Joshua 7, Jeremiah 33, Acts 20

Read Joshua 7, Jeremiah 33, and Acts 20 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 33.

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the better known verses in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is often assigned in Bible memory programs because of the compelling invitation to prayer it contains: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

This is a great verse on prayer, but like every verse in the Bible, it needs to be interpreted in context. When you read this verse alone, it sounds like a blank check from God. “Just pray and I’ll show you such delightful things that you never knew before.” But what are these “great and unsearchable things”? Before answering that question, Jeremiah reminded us of the situation he was living in. Verse 1 reminded us that he was still a political and religious prisoner in the palace. Verse 4 reminded us that severe judgment was coming to the city of Jerusalem: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

Yet God was not about to abandon his promise to Israel. After a period of defeat and exile, the people of Jerusalem would “enjoy abundant peace and security” (v. 6) as well as cleansing “from all the sin they have committed against men” (v. 8). There would be great worship in the city: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.” (v. 9). Although Jerusalem was about to deserted and demolished (v. 10), someday it would be a place of great happiness and joy and worship (vv. 11-12).

All of this will happen when Jesus rules on earth over Israel in the period of time we call “the Millennium” (vv. 15-16). So God was calling, through Jeremiah, to his people urging them to pray for the spiritual restoration that would come through the work of Messiah. God wanted to bless his people so much! The joy he wanted them to experience was far beyond what they had ever known. But they needed to call out to him in repentance and call upon him in faith, asking him to make good on the promise. When Israel put their trust in the Lord that wholeheartedly, God would establish his kingdom just as he promised he would (vv. 19-26).

Part of God’s purpose in allowing Israel to live in this unbelief is so that Gentiles, like us, would be gathered into his kingdom as well. But, like Israel, we wait for God’s timing to be accomplished when this great joy will be realized. Until then, we should call on God, as Jesus taught us to do, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The prayer of Jeremiah 33:3, then, is not that God will do wondrous things in your life today as much as it is urging us to pray for God’s kingdom growth and Christ’s return so that we can experience the beautiful promises of peace, joy, and prosperity described in this passage.

Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, 2 Corinthians 13

Read Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, and 2 Corinthians 13 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 32.

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem was in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender.

Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approached him wanting to do business; specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15).

The purpose of this transaction was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although God had been warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this event, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance. This is a great, great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is our prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive-thru? Do we fly in, demand what we want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when we expect?

Or do we take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer; this is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with our posture but in every way submitting ourselves to our almighty master? Are we willing to accept the kind of “no” to our prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage? Can we hold on to his promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Joshua 4, Jeremiah 29, 2 Corinthians 11

Read Joshua 4, Jeremiah 29, and 2 Corinthians 11 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 29.

After decades of idolatry, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Jeremiah and other prophets had predicted this defeat as God’s punishment, but his people did not repent. Many Israelites were killed and many were carried off to Babylon to live as exiles in a foreign land. God’s promised land still contained some of God’s chosen people, but they existed in the land as vassals to Babylon.

Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people who survived and were carried off to Babylon (v. 1). The gist of his letter was, “Thrive in Babylon as much as you can and in as many ways as possible (vv. 4-6) because you’re going to be there for 70 years (v. 10) and then I’ll bring you home.”

They were to make Babylon home even to the point of praying for it, its peace and prosperity (v. 7) which is surprising giving the godlessness of the Babylonians.

The point of these instructions was to teach God’s people that this exile would not be over quickly. Imagine if you were a 30 years old or older and read that this exile would last for 70 years. Your life would likely end in Babylon and your children might not live to see Israel again, either.

The only hope offered to these Jewish people is that in the future God would redeem and restore them (vv. 10-11) in conjunction with their spiritual renewal (vv. 12-13). This is hopeful in the sense that the people would understand that God had not abandoned his promises to Israel.

This passage can be applied to us in a couple of different ways, at least, but the one I want to highlight in this devotional is one I learned from Dr. John Piper. I would link to the source, but I think it was in an old sermon tape that someone loaned me two decades ago.

Anyway, Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….” We are citizens of heaven but we live here on earth until Jesus returns.

In a sense, then, we are like exiles living in a place that is not our home. How should exiles live? Jeremiah 29 tells us. It says that we should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This world will never be our promised land but until Jesus returns, it is where we are planted. We should not love this world or its system but we should live a God-glorifying existence here by living a productive life. Your work matters to God, your family life matters to him, and so does the place where you live. So put effort into these things not because they are worth living for but because God is glorified when we live for eternity while also making the most of our lives here within his will and for his glory.

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

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14. This devotional is about Numbers 27.

Although his sin prevented him from entering the land, Moses did not mourn his own loss or spend the rest of his life moping about how he deserved better. In fact, his focus was not on himself at all; he was concerned about the future of Israel without a clear leader. We saw this in today’s reading in verses 15-17: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’” Israel had such a hard time living in obedience to God’s word with a clear leader like Moses; how could they possibly follow the Lord without someone who would care for them and watch over them like Moses did? What an incredibly tender heart Moses had for the people who had treated him so poorly. When they sinned, he interceded for them. When they were ready to receive God’s promises without him, he prayed that the Lord would send them a good leader to shepherd them.

God answered Moses’s prayer with Joshua in verse 18. Notice, though, that Joshua would not fulfill 100% of Moses’ responsibilities. Moses led the people, spoke to God directly on behalf of the people, and received God’s communication for the people. Joshua would fill the role of leader, especially in a military sense, but Eleazar would take the role of communicating with God (v. 21). And this transition of leadership did not wait until Moses died; God wanted to begin answering Moses’ prayer now, so in verse 20 God commanded Moses to begin handing over leadership to Joshua even while Moses was still alive. In obedience to God, Moses publicly designated Joshua as his successor and commissioned him in the sight of all the people (vv. 22-23). Many leaders would be threatened by this, but not Moses. His concern was for the people, not for himself. Truly “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).

The lesson for us is clear. Godly leadership is concerned with providing what the people need to be obedient to God; it is not concerned with receiving as much power, respect, success, or whatever as possible. This is the difference between humble, godly leadership and the worldly leadership that thinks it is all about me. As you consider how you lead your family, or the ministry at church that you’re involved in, or whatever  you find yourself leading, is your concern to find the best way to provide godly leadership—even if it takes the spotlight off you? Or, do we let the strength of our sin nature corrupt how we lead so that we think of ourselves first and our flock last?

Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3 today. This devotional is

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. First, they suffered persecution for their faith in Christ (vv. 3-4). We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home. Maybe there was more–possibly much more–trouble that the Thessalonian believers faced beyond what Luke described in Acts 17. Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we don’t see the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer. These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, 1 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, and 1 Thessalonians 2. This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. Balak assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings.

But we act this way ourselves sometimes, too. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, that bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37 Hezekiah the king of Judah showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If you’ve been praying for something, how would God’s giving you the answer you want spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.