders of the church are part of the people of the church. Elders/pastors are not priests because Jesus is the one and only priest.

And what was it that the church in Ephesus needed to repent of? Lovelessness. Revelation 2:4-5 says, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

When we stop loving God and loving each other, we are no longer supplying the gospel with the fuel for its light. When there is no love in God’s church, the light goes out and God removes the lamp completely.

By God’s grace, then, let us love him and love each other. Cultivate a heart for God and serve him and his people in love. Without this love, the light of God’s presence in our church will go out.

Exodus 23, Job 41, Luke 5

Read Exodus 23, Job 41 and Luke 5.

This devotional is about Luke 5:15-16: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Three years. That’s how long most scholars think Jesus’s public ministry lasted. Compared to most adult lives, three years is a pretty short time. Compared to eternity, which the Son of God has lived, three years is nothing. So, Christ had to make the three years he lived on earth count. He had three years to leave volumes of teaching material, gather followers, die for our sins, rise again, and commission his followers to take the gospel around the world. He did not have a lifetime to get all those important things done.

Yet, as interest in his ministry grew (v. 15), the Lord “…often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (v. 16). If they knew how short his life would be, some might have argued that prayer was not the best use of his time. Surely the time he spent alone praying could have been spent teaching or calling disciples. Christ had spent eternity communing with the Father and Holy Spirit; surely he could talk to them less often in order to accomplish more with his life. Then, when he returned to the Father, he’d have all the time eternity allows to communicate with the other members of the Trinity.

Clearly, Christ did not view prayer as a waste of time. Nor did he consider to be of little importance or low on his list of priorities. Just the opposite; his life and his mission were too important for him not to pray. Although he was busy and pressed for time, Jesus made time frequently to pray.

When life gets busy for you, do you neglect your time of prayer? Is prayer so low in importance and priority to you so that you only squeeze it in occasionally? Does prayer get cut from your day when there are high demands on your time?

If Jesus made time to pray when he had only three years to change the world, surely you and I should make more time for prayer than we do. Make prayer a priority in your life, not an afterthought.

Exodus 19, Job 37, Luke 3

Read Exodus 19, Job 37, and Luke 3.

This devotional is about Job 37. 

The Bible makes a distinction between Job’s three friends and Elihu, the speaker in this chapter of Job. Compare Job 2:11 to Job 32:1 and Job 42:7:

  • In Job 2:11 we were told that “Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite…” came to see him after they heard about his trouble. There was no mention of Elihu in this text.
  • In Job 32:1, Scripture says, “these three men stopped answering Job….” That statement was in preparation for Elihu’s speeches which began in that chapter.
  • In Job 42:7 God confronts Eliphaz and says, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” Again, no mention was made of Elihu by God. Elihu was not charged with failing to speak the truth about God like the three friends were, but he also wasn’t commended for speaking truth like Job was.

Also, Job did not respond to Elihu’s speeches, but he did respond each time to the words of the other three men. What is the meaning of Job’s silence toward Elihu?

Because of these issues, interpreting Elihu’s speeches is a point of contention among scholars. Some think Elihu spoke the truth and prepared the way for God’s speeches which began in Job 38. Others think Elihu is a fool, so Job and God just ignored him as Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him,” recommends.

I tend to agree with the interpretation that says Elihu was a fool, although it is still curious to me that God didn’t claim to be angry with him like he was with the other three friends. But, Job 42:7 vindicates Job and God explicitly said that Job “spoke truth about me.” Given that, how could Elihu rebuke Job and yet be speaking the truth?

In our reading for today, Job 37, Elihu expounded on the greatness of God. In verses 1-13, he described God’s sovereign rule over the weather. Then, he pointed, in verses 14-18, to Job, asking rhetorically, how God does all this? Finally, in verses 19-24, Elihu concluded that God’s greatness precludes us from ever speaking to him. He said:

  • “…we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness” (v. 19b).
  • “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power” (v. 23a).

Elihu does suggest that God will listen to “all the wise in heart” (v. 24b), but he does not seem to think that Job is one of them. Elihu’s theology is that God is too great, too detached to notice, listen to, or care about anyone except the elite believer–“the wise in heart” as he described them in verse 24b.

That is wrong.

Yes, God is great. His power and being are beyond our understanding. He is greater than we can comprehend and our being is insignificant in every way compared to him. But, that does not mean that God fails to notice or care about us. Just the opposite is true; God is so great, so wise, so powerful that he knows each of us better than we can imagine and he cares about us more than we can possibly realize.

If you feel insignificant, unimportant, and unnoticed, please realize that God sees you and knows you perfectly. He is never too busy to listen or too big to care. As majestic and powerful as God is, he is equally loving and knows everything there is to know about us.

Don’t be afraid, then, to pray, even if your request seems small and unimportant to anyone but you. Don’t believe the lies that God doesn’t know who you are or doesn’t care about your needs. It is not your righteousness or wisdom that gives you a voice before the Lord; it is his grace and love for you that guarantees his attention.

Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4

Read Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4.

This devotional is about James 4.

Conflict is part of human life. It may manifest as sibling rivalry, office politics, negative political campaigns, first degree murder, or in some other way, but within humanity, someone is always struggling against someone else.

James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer.

It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us.

But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God for something in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine, as if prayer goes up then goodies come out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b).

Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism.

James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4. We made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5).

But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether our desire for those things comes from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family, or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Exodus 9, Job 27, Hebrews 13

Read Exodus 9, Job 27, and Hebrews 13.

This devotional is about Hebrews 13.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others….” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have–a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalms 20-23

Read Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalms 20-23. This devotional is about Job 16-17.

There are times when we need to speak hard but truthful words to each other. Jesus commanded us to go a fellow believer who sins and point out their fault (Matt 18:15).

But that command is for a situation where you have direct knowledge of the sin, either because you were sinned against, or saw the person sin, or the believer is not hiding the sin.

We are not commanded to make assumptions about one another or accuse others of sin when we have no evidence. It is never wrong to ask if someone is in sin but it is never right to accuse without a clear basis.

Job’s friends had no evidence that he had sinned. Not one of them pointed out a specific instance of sin or even suggested specific ways in which he might have caused himself this trouble by sinning. They worked backward from his calamity to accusations of sin because, in their theology, God punishes sinners and rewards the righteous. Job’s tragedies were all the evidence they thought they needed to accuse him.

Nobody likes to be accused so it is insulting to accuse someone without evidence, especially if the person being accused is actually innocent. Job was dealing with incredible trauma and, instead of being comforted, his “friends” railed on him to ‘fess up. It is a cliché to talk about “adding insult to injury” but that’s exactly what Job’s friends did. His statement in 16:2b, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” expressed the frustration he felt based on how he was being treated.

What Job needed was not accusers who would help him come clean but loving friends who would help him.

And what would have been helpful to him? Two things:

  1. Encouragement: In 16:4b-5 he said, “…if you were in my place…. my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” A godly friend would have comforted Job with affirming words that God’s ways were always right, so this would turn out someday for good.
  2. Prayer. In 16:20-21 we read these words, “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”

How can you help a fellow believer who is hurting? Encouragement and prayer.

Is someone coming to mind who needs this? Pray for them now, then contact them to encourage and pray with them.