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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In the Middle

Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 4.

What a shock! Demas, who is twice demonstrated as a faithful fellow worker of Paul’s (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24), has abandoned Paul because he loved this present world. That goes to show how all of us are just in the middle of our journey. We don’t get to rest on past victories and previous work. Satan is attacking us every day and will count it a great triumph to take a Demas like you or me and turn us to the world. But wait! Look at Mark. All historical indications suggest this is the John Mark who abandoned Paul in Acts 13:13. Paul saw John Mark as so useless that he parted company with Barnabas over wanting to bring John Mark along on another journey (Acts 15:36-41). Yet, at the end of Paul’s life, he wants Mark to come join him because he is useful. That just goes to show we are in the middle of our journey. We don’t need to give up because of past failures and sins. God is working on us, in us, and for us every day to lift us up, bring us along, and grow us to bring glory to Him, being useful in His kingdom and service. We’re in the middle today. So is every one around us. Don’t get distracted by the past, simply press on for God’s glory today and in the future.

Tomorrow’s reading is Titus 1.

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Into All the World

Today’s reading is Mark 16.

Have you ever noticed that the 11 to whom Jesus said, “Go into all the world,” didn’t actually do it? At least, we don’t see them doing it in the Bible. Even when the church was dispersed because of Saul’s persecution, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. Paul traveled quite a bit. But there are no trips into Africa for him. Jesus was not giving a personal commission to the apostles that they themselves had to make missionary trips to every location in the world, or even in the known world of the Roman Empire. At least they didn’t interpret it that way. Rather, they were establishing a kingdom that through their teaching and influence over others would go into all the world. We are part of that commission. Fulfilling it doesn’t mean you have to take a missionary trip to a foreign land. It does mean we need to take the gospel to people wherever we go and then teach those people to take it with them to people wherever they go and teach those people to…you get the idea. If you have an opportunity for a foreign missionary trip, take it. But don’t wait for that. A domestic missionary trip to your next door neighbor’s house or to the cubicle on the other side of your office or to the checkout clerk at your local grocery store fulfills this commission also. The commission is for you and all you teach. Keep it up.

Tomorrow’s reading is 1 Peter 1.

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A Hard Day’s Reading

Today’s reading is Mark 15.

Today’s reading is hard to read. In fact, without realizing it, I found myself skipping bits. “I already know this part of the story,” I thought, dropping my eyes down the page. But this is the gospel in all its gory glory. Jesus, God in the flesh, having left the throne of heaven and emptied himself became a slave and now descends to the shame of letting His creation treat Him like a common criminal. He is beaten. Spit on. Mocked. Belittled. A crown of thorns shoved on His head, then beaten on further by being hit with a rod where those thorns are. Scourged. Then led in shame passed the mocking crowds. Nailed to a cross until gasping for breath He asphyxiated and died. That is painful to read. That is painful to envision. Why did He do it? Because He loves you more than He loves Himself. That is the gospel. Hang on to it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Mark 16.

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Strength Training

Today’s reading is Mark 14.

Is there anything in your life worth praying for a full hour about? And then doing so again? And then doing so again? What about the lost people around you? What about the temptations you’ve still been falling into? What about the battle Satan is waging against the kingdom of God and your congregation? Now here is the bigger question. If there was something so important that it needed an hour of prayer as Jesus gave to facing His impending sacrifice, would you be able to watch and pray or would you fall asleep like Peter? Jesus said Peter’s problem was not a lack of willingness but a lack of physical strength. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak. Many people wake up every morning, hit the gym, and lift weights adding incrementally each week to increase their flesh’s ability. May I suggest the more important strength training we need to pursue is the ability to pray like Jesus did in the garden, strengthening our flesh to be able to struggle and wrestle with God in prayer for increasing periods of time. Maybe there isn’t anything in your life right now that needs an hour of prayer, but when it does come, you want to be ready. How much time could you devote to focused prayer today without falling asleep? Start there. Then add to it next week even if only by one minute. One day, you’ll be glad you did.*

Tomorrow’s reading is Mark 15.

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Stay Awake!

Today’s reading is Mark 13.

While I personally believe this entire chapter refers to a judgment that is already past, I am also aware this is typical judgment language. That is, almost everything said in this chapter can be said about every judgment God has brought and will bring upon men, nations, and the world. Thus, I need to stay awake. Of course, I don’t mean literally I must never sleep. But I need to be alert in life. The tempter is everywhere, taking every opportunity he can to slip into my heart and mind unnoticed. Sometimes, I don’t even realize he is there until some ungodly notion has taken hold and come to fruition. I need to be alert to his schemes, to nip them in the bud before they have an opportunity to grow. When God judges, I want Him to find faith in me. I need to stay awake.

Tomorrow’s reading is Mark 14.

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The Greatest Commandments

Today’s reading is Mark 12.

Love God. Love your neighbor. These are the greatest commandments. But what does that mean? Does that mean we can break all the others, but we better not break these? Does that mean these are the only ones that really matter? No. These are the greatest because they encompass all the rest. When we love God and love others, we’ll keep the rest of the commandments. All of God’s law is summed up in these two statements. They are the goal of all the other commandments. Keep in mind, however, the love described in these two commandments is not an explosion of emotion. Rather, this love is a seeking of the benefit of the other above the benefit of self. Seek God above self. Seek others above self. These are the greatest of all God’s laws.

Monday’s reading is Mark 13.

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