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Accountability

devote yourself to prayer

As a pastor, I receive emails from time to time asking me to complete a survey in exchange for a copy of an ebook. I completed one of those surveys this morning. To be honest, I really didn’t like my answers!

Today’s survey questions asked about my prayer life:

  • How much time do you spend praying?
  • What do you spend the most time praying for?
  • How often do you pray with other people?
  • When was the last time you spent more than ten minutes in prayer?
  • When was the last time you spent more than thirty minutes praying?
  • When was the last time you spent more than an hour praying?
  • How satisfied are you with your prayer life?
  • etc.

Like I said, I didn’t like my answers. But they were great questions; questions that believers need to be asked from time to time.

In today’s Bible reading from Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer. In light of today’s survey questions, I thought I’d dig a little into what Paul actually wanted his readers to do.

The English word devote is translated from a couple of different Greek words. But the words Paul uses in Colossians 4:2 are used elsewhere in a similar way. Here are a few examples.

  • They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 (CSB)
  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (CSB)
  • Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, Acts 2:46 (CSB)
  • But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 (CSB)

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for a dictionary) says that this Greek word means,
1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one.
2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.
3. to continue all the time in a place.
4. to persevere and not to faint.
5. to show one’s self courageous for.
6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly.[1]

Another lexicon says this Greek word means, “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”[2]

Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite difficulty.

In other words, “devoting oneself to prayer” is much more than “saying your prayers”. It’s much more than going through a list of prayer requests. In the context of praying with other people, it’s much more than merely updating the names of people and their needs on our corporate prayer list.

My answers didn’t fit very well with what Paul was telling the Colossians to do!

Ouch!

Application

How would you answer those questions? Would you be satisfied with your answers?

So what are some practical things you can do today to change your answers to fit more with the actual instructions Paul was giving the Colossian church?

Write your answers in a journal. Then devote yourself to prayer.

Periodically go back and review your answers and see how God has grown you in the spiritual discipline of prayer.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

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military

A few weeks ago, I commented on a parallel passage that Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18ff. Today’s Bible reading records Paul’s comments on letting God’s Word rule in our hearts. The results are the same in the two passages, so I would argue that being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) is the same as letting God’s Word rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

Being filled with the Spirit and letting God’s Word rule in us overflows into our relationships with our spouse, in our family life, and in our work life. If you are a growing believer with a dynamic walk with God, your other relationships will be changed.

Oftentimes when we come to passages like Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, preachers will focus only on the relationship between a husband and wife. Paul addresses other relationships that are affected by a walk with God as well! And all of these affected relationships can be summarized by, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people,” (Colossians 3:23, CSB)

Lest we get bogged down with the “s” word (“submission”), it’s simply a military term that means to line up in order. Take a look at a military unit. You see a group of soldiers of somewhat similar size and physical strength with somewhat similar intelligence. So on some levels, every soldier is equal.

But military rank has nothing to do with size. Military rank has nothing to do with physical strength. Military rank has nothing to do with intelligence. And in a good military unit, every member salutes his/her commanding officer, all the way up the chain of command. And yet, no commanding officer worth his/her salt will ignore or otherwise mistreat a subordinate. For one thing, the subordinate soldier may have an important piece of intel that the senior officer needs to know in order to lead the unit.

Admittedly, this illustration breaks down a bit when it comes to the marriage/family units (no one is a “commanding officer” and no one is a “subordinate”), yet the principle is the same: each of us has a different “position” in our relationships with each other, and under Christ as Head of the Church.

Application

Let me say this as firmly as I can: The Christian life is not about changing our behavior. It’s about changing our relationships, beginning with our relationship with God and that overflows into our family and work relationships. None of us is any “better” than another. But all of us have a role to play.

Finally, note that in all of Paul’s instructions of submission (in this passage and elsewhere), Paul never tells anyone to make anyone else submit. In other words, Paul never tells a husband to make his wife submits to him. Paul never tells an employer to make his/her employees submit to him/her. The instruction is always given to submit oneself.

That’s the key takeaway from Colossians 3:23.

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BSA Citizenship in the World Merit Badge

Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.

Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.

Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)

Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)

I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!

Application

Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.

Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.

There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.

And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.

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Today’s Bible reading begins one of my favorite books of the Bible: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins his Magnum Opus Systematic Theology by laying out the gospel message with a description of man’s descent from the time of Creation to his day — and to our day.

Paul says that God’s wrath is already being revealed against ungodliness because mankind has been able to clearly see God’s revealed glory, and yet refused to acknowledge God’s existence. He wrote this around AD 57. And yet, little has changed.

When the Jewish people cried out to the prophet Samuel for a king (1Samuel 8), he warned them that they didn’t need a king, since God was their king. The people said they wanted to be like other nations and to do that, they needed a king. The people kept asking Samuel for a king until he gave them what they asked for: King Saul. And he did everything that God warned the people he would do. (1 Samuel 8:11–18) They got everything they wanted.

In Romans 1, Paul says that God gave the people what they wanted. And the very thing that they wanted became their judgment.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Romans 1:22–31 (CSB)

Finally, Paul complete his description of God’s judgment against Fallen Mankind:

Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:32 (CSB)

Paul says, it wasn’t enough that people sinned against God. They took it one final step further: they encouraged other people to sin.

Even in my lifetime, I have witnessed this descent played out in society’s acknowledgement to leniency to approval of the sins that Paul spells out here. God has given mankind what mankind has asked for.

Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches. Romans 1:27 (The Message)

Here in verse 27, Paul is referring to Isaiah’s warning:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (CSB)

Application

You may not have personally participated in, approved, or encouraged other people to commit the sins that Paul spells out so clearly. But Mankind has. And America has. We, believers, are at least partially to blame for society’s sinful demise. We have not been the salt and light that we are called to be. (Matthew 5:13–16)

Believers, we must confess and repent for our own participation in the sins of our culture. And we must beg for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for our nation’s sins. Our only hope of avoiding God’s wrath being poured out on us is to repent and pray. (2Chronicles 7:14)

Pray for God to send a spiritual awakening and revival, unlike anything our nation has ever experienced. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict believers of their own sin, as well as our sin of silence while the world has gone to hell around them. Pray that pastors will faithfully speak God’s Word and disciple new (and old) believers in the faith. And pray that believers will hear God’s invitation to seek Him with all that they are.

If we don’t pray, no one will. Lost people definitely won’t do it!
Prayer is our job!

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Jesus uses parables in today’s Bible reading to illustrate stewardship. Normally we think of stewardship as pertaining to money. Stewardship includes the wise use of money, but it isn’t limited to money. God’s people are called to be good stewards with everything we’ve been entrusted.

The foolish virgins weren’t good stewards of their oil; they didn’t have enough to make it through the night. And had the wise virgins shared their oil with the foolish virgins, no one would have had light to last through the night.

The servants in Jesus’ parable were entrusted with the master’s talents. We tend to think of talents as, well, “talents”. But the talents Jesus referred to in His parable was a measure of money. Last year when I preached through Jesus’ parables, I presented the following information so our people could grasp the tremendous amount of wealth that the master had entrusted to his servants.

  • 1 danarius = 1 day’s wage
  • 1 mina = 3 months’ wages
  • 1 talent = 60 minas = 180 months’ wage = 15 years’ wages

  • 1 talent = 15 years’ wages
  • 2 talents = 30 years’ wages
  • 5 talents = 75 years’ wages

Two of the servants were good stewards and made a good return on their master’s investments. However, one of the stewards was foolish in the way that he simply buried his master’s talent in the ground. Though not doubling the original amount like the wise servants, the foolish servant could have taken his master’s talent to the bank and the fifteen years’ wages would have generated interest.

I used to think that it was cruel for the master to take the talent from the foolish servant and give it to the servant who had the ten talents. That is, until I read the parable a little more closely.

Matthew 25:14, 18, 27 highlights the key to understanding why the master was not cruel to take the foolish servant’s talent: It was the master’s talent! At no point in the parable are the talents given to the servants; the entire time, the talents remained the property of the master. The servants are merely given stewardship of the talents and they are responsible to the master for their use of his talents. (Matthew 25:14)

Application

If you are like most people, God has entrusted you with a lot: your body, food, housing, vehicle(s), and employment. He has also given you friends, coworkers, family members and extended family members. Granted, He probably hasn’t entrusted multiple years’ wages to you in one lump sum. But still, He has entrusted you with a lot.

So what are you doing with what He has entrusted to you?

Each of us has twenty-four hours each day. Each of us has seven days each week, twelve months each year, etc. How are you investing His time?

How are you stewarding your body, food, housing, vehicles, employment, friends, coworkers, family members, extended family members?

Remember, all of these belong to Him. How can you better steward what belongs to Him?

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (CSB)

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