Praying with Faith

Today’s reading is Acts 12.

I’ve heard multiple preachers really give the Jerusalem church down the road for praying without faith in Acts 12. After all, they were praying for Peter, but when Rhoda claims he’s at the gate of Mary’s house, nobody says, “Awesome! Our prayers were granted.” Rather, they say things like, “You’re out of your mind” or “It must be his messenger.” The ungodly, heathen wretches. Why were they even praying if they weren’t going to believe it when their request was granted? I hope you read those last two sentences as sarcasm; I think the claims that they were praying without faith are not entirely fair. First, are you sure they were praying for Peter to be released at all? How do you know they weren’t simply praying for Peter’s faith to remain strong in the face of this persecution? Further, have you ever noticed that the text doesn’t say directly Herod’s plan was to execute Peter, but to bring him out to the people? In other words, Herod was planning to leave Peter’s fate up to the people because he was only pursuing this course of action to please the people. With that in mind, I’m guessing the prayers of the Christians were much more along the lines of praying that either Herod would change his mind or the people could be swayed to push for Peter’s release. I’m guessing it never crossed their minds that God would respond to their prayers by miraculously releasing Peter from prison in the middle of the night. In fact, I’m guessing it never even occurred to them to pray for that. After all, it didn’t occur to Peter either–even while it was happening. Certainly, praying in faith means not being shocked when God does do what we ask (though admittedly, He does not always grant our requests). I just don’t think that was the problem here. Here, we see that praying in faith means not limiting our requests by what we can imagine God will do. Paul says God can do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (see Ephesians 3:20). We need to have the faith to pray and think BIG!!!! When everyone else is praying for Herod to change his mind, we need to have the faith to ask God to send His angel and jailbreak Peter.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 12.

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The Prophet

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

If you have been able to read with us earlier in the week, you’ve already noticed some great parallels between Moses and Jesus. Both were rejected by their brethren. Both performed signs and wonders. Both were raised up by God to be the ruler and redeemer of His people. In the midst of all this, Stephen brings to mind a promise given by Moses: “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” Moses had promised this. In other words, allowing another prophet to come along and supersede Moses was not rejecting Moses at all, but believing him. However, the Israelites were making their same mistake over again. But it is an interesting and subtle mistake. Israel didn’t worship the golden calf because they had no trust for Moses or because they hated him or because they simply rejected him. It is actually trickier than that. The problem was the people got scared because it seemed to them Moses had disappeared. They had a leader they had followed and trusted, but now he had gone up into the mountain and been gone for 40 days. It may be that God had even killed him up on that fiery mountain. Rather than trusting God, who had just told them not to make idols, they had put their trust in Moses. Because Moses wasn’t coming back, they freaked out and rejected God. What happened here? It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Moses, it was that they put too much trust in Moses and the devil was able to twist that very trust to get Israel to abandon God for idols. In Stephen’s day, they were doing the same thing again. They were putting too much trust in the man Moses, and the devil was twisting that trust to get the people to ignore the very words of the man they supposedly trusted. He had said the Prophet was coming. He had said they should listen to the Prophet. But the people weren’t listening to him. What an amazing and shocking twist. It also shows how the devil works. He is subtle and crafty. His tricks run deep. The point for us is Jesus is the Prophet. Jesus is the one God was bringing. Don’t put your faith in Moses the man, but in the God who spoke through him. We have a Prophet. We have a Redeemer. We have a Ruler. His name is Jesus. Let’s put our faith in Him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 7.

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Believe Enough

Today’s reading is Luke 5.

I vacillate on Peter’s faith in the account of the great catch of fish. Sometimes, I think Peter is demonstrating great faith in Jesus. Other times, I think it is just barely any faith. After all, he does what Jesus says, but not without first having to make sure Jesus knows he thinks it is pointless. But, he did what Jesus said. That is the key I always end up getting back to. Whether he had great faith or small faith, he had enough faith. He had enough faith to do what Jesus said. That is how much faith I need to have. I may struggle with my faith. I may not understand why Jesus has asked what He has. I may even complain about it and think it is pointless. In the end, I need to believe enough to do what Jesus says. Today, my goal is to believe enough.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 5.

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Fear! No Fear!

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

Mary praises God saying, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). Zechariah, on the other hand, says, “We, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74). Which is it? Does He have mercy on those who fear or can we serve Him without fear? Yes! I admit, it is possible Zechariah is referring to a fear of the enemies. That is, he might be saying that because we are delivered from our enemies, we can serve God without fearing them. That is a lot like the prayer we hear so often in worship assemblies today saying, “Thank you for letting us gather here without fear of persecution.” My struggle with that is when Christianity started, that is exactly what all Christians faced. Perhaps we can read this as we have no reason to fear our ultimate enemy, Satan. There is definitely truth to that. I can worship God without fear that Satan is going to win. However, I think this struggle we have between scriptural commands to fear God and scriptural promises that we don’t need to fear God comes down to a very simple principle. It was one I was taught back in my college days when I was trained as a trim carpenter. A table saw is a powerful thing. One wrong move, and a finger is gone or an artery cut, and you’re bleeding out on the wood (my boss was always more concerned about blood getting on the wood than leaving my body). However, when you recognize the power and fear it–not a paralyzing terror, but a healthy fear–then you take the proper precautions. When you take the proper precautions, you don’t have to fear the saw. Another illustration comes to mind. When driving, if I fear getting a speeding ticket, I drive the speed limit. When I drive the speed limit, I don’t have to fear a speeding ticket. As odd as it sounds, my fear removes the need for my fear. God has mercy on those who fear Him. Because of that, we have no need to fear Him. Today, because you fear God, go forth without fear.

Next week’s reading is Luke 2.

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Believe the Word

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

Why was Zechariah rebuked and disciplined for not believing, while Mary who also questioned the angel was ultimately praised for believing? Good question. Notice there is a subtle difference between the questions asked. Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Zechariah asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Do you see the difference? Obviously, I cannot see into the mind of Mary. Was there doubt in her question about whether God could perform this? I don’t know. However, her question actually only asks the mechanics. It is not necessarily a question of doubt, but rather one about a lack of understanding. Zechariah’s questions, on the other hand, is essentially, “How do I know you are actually going to fulfill this promise?” Interestingly, there is one other place in Scripture where this kind of question gets asked. In Genesis 15:8, Abraham asks for this very kind of proof when God gives him a promise. Zechariah may have thought he was on good ground asking this question since he was mirroring Father Abraham. The angel demonstrates that this was not a time for mirroring Abraham, but for learning from Abraham. God gave Abraham a son even in his old age. God fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Abraham was the first and perhaps his doubts and questions can be understood. But Zechariah should learn from Abraham that God need not be doubted. God will keep His Word. And that is the lesson for us. We may sometimes wonder how God will accomplish His promises. We may even ask. However, let us know God always will fulfill His promises. God always keeps His Word. May we never doubt that.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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Disbelieve and Disobey

Today’s reading is Hebrews 3.

We often get into arguments about salvation, wanting to know which matters more: belief or obedience. Today’s reading gives some insight. But it answers a different question. Which matters more: disbelief or disobedience? The answer is…both. God told those who were disobedient that they wouldn’t enter His rest. But they were disobedient because they disbelieved. In other words, you can’t really separate the two. Disobedience stems from and follows on the heals of disbelief. If you have one, you automatically have the other. I can tell someone doesn’t believe because they refuse to obey. This answers our other question. People obey when they believe. They disobey when they don’t. If they don’t believe, they won’t obey. If they believe, they won’t disobey. The point is, biblically, you really can’t separate faith and obedience. They go together. They are heads and tails of the same coin. And so, the author of Hebrews tells us we need to believe and obey Jesus better than the Israelites did Moses, because Jesus is better. Believe Him, obey Him, and enter His rest.

Tomorrow’s reading is Hebrews 4.

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Today’s reading is Mark 6.

(Many apologies. Apparently, over the weekend, I accidentally skipped a chapter and got a day ahead. Getting back on track today. Here is a second look at Mark 6)

Unbelief is not more powerful than Jesus. That is, Jesus didn’t lay His hands on many people, attempting to heal them, but find Himself thwarted by their powerful unbelief. Rather, He was only able to lay His hands on a few people. That is, only a few people came to Him to be healed. Unbelief doesn’t defeat the power of Jesus. It simply doesn’t seek the power of Jesus. By contrast, faith saves, not because faith itself has saving power. Rather, it saves because it seeks out the One, the only One, who has the saving power. So, don’t be surprised if you ignore everything or even just some of what Jesus says and it doesn’t work for you. Believe, seek Him, listen to Him. That is what works.

Tomorrow’s reading is Mark 7 (For real this time).

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