Matthew 9

Read Matthew 9.

The opening paragraph of this chapter told us about five men. One of them was paralyzed; the other four carried him to Jesus (v. 2). We’re not told if the men said anything to Jesus but it was obvious to anyone that they wanted Jesus to heal the man.

Instead of immediately healing the man as he had done with so many others, Jesus instead assured him that his sins were forgiven based on their faith (v. 2).

You know from our reading that Jesus did heal the man shortly after forgiving him (v. 6). His purpose in giving him assurance first and then healing him was to prove his authority to forgive sins (v. 6a).

But I think we should give some thought to what Jesus did. Most of us–most people, that is–would care most about being healed of paralysis. “Get me walking first, Lord, and then we can talk about my spiritual needs.”

But by forgiving his sins first, Jesus demonstrated what was important to him. Although he did care about the man’s infirmity (see Matt 8:17), Jesus cared first and most importantly about his spiritual life.

But what matters most to us when we request prayer for someone else?

I can’t tell you how often people ask me to pray for someone’s medical problems and, when I asked if that person knows the Lord, the answer I get is, “I don’t know.”

There is everything right with praying for other people’s problems–their diseases, needs, and cares. But even if they get healing now, eventually they will die and meet God. It is far more important to intercede with God for the salvation of others than it is to ask for them to be healed in their bodies.

Wouldn’t it be better–both more glorifying to God and better for the sick or injured person–if we used the occasion of their human problem to talk with someone about their spiritual need?

In other words, we could say, “I will ask God to heal you. But, do you know God? Have you come to believe in Jesus Christ to have your sins forgiven?”

Is there anyone in your life that you could pray for and witness to today?

2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20

Today read 2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal.

That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control.

In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten.

God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him. The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year in 2018, I am happy for you and wish you even better things in 2020 but remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143 today. This devotional is about Psalm 141.

In this song, David calls for God’s help again (v. 1), looking to Him to deliver him from his enemies (vv. 8-10). Although there were immediate threats that occupied his attention, they did not keep David from being concerned about his own moral development. In verses 3-5 he asked God to help him in a few specific ways:

  • First, he asked God to guard his mouth in verse 3. That was a request for God to help him learn to choose his words wisely and righteously.
  • In verse 4 he asked for help guarding his heart. This was a request for God to purify his mind and his desires so that he wanted to do what was right rather than longing for pleasures offered by sin.
  • Finally, in verse 5 David resolved to receive correction from other people well. He regarded a rebuke from another righteous man to be “a kindness,” a blessing like “oil on my head.”

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas?

Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right.

We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Even when we need God to work in our lives outside, it is important to remember to ask him to help us with our struggles within. Take time to pray now asking God to help you grow in obedience. Think about where your struggles are as a Christian and pray for God to help you.

2 Chronicles 14-15 and Revelation 10

Read 2 Chronicles 14-15 and Revelation 10 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 14-15.

We read about King Asa back in 1 Kings 15 but today’s passage here in 2 Chronicles 14-15 is a lengthier account of Asa’s life with more detail than we saw in 1 Kings 15.

We read that a prophet spoke to Asa to encourage the king to begin the reforms that he is known for. In the middle of verse 2 we read these words, “The Lord is with you when you are with him.”

How often do we use that kind of language in our prayers: “Be with me, Lord, as I….” This passage (and plenty of others) teach us that the answer to that prayer depends a lot on what follows the words, “…as I….” Often such prayers are asking God to bless and prosper what we want to do. “Be with me, Lord, as I drive to Atlanta.” “Be with me, Lord, as I ask for a raise.” “Be with me, Lord, as I get this biopsy.”

There is nothing wrong with these prayers but they are somewhat misguided. What God is about is saving people and making them holy. So God may see your request differently than you do. When we ask God to “be with” us, we are asking him to give us the outcome we want–a safe trip to Atlanta, the raise in pay we’re asking for, a negative biopsy.

But God may use the opposite of what you expect and want to make you holy. In other words, he may have decreed a negative result so that you will learn to trust him more or develop as a Christian or discard some sin in your life.

Or, he may use something different than what you expected to bring someone else to faith in him.

Far more important than asking God to be with us is to understand that “The Lord is with you when you are with him” (v. 2). He’s already promised his presence with us and that will work all things together for our good. What we should look for, then, is where we are out of alignment with what God wants and get into alignment.

In other words, instead of asking God to be on our side, we should ask God to show us where his side is so that we can get on it. That’s the encouragement Asa received. He knew that God wanted him to remove idolatry from Israel. This verse was spoken to him by the prophet to get him to move; that is, so that he would start cleansing the idolatry just as God wanted him to do.

Have you been asking God just to be with you in anything and everything you want to do? Isn’t it more honoring to God when we look for what he is already doing and get on that side?

2 Chronicles 6:12-42, Revelation 5

Read 2 Chronicles 6:12-42 and Revelation 5 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 6:12-42.

Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple here in 2 Chronicles 6 gave great glory to God.

He began by praising God for his uniqueness and his faithfulness to his promises (vv. 14-15), then reminded God of his covenant with David by asking the Lord to complete it (vv. 16-17).

Verses 18-39 described different situations in which Israel could find itself in the future. Solomon described each problem God’s people could face, then asked the Lord to “hear” (vv. 20-21), forgive (v. 21b), act in justice (v. 23), forgive and return them to the land, (vv. 24-25).

When God dealt with sin through famine, Solomon asked God forgive but also to “teach them the right way to live” (v. 27b). When God disciplined his people using famine or plague, Solomon asked God to deal with them according to their hearts “so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you…” (vv. 30-31).

We talk properly of God’s grace and mercy in forgiveness. As a sinner, I join you in thanking God for those things. But do we realize that God’s commands are also expressions of his grace? They do not restrict our freedom; they “teach us the right way to live.”

May we learn to love God’s word not only for how it reveals God, calls us to faith, and comforts and encourages us; may God also cause us to love it so that I changes our lives, leading us to walk in obedience instead of our natural habits of disobedience. Obedience to God’s word not only pleases God; it protects us from the damage of sin and its painful consequences. Give us grace, Lord, to receive your commands as a precious gift and to walk in obedience to them for your glory and our good.

2 Chronicles 1, Revelation 1

Read 2 Chronicles 1 and Revelation 1 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 1.

Actors, businesspeople, politicians, and sometimes even Christian leaders will occasionally to an online question and answer session called AMA. AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and it an open invitation to talk directly.

Here in 2 Chronicles 1, God issued an AMA to Solomon. In verse 7 God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” This is as close to a blank check from the Almighty as any man, woman, or child will ever get.

If God most of us that opportunity, I think that most of us would be tempted to ask for something selfish. As God praised Solomon for how he used his divine AMA, he mentioned that Solomon could have asked for “wealth, possessions or honor…, for the death of your enemies, or a long life….” Solomon got the wisdom he asked God for plus God promised, “I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (v. 12).

This reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:31-33: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we ask God for things that matter to him–wisdom, his kingdom rule, a righteous heart and life, God is pleased. Because he is pleased, he provides for the things we need but didn’t ask for and sometimes he provides for those things in abundance.

Listen to the things that people pray for or ask you to pray for. A lot of those requests revolve around health–“Pray for me as I’m having surgery on Friday”–or finances–“Pray for me to find a new job.” It isn’t wrong to pray for those things; it is wrong only to pray for those things because it shows a preoccupation with this world rather than knowing and pleasing the Lord.

Think about your prayer life. Is God pleased with the things you ask him for? The AMA invitation for wisdom is still open because James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Think about your prayers. What could you ask the Lord for that you’re not asking him for?

1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, John 17

Read 1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, and John 17 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 4.

In 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book titled The Prayer of Jabez based on our passage for today, specifically 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. That book was a monster best seller with over 9 million copies sold. Many people—Christians and non-Christians—following the teaching in Wilkinson’s book have prayed the prayer of Jabez, asking God’s blessing on their lives. They treat this passage, again because of Wilkinson’s book, like it is a secret formula, almost a magic incantation for bringing God’s blessing on your life anywhere you want it.

But 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 is not an incantation or a secret formula to unleash God’s blessings in your life.

To understand Jabez’s prayer, we need to understand that God had promised material prosperity to the Jewish people if they walked in obedience to his laws. This goes all the way back to God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12. There, and in later passages, God promised land to Abram’s descendants.

What made Jabez “more honorable than his brothers” was that he believed God’s promise and asked God to fulfill it in his life. Jabez’s prayer was consistent with the covenant God made with Israel. The other descendants of Judah after David turned to idols as the source of their prosperity. They worshipped other gods in disobedience to God’s law and hoped to obtain more land and more prosperity from these gods. They also abused others to get what they wanted.

Jabez was different and “more honorable” because he had faith in God and prayed consistently with God’s promises for his people.

What Jabez’s prayer teaches us is that God is honored when we pray according to his revealed will—that is, according to what the Bible says.

When we pray in faith asking God to honor his promises to us in the word, God is pleased and will answer us according to his will. No Christian is promised the kind of material prosperity that Jabez prayed for. What God promises to us is to provide for our needs, to give us spiritual power to overcome sin and to become like Jesus, and to be with us as we go spreading the gospel to all the nations.

What if we prayed for those things instead of asking God to heal our chronic problems?

How would that transform our prayer life?

How would it change our church?

What might God do in this world if we prayed like Jabez—not aping his requests but applying the spirit of them to pray according to God’s promises?