Happy Friday, friends! For many of us out there, the days are kind of just running into each other right now. I had two different pastor friends share that same thought with me at different times today. Our current situation is a bit surreal, isn't it? Almost like it is a dream. The world is shaking, but God is our refuge in times of trouble. Isaiah was written to the Israelites, but followers of Christ are also inheritors of the promises of God to Israel, because we have been grafted into the same vine that they are in, according to the Bible. That means that we can rest in the beautiful promise of Isaiah 43:
Now this is what the Lord says—
the one who created you, Jacob,
and the one who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.
2 I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior.
Today's Bible readings are Leviticus 6, Psalms 5-6, Proverbs 21 and Colossians 4. Our focus passage today is Colossians 4, specifically verse 2. Let's read the whole passage and then come back and focus on prayer.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
Let me admit something to you: Once, twice, three times a day, this coronavirus thing shakes me up. Maybe it is when I'm reading the stats and looking at the graph of the rising cases in America. Earlier it was when I was watching the graphs and rising cases in Italy, and wondering if it would hit the U.S. that hard. Spoiler alert, it appears to be doing just that. Sometimes I get concerned about my children, my wife, our church family and all of the precious saints there. My mom and dad and sister and brother and other family in Alabama, and my church family there. These are troubled times, to be sure, and it gets to me every day.
2008-2009 was an interesting period in my life. I had been in ministry for many years at that point, but I was just beginning a role as the full time senior pastor of a church in my hometown, and I was as excited as I could be, and I came in boldly. Until, that is, a crippling attack of anxiety and fear hit me from out of nowhere. One of the things about Covid 19 is that its novel - new, and our bodies don't have any sort of built up defense against it. I was in a similar place in 2008-2009. Anxiety and fear were new to me, in large part. It was something I had never significantly struggled with in the past (except for my irrational fears of sharks, ghosts and spiders - the unholy trio of things that scare me.) I was completely and utterly unprepared to deal with fear and anxiety, and it just hit me like a Category 5 hurricane hitting an old mobile home. I crumpled, and crumpled for a long time. The ONLY thing that helped - literally - was the Word of God and prayer. I had believed that prayer was important before, but had never had to rely on God like a lifeline until that storm of anxiety hit. I saturated myself in the Word and in prayer, and in due time - gradually, God pulled me out of the miry clay, so to speak.
At this point, I am not at all near where I was in 2008, but the anxiety level has increased. Hurricane 2008 taught me to turn to God in His Word and Prayer at the first sign of rain, and God has graciously led me back to that place again in this pandemic season. Each night when the podcast is done - even if its late - I go out and walk and pray, and God meets me there and that time with Him has been an anchor in a storm that is getting fiercer every day. Many of you are scared. Some more than me, some less than me, and some about that same. Allow me to exhort you: Whether you think this thing is a big deal or not, take heed of the command in God's Word: "Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving."
What does DEVOTE mean? The Greek word there is made up of two Greek words - one means towards, or to, and the other means endure. In other words, the Word of God is calling us to ENDURE TOWARDS or INTO PRAYER. This is a season that I believe the Holy Spirit is waking up the Body of Christ to ENDURING TOWARDS Prayer. Have you heard the call of the Spirit to increased times and devotion to prayer? His command is pointing us that way - we MUST heed that call. This is also a Romans 12:12 hour:
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.
To be clear, it is ALWAYS a Romans 12:12 and Colossians 4:2 season, but this is an hour and season where it is ACUTELY IMPORTANT that the people of Jesus be devoted in prayer, rejoicing in hope, patient in affliction and persistent in prayer. This podcast is listened to in several different countries, and all of them are absolutely up against the ropes right now, and the church of Jesus in every corner of the world should right now be rising up and being DEVOTED TO PRAYER! To help encourage us all in that direction, I'd like to turn to one of my heroes of the faith, George Mueller of Bristol. He was a mighty man of prayer and faith - a pastor and founder of orphanages who never asked for money or provision from humans, but only prayed to God about such matters, and he kept a running tally of the thousands of times God answered his prayers. Here is Mr. Muller teaching us how to pray in the midst of trials and afflictions:
George Muller of Bristol
Matthew 7:7–11: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” If we believe that it will be even as the Lord Jesus said, with what earnestness, perseverance, expecting faith, shall we give ourselves to prayer! Though the answer be long delayed, though, as to sight, the answer to our prayers can never be received; yet, since we believe, walk by faith, we shall continue to expect an answer to our prayers, as assuredly as our petitions are according to the mind of God, are asked in the name of the Lord Jesus, and we exercise faith in the power and willingness of God to help us.
Again, the testimony of God the Holy Ghost, in Romans 8:28, is: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Now, if we lay hold on it by faith, bring to it in faith our greatest trials, difficulties, afflictions, bereavements, etc., our hearts will be comforted, we shall obtain peace to our souls. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus for forty-four years, but I have invariably found that my greatest trials have proved my greatest blessings; they have worked for my good. But suppose we did not see this to be so, while yet in the body, we have nevertheless to exercise faith concerning what God says; we have to walk by faith, regarding that word of His, “That all things work together for good to them that love God,” and then will the heart be comforted and sustained.
Three years ago God allowed two most heavy trials to befall me. They continued month after month. I said to myself, “This too works for my good;” and I continued day by day, while the afflictions lasted, to make known my requests unto God, that He would graciously be pleased to sustain me under them, and, in His own time, deliver me out of them. There was hanging in my bed-room in a frame a text, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10), upon which my eyes fell as I rose in the morning; and my heart said to my heavenly Father, “I do open my mouth wide; wilt Thou graciously be pleased to do according to Thy word? and wilt Thou fill it!”
I continued patiently, believingly, expectingly, to look to God for help, and He did deliver me out of these two most heavy afflictions, and I have thus become further acquainted with Him. All this I say for the comfort and encouragement of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ. Will you, then, the next time that you are in trial, seek to remember this for your comfort? You may not be able to see how such and such a heavy trial can work for your good; but it will most assuredly, as God has said. And if even in this life you should not see it, you will do so in the world to come; but generally we see it already in this life.
The reason why the children of God are so frequently overpowered by difficulties and trials is, because they attempt to carry their burden themselves, instead of casting it upon God, as He not only graciously allows them to do, but commands them to do; and therefore they lose the promise which is coupled with the command; they find themselves not sustained. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee” (Ps. 55:22). This does not mean simply that we should pray to God in our trials and afflictions, but that we should exercise faith in the power and willingness of God to help us under our trials; and by this we know whether we have only used words in prayer, or whether we have, in believing prayer, exercising faith in God, spoken, to Him about our trials. If the latter was the case, then, though the trial still lasts, the burden thereof is gone, because we have laid it upon God, to bear it for us; but if we have not exercised faith in God, we are still carrying the burden ourselves.
All these matters are so deeply important, because if we do not walk by faith we cannot be happy in God, and therefore cannot bear such a testimony for God as we should bear were we indeed happy. Our very countenances should testify of our peace and joy in God, in order that thus the unconverted may be stirred up to seek for themselves after that which makes the children of God so happy.
George Müller, Jehovah Magnified: Addresses (Bristol, England: The Bible and Tract Depot of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution, 1876), 49–53.
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