In today’s Bible reading we read that after celebrating the Passover meal with His Disciples, He leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane singing a hymn. Jesus asked three of His Disciples, Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. He tells them that he is greatly distressed and troubled and asks them to remain there and watch. (Mark 14:34)
If you’ve read the story before, you know that the Disciples grow tired and sleepy. Three times Jesus finds his three “Garden Friends” asleep, despite His urging them to watch.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ Garden Friends choked when He needed them to pray for Him. But with their dozing off, it reminds me that I’m not the only one who sometimes lacks the ability to persevere.
It’s important to have a few “Garden Friends”. Jesus only had three who went deep into the garden with Him. Garden friends aren’t like “Facebook friends”. Garden friends are just two or three people (of your gender) who can hold you and each other accountable in your walk with Christ.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to plan your time together. But you do need to meet together. Face-to-face. On a regular basis. When you aren’t able to meet together, touch base with each other with a text or phone call, letting them know you’re thinking about them and praying for them. Ask them how their time with God is going? Are they having any challenges in their quest to walk closer with the Master? Again, the time doesn’t have to be fancy. And you don’t have to have a list of questions for each other every time you meet. Remember, it’s a time to work together to grow closer to Jesus.
At one point, Jesus asks Peter if he could not pray for one hour. (Mark 14:37) When was the last time you spent one hour praying? Alone. By yourself. Just you and God?
If you’ve never done it before, it can seem like much more than one hour. But if you get in the habit of spending one hour in prayer, it becomes easier each time. But it’s important to remember to be well-rested when you’re developing the habit. Try it sometime. Find a comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted. Turn off your phone’s ringer. Disable your phone’s notifications. Remember to bring your Bible and a notepad. Use the Bible as a pattern to pray, especially including some of the Psalms. Pray God’s Word back to Him. Write out your prayers. Keep a prayer list and link your requests with Bible verses, using these verses as the basis of your prayers.
If you’ve been around church for long, you’ve probably heard the parable of the soils (Mark 4), part of today’s Bible reading. Jesus pointed out that He spoke in parables to reveal secrets of the Kingdom of God to those who would inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:11) Yet His parables cloaked the secrets of the Kingdom from those who would not inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:12)
So who will inherit God’s Kingdom? Who can understand the secrets hidden in the parables?
It seems obvious that those whose hearts are “good soil” are the heirs to the Kingdom. They are the ones who will receive God’s Word enthusiastically and apply its teachings to their lives. They are the ones who will protect their hearts from being choked by distractions. They are the ones who will prepare their hearts to give His Word even more depth to grow.
So how do you have good soil? How do you make the most of it?
If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track! You position your heart to listen. You position your heart to receive all that God would say in His Word. You do everything you can to clean out those things from your heart that would seek to distract you from letting God’s Word grow deeper. You do everything you can to drink in all of the nourishment from God’s Word so it can grow even more.
Here are some practical ways to “do everything you can”: Implement as many Spiritual Disciplines as you can. Prayer, Bible Study, Bible Reading, Bible Memory, Worship, Fasting, Witnessing, Fellowship with other Believers, Giving of your time, talent, and treasures, and Giving thanks.
That will get you started!
In today’s Bible reading, John uses the term “a thousand years” to describe several things. This is the only place in the Bible that mentions “a thousand years” with regards to the End Times.
One of the most important things to do in reading, studying, interpreting, and ultimately applying the Bible is to read it in its context, including its literary genre. We can easily run into problems when we apply one genre to another. For instance, when we read the book of Acts in the history genre, we need to realize that Dr. Luke describes what happened in the early church. Paul, on the other hand, prescribes how things are supposed to be done.
For example, when reading Acts 28:3 and see Paul shaking off a viper that attached to his hand, some people see that as prescriptive. There are churches in backwoods Appalachia that actually round up venomous snakes to handle in their church services in order to prove that they are “spiritual”. Just because Luke describes what Paul did doesn’t mean that Believers are supposed to do the same. Can God protect Believers today from succumbing to snake venom? Absolutely! God can do whatever He wants. He’s God! But usually, we should follow the prescription to not put God to a test. (Deuteronomy 6:16)
Why go into this here? Given the fact that The Revelation is in the apocalyptic genre — which uses figurative language and lots of word pictures — when we read “a thousand years”, we shouldn’t expect to start a stopwatch the moment the thousand years begins and know when it will end. Instead, we should realize that God is outside the confines of time and to Him, there’s no difference between a day and a thousand years. (2 Peter 3:8) The point of John’s using the term is to say that this will happen over a long period of time, but this time will end; it isn’t eternity.
We must be careful when reading books and commentaries on Biblical prophecy, especially those whose authors try to explain everything in Daniel and Revelation. Some of what Daniel and John recorded may not have a one-to-one correspondence with what we want it to be.
And realize that not all godly people understand these books the same way. Some godly people believe that most of Revelation has yet to begin. Other godly people believe that the entire book has already been completed. Eschatology (the study of the End Times) is not a primary theological issue so we should extend agree-to-disagree grace to all Believers, regardless of how they understand these things. These books are not in the didactic genre where teachings are spelled out. Read Daniel and Revelation with the thought of apocalyptic genre.
In today’s Bible reading, we see two things that are called, “awe-inspiring”: an awe-inspiring sign in heaven (v. 1) and the awe-inspiring works of God (v. 3).
Awe is a word that is foreign to many Believers. We just don’t see things as being “awe-inspiring”.
The things of God tend to be, quite frankly, normal. Boring. Ho-hum. Have we become calloused? Have science and Hollywood so desensitized us to magnificence and a sense of wonder? If so, is there a way to get that sense of wonder back? I think there is. And I think this chapter gives us a clue how.
John tells us that overcoming Believers sang the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. In other words, they sang what’s revealed in Scripture: Moses from the Old Testament and the Lamb in the New Testament.
Reading, meditating, and worshiping based on God’s Revelation can give us a fresh glimpse of what is truly awe-inspiring. God’s Word can give us the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things to dwell on. (Philippians 4:8) As we meditate on these things, we see new facets of the things of God as a jeweler sees new facets of a diamond as she peers through a magnifying loop.
When’s the last time you spent time worshiping God in song? I’m not talking about singing about God. I’m talking about singing to God. There’s a world of difference between the two. One references God in the third-person. The other references God in the second-person.
“Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4 CSB)
Note how their song addresses your works, your ways, your name. You alone are holy. all the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts. The overcomers aren’t singing about God. They are singing to God.
The next time you’re in church, note the songs you sing. If your church uses hymnals (or if you have your own), note whether the songs are about God or to God.
A few years ago, as I prepared a sermon on this very issue, I thumbed through the hymnal we used in church. I was shocked to see how few hymns actually addressed God in the second-person. Almost all of the hymns referenced God in the third-person. Now, there’s nothing wrong with singing about God. But singing about God isn’t worship.
Spend some time today singing songs to God. Use your Bible to express your adoration to the lover of your soul. Here are a few places to start. These Scriptures are examples of worshiping God in the second-person.
The Psalms are full of praises about God. As you read, ask God to overwhelm you with a fresh glimpse of Himself and His ways. Personalize the Psalms and other passages into second-person references to God.
Finally, spend a few minutes listening to my sermon, Worship in the First and Second Person Singular Present Tense.
In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)
And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.
If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.
That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.
In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)
How incredibly sad.
Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.
As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.
The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.
Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.
This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.
Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!
Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.
The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.