Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, Acts 16

Read Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, and Acts 16 today. This devotional is about Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each visit with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there in the city of Philippi when Lydia became a believer and gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). Then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, these men wanted revenge so they pressed charges against Paul and Silas of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “…stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)… “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy but instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34) then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.

Exodus 21, Job 39, Psalms 30-32

Read Exodus 21, Job 39, and Psalms 30-32 today. This devotional is about Psalm 30.

David planned a magnificent temple for the Lord and even left Psalm 30, which we read today, behind for its dedication. In this Psalm, David reviewed for us in broad strokes his experience of walking with God.

  • As a warrior, David was delivered from death by God’s help (vv. 1-3).
  • Although David felt the sting of God’s displeasure when he sinned (v. 5a, c), God remained faithful in giving the favor that He had promised David (v. 5b, d). For this, David encouraged his people to sing God’s praises (v. 4).
  • God secured David and his kingdom from many attacks (vv. 6-7a) and was merciful to David when he called on the Lord for help (vv. 7b-10).
  • God took away David’s sorrow and replaced it with joy (v. 11) so that David would sing to Him in heartfelt praise.

I hope your heart is rejoicing today as we gather to worship the Lord. If your heart is heavy–whether from trials or discipline or just the turmoil of living in a fallen world, may the Lord encourage your heart. Take comfort: “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). That morning may not break until we reach eternity, but it is coming. Trust the Lord’s plan; cry out to him for help, give him your sorrows and look to him for joy.

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Today, read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31). But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Today’s readings are Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100

Today we’re reading Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100.

This devotional is about Psalm 100.

This simple song oozes with joy. Verse 1 calls all the earth to “shout for joy.” Verse 2 commands us to worship him “with gladness” and come before him (in worship) “with joyful songs.”

Joy is an attractive emotion. But why should we do all this shouting and singing and worshipping with joy? The answer is in verse 3. That verse is the hinge on which this Psalm turns. We should worship joyfully because we belong to God:

  • He is God (v. 3a) and he made us (v. 3b) therefore we are his (v. 3c). What you make, you own. What you own, you control. We belong to God because he’s God and we’re his creation. But, the verse goes on and says:
  • We are his people (v. 3d). This refers to God’s covenant with Israel. His promises to Abraham and his descendants formed a unique relationship which made all Israelites “his people” in a more significant sense than “his by creation.” This promise to Israel still stands but we Gentiles have been grafted into it by God’s grace (see Romans 11:13-17).

But then, after describing how we belong to God by creation and by grace, the Psalmwriter says this, “we are… the sheep of his pasture.” This image suggests God’s care for us. He provides for us “his pasture” which we need in order to be nourished and healthy. He protects us from predators and cares about our spiritual well-being. We’re in good hands because they are his hands, the hands of the perfect shepherd.

Because we belong to God, he watches over and cares for us. What more reason, then, does a person need to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (v. 4)? Verse 5 affirms that God is good, he is loyally-loving, and he is faithful. Why? Because we belong to him.

This is directly opposite to how we think. We think (in our sinful thought patterns, that is) that to belong to God means to be controlled, manipulated, subjected, harassed by rules and punished severely. This Psalm argues the opposite. Because we belong to God he will take care of us. Most dog owners will feed and water and care for their dog because it belongs to them. Most of the same people won’t do anything for the stray dog that goes wandering through their backyards. The stray dog may be “free” to what he wants, but he becomes dirty and starved in the process. The dog that is truly free is the one that is loved and cared for.

This is why we rejoice. We belong to God but he loves us and will provide everything that is good for us like a great shepherd provides for his sheep. This is something to be joyful and bring glad praise for today.

Have you approached him “with thanksgiving” (v. 4) yet? If not, do that next.

2 Timothy 4

Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 4.

Paul seemed certain in this chapter that his life was nearing its end. He said so in verse 6, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.” Despite the fact that he was soon going to die as a martyr for the faith, the return of Christ and his coming kingdom were still promises that were important to him. It was “his appearing and his kingdom” that he had in mind when he charged Timothy to “preach the Word” in verses 1b-2. The reward he was looking forward to was tied to the fact that he had “longed for his appearing” (v. 8c). Even though his death would prevent him from seeing Christ’s return from the vantage point of earth, there was no fear that he would miss out on Christ’s kingdom. As he said in verse 18, “The Lord will… bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What he wanted most in life was for Christ to return and establish his promised kingdom on earth. If he died before that happened, he still had confidence that it would happen and that he would be there to enter the kingdom with Christ.

We have milestones in our lives that we look forward to. Depending on where you are in life, it might be graduating from high school or college, falling in love and getting married, having your first child, watching your children become adults, holding a grandchild, or retiring from work. These are all noble and worthwhile things to look forward to but does the coming of Christ and establishment of his kingdom enter your thoughts as well? Are you looking forward to that day when we will live and reign forever with Christ?

If not, why not? Is it love for this present world? Are you investing too much in this world and not enough into God’s kingdom? The coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom will be the greatest time in the history of humanity. The best family event or festival or concert or life milestone will never bring you as much joy as reigning with Christ in his kingdom. It will be the greatest time of your life and it will last forever. If you believe that, it will help you keep serving Christ no matter what the climate or culture or traditions around are. Enjoy and anticipate the good things in life God created for us to enjoy, but keep Christ’s return and his kingdom at the center of what you hope for. It will help you serve the Lord when truth is unwanted (vv. 1-4) and it will give you hope and comfort in the moment of death (vv. 6-8).