Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?

Deuteronomy 12, Jeremiah 5, Proverbs 14:19-35

Read Deuteronomy 12, Jeremiah 5, and Proverbs 14:19-35.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 5.

Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim judgment to Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He is called “the weeping prophet” because he saw the judgment he prophesied happen and wrote a lament about it in the book of the Bible known as “Lamentations.” God judged Judah because they worshipped idols instead of the true God. Jeremiah wrote about that in this chapter in verses 7-25, but the opening verses of this chapter look at the problem differently.

In verses 1-3 God told Jeremiah to search Jerusalem, capital of the Southern Kingdom, to find a truthful person. Verse 1b issued this challenge: “If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” But, in verse 2, the Lord told Jeremiah that everyone in his city was dishonest. People might swear in God’s name to be telling the truth, but they were lying.

Jeremiah knew this to be true, but he believed the problem was confined to the poor who “do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 4b). He was confident that the leaders of Judah would know better. “Surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” he said to himself in verse 5b. So, verse 5a tells us about his resolve to speak to the leaders to see if he could find that one honest man that would spare the whole kingdom from judgment.

But, no. According to verses 5c-6, even the leaders of Judah had traded truthfulness for dishonesty. 

Since the root problem was that Judah did “not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 4), that they had “sworn by gods that are not gods” (v. 7b) and “‘have been utterly unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord” (v. 11), why is there such a focus on telling the truth in the early verses of this chapter?

The answer is that truth is an attribute of God. An untruthful person is showing the evidence of his unbelief. Lies are a measurable symbol of what someone worships. The further a person or a society strays from God, the more untruthful that person or society will become.

Unbelievers do tell the truth at times. They may even be generally truthful in what they say. But people like us have an uncanny ability to lie to and deceive ourselves. We all speak sincerely at times about our beliefs, but if we’ve chosen to believe something to be true that is actually false, we are not objectively truthful. Eventually whole societies are swallowed up in nonsense because they—collectively—have agreed to believe and to affirm what is false. Unless you know God, you can’t live a life of truth. 

As Christians, we too struggle to be truthful. We sometimes deceive others purposefully and we often deceive ourselves. We do this when we make excuses for sin (our own or others) or give assent to what is popular even though it is unbiblical and often irrational.

This passage should remind us that the God of truth that we worship calls us to reflect his nature in our lives by being truthful people as we grow to become like him. Jeremiah could not find a truthful man because he couldn’t find a man who really worshiped the Lord. Let us who know the Lord, then, choose to show the glory of God, the God of truth, in the honest, truthful ways in which we speak.

Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 63, 1 Corinthians 5

Read Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 63, 1 Corinthians 5 today.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 4.

In this chapter Moses transitioned from surveying Israel’s recent history to expounding on God’s law. Verses 1-14 form the transitional paragraph. In verse 10, Moses called on the adults who were children at the time to “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” He reminded those who were there how terrifying it was to see the glory of God revealed on that mountain (vv. 11-13) and how God graciously stopped speaking directly to the people and, instead, mediated his word through Moses (v. 14).

In verse 15 Moses used the fact that God did not have a physical form to remind Israel of the fact that the Ten Commandments forbade them from making “for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape…” (v. 16). The rest of that paragraph (vv. 15-31) spelled out what would happen if Israel turned to idolatry. Israel’s history showed the complete fulfillment of what Moses described here.

Then, in verses 32-34, Moses called God’s people to contemplate world history. What God did for Israel, redeeming them as an intact nation from Egypt, was unprecedented. God did this, according to verse 35, to demonstrate the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). Everything God did for Israel was proof that he was the only true God; therefore, according to verse 39, Israel should “acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.”

With these words, Moses reframed the Ten Commandments, which he will repeat in tomorrow’s reading in Deuteronomy 5. But Moses’s point here is that God’s commands were not a burden to Israel; they were gifts from the only being in the universe who knows absolute truth.

If Israel would reverence the Lord for who he is and what he has done, then they could see his commands as a blessing that, when obeyed, produce even greater blessings.

You and I are not Jews. We live under a different covenant. God’s power was not demonstrated to us on a fire-filled mountain; it was demonstrated to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s commands to us have many similarities and many differences to Moses’s law and his commands to us come with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Still, like Israel, we are called to believe God and follow him in faith and obedience to receive his blessings.

Does the Christian life seem like a burden to you or a gift? Are God’s commands a crushing load that you don’t want to carry or are they a path of liberation from bondage to sin and its consequences? As believers in Jesus, we are called to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt 28:20). Since we believe in Jesus, we must also believe that obedience to his word will bring good, not harm, into our lives. So is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting the commands of God? Will you, by faith, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and follow him in obedience by faith?

Numbers 31, Isaiah 54, 2 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 54, and 2 Thessalonians 2.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued to discuss end time events in this chapter, telling the Thessalonians (and us) that “the day of the Lord” will not come until the “man of lawlessness” comes first, proclaiming himself to be God (v. 4), displaying great powers that will deceive many people into following him (vv. 9-12). Those who believe him will face God’s judgment because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10).

By contrast, those who trust in Christ do so because we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and “through belief in the truth” (v. 13). These statements remind us again how important truth is to the Christian life. While faith in Christ is a supernatural gift of God’s grace given to us when we hear the gospel through the new birth, part of that conversion process is a desire to receive the truth. This means receiving the truth about ourselves–that we are sinners deserving God’s punishment and the truth about God–that he is just and will punish sinners but also loving so that he came in the person of Christ to take away our sins.

These truths were the means God used to save us; in addition to these truths, however, God gave us a love for all of his truth. That “love” breaks down our hostility toward believing in the supernatural or in doctrines that we find difficult to accept. Since God has removed our hostility to the truth, then, Paul commands believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (v. 15).

Doctrine is important and those who love Jesus love doctrine, too. While there are some disagreements among believers about how to interpret the scriptures in some areas, we should keep looking together at the scriptures and seeking to find the correct interpretation because we are people who love truth.

Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 50.

Picture a man who went hiking in the woods and, somewhere along the way, lost his keys when they fell out of his pocket. The sun was going down and he was left out in the woods groping around in the darkness to find his keys so he could go home. Poor guy, right?

But what if he had a flashlight with fresh batteries in the backpack on his back? How …um… bright could he be if he had the light—and knew it—but was too lazy or stubborn to take it out and use it?

So is everyone who knows God’s word but makes decisions without considering or consulting it. Anyone who lives by what is acceptable and promoted in society, or by their own human ingenuity, or by the tenets of some false religion is groping around in the dark. Here in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah called to the people of God and asked for those who trusted Him to reveal themselves. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?” he asked in verse 10a. Then he said, “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” The implication of that verse is that darkness is the result of living by our own human reason.

In contrast, for those who believe the Lord, who take him at his word, the light of God’s revelation is available to them. Trusting “in the name of the Lord” and relying “on their God” means living as if you believe God’s word is true. That’s what faith is! It is accepting what God says and living accordingly, believing that you will be better off because God’s word is true. Verse 11 contrasts the one who lives in the light of faith with those who try to manufacture their own light through human wisdom: “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”

These are trying times we live in. Things that were accepted as universally-held facts in the past are now questioned, attacked, even ridiculed. Every choice, every “lifestyle decision” is considered valid in our culture (except for living by faith in God’s word, of course). But God warns all of us that they will “receive from my hand” pain and judgment (v. 11). At the end of today’s chapter the Lord promised, “You will lie down in torment.”

I’m glad you show up here everyday to read God’s word and consider its teachings with me. But do you live by the things you are learning here? Do you take the light that God’s word offers us and walk by it in your own life or do you put it away in your mental backpack and grope around looking for the keys to life on your own, by the light of a makeshift torch?

The difference between God’s blessings and his punishment is faith in his word which is evidenced by obedience. What area of disobedience has God brought to light in your life recently? Will you accept the light that God’s word offers and live by faith in that area?

Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Acts 1

Read Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, and Acts 1.

This devotional is about Isaiah 8:1-9:7.

Although they had the great prophet Isaiah living among them and speaking constantly on behalf of God, Judah was in deep rebellion to God’s word and cared nothing for Isaiah’s prophecies. As people tend to do, they looked to more mystical sources for revelation instead of the written Law of God and the spoken teachings and prophecies of Isaiah.

God rebuked his people for this in Isaiah 8:19. Instead of fooling around with false sources of spirituality, God through Isaiah called them back to his word: “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (v. 20).

When people look outside God’s word, they are dissatisfied (v. 21a) and end up cursing God (v. 21b). Instead of finding light in these sources, they find “distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Chapter 9 opened against this bleak backdrop by promising “no more gloom” (v. 1). Instead, the prophet stated that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (v. 2). Isaiah was prophesying a day of victory for God’s people (vv. 3-5) but it started with the birth of Christ, foretold in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Whether people look to God for truth or not, God would (and did!) send his Son to bring light into the world and he will come again to finish the work and establish his kingdom on earth. That is our hope, so let’s look to his word only for guidance and revelation and truth about how to live until his kingdom comes.

Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, Proverbs 10:1-16

Read Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, and Proverbs 10:1-16.

This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

This chapter is more about why God will punish his people for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society. Some examples might be: unmitigated materialism, lying in order to win in politics or business, “open” relationships, same-sex marriage and opposite sex cohabitation without marriage, and many others.

God pronounced a woe on his people here in Isaiah 5 because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth, he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong. When you reject God and his revelation, you are then left with only your preferences, ideas, and justifications. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

It is very easy to point out the ways in which others all evil good and good evil but all scriptural application should start with ourselves. If we rationalize sin in our own lives, we are doing exactly what God pronounces a woe upon in this chapter. Maybe that means “saving money” by not giving to God’s work or using your faithful service in the church as a reason not to attend worship or small group faithfully. Maybe it involves calling gossip a prayer request or a warning to watch out for someone.

Are our lives consistently, even radically, aligned with God’s truth? Or do we re-define or re-interpret truth to relabel our own disobedience?

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 17, Job 35, Luke 1

Read Exodus 17, Job 35, and Luke 1.

This devotional is about Luke 1.

Stories often begin with words like this, “There once was a man…” or “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” These opening lines establish for us readers how we should interpret the story. They tell us that the story is either fiction or legend. Fictional stories are completely made up. Legends are old stories about people and events that may have had some historical basis, but that are not being told as fact.

Fictions and legends can be entertaining. They can also powerfully illustrate principles or ideas that are more easily learned from stories. Fictions and legends should not, however, be treated as literally or historically true. They serve a different purpose than conveying history.

Some people say that some or all of the stories in scripture are fiction or legends. People who say that will allow that the Bible teaches some principles, but not that the Bible is literally true. This is nonsense for several reasons. Our reading here in Luke 1 shows one of those reasons.

When Luke wrote, he claimed that he was writing about facts, not fiction. Consider these elements:

  • The things Luke wrote about were “fulfilled among us” (v. 1). That’s not appropriate language for a fictional story or an old legend.
  • The stories came from “eyewitnesses” (v. 2)–people who actually saw what Jesus did and heard what he said.
  • Luke himself did research, double-checking the claims he’s heard with these eyewitnesses. We see this in his statement, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (v. 3b).
  • Luke’s purpose was, “…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (v. 4). Knowing the certainty of something is different than illustrating a principle.

In addition to these, Luke told us the time (v. 5a–“the time of King Herod”), the names of the people involved (Zechariah and Elizabeth), and their family ancestry in verse 5. Luke also told us that what happened to Zechariah happened in the temple (v. 9) and that his sudden loss of speech was witnessed by a group of people (v. 22).

In all these ways, Luke claims that his writings are true. Not true in the sense that they describe spiritual realities–although they do that, too. No, Luke is saying that the people are real, they lived in the real world at a specific time and in a specific place. When we say that the Bible is “literally true,” that’s one thing we mean. We mean that everything the Bible claims is true–the spiritual concepts, the miracles, the miraculous revelations of angels–all of it.

This is important for a few reasons:

  1. If all the Bible is true in every way, then we can’t just pick and choose to believe what “feels true” or “seems true” or “resonates with my truth.” We must believe all of it or reject it all.
  2. If the Bible claims to be true in every way, then we must interpret it accordingly. That includes the promises and prophesies of scripture that have not happened yet.

Do you believe that the Bible is true–all of it, in every way? Then don’t be selective about what you believe or about which aspects you will obey. Instead, receive it all as God’s word that has been revealed in real time to real people. Then, obey it all completely.

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalms 24-26

Read Exodus 7, Job 24, and Psalms 24-26.

This devotional is about Psalm 25.

Psalm 25 began in verses 1-3 with David reminding God that David was trusting in him. David then asked God to make his trust pay off by not letting David be put to shame (v. 2).

But David wanted more than a tit-for-tat relationship with God. He didn’t want to do right just so he would be well-treated by God. Instead, he wanted to serve God so that he could know God. That’s why he prayed in verse 4, “Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.” This expresses a desire for God himself–to know what he loves and hates, how he works, and why he does what he does. 

Where would God do that teaching of his paths? Verse 5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior.” He wanted to know God, to soak up his truth because “my hope is in you all day long” (v. 5c). It was his love for God, his desire to know God and live in close fellowship with God that motivated his godly life, not his desire to succeed. 

David also didn’t hide the fact that he was fallen. In verse 7 he pleaded for God to give him full pardon, complete forgiveness for his sins. “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.” This, too, is an indication of a person who is walking with God. The better you know God and his ways, the more apparent your sinfulness becomes. But as our “Savior” (v. 5), we know that God will be faithful and forgive the sins we confess to him. 

When we are indifferent to our sins, unconcerned about knowing God’s truth and his ways, and only care about God’s blessings, we are not walking with God. These are clear signs that our spiritual life is drifting rather than growing. Fortunately, God is gracious to sinners. Verses 8-11 describe what God does for sinners when we humble ourselves before him. He “instructs” (v. 8b) us, “guides” us (v. 9a) and “teaches” us “his way” (v. 9b). When we fear God (vv. 12, 14), he blesses us with knowing him, forgiving our sins, watching over us for good and delivering us from our troubles (v. 22).

How is your relationship with God? Are you walking with him, desiring to know him and follow his ways? Or is your spiritual life adrift?

As a believer in Christ, you have the assurance that God’s love and salvation are yours forever. But the blessing of knowing God comes from following him and walking with him daily. Take time to assess your walk with God. Change your mind in repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness and a renewed desire to live for him.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.