The Lord is My Shepherd

             I.      Introduction – Why do We Pray?

First of all, I want to apologize for my absence recently.  It’s been a difficult month for me.  My stepfather was a warm, loving father who taught me much about the meaning of family and forgiveness, and he was also the first close family member to me that passed.Slide2

I learned much about prayer this month.  At the funeral, they handed out this card, and more than one Christian brother remarked to me that the verse on the card and the verse assigned to me to study this week are the same.  There are a total of 31,102 verses in the bible, yet God singled out 6 of them for me.

One of the questions I asked myself is, “Why do we pray?”  We’ve given admonishment before that God is not some sort of magic genie and we are granted 3 wishes, yet in the midst of our trials, we go to God and start asking for our 3 wishes.

Let’s look for a moment at Matthew 6.  In the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us much instruction on prayer, but this verse in particular, verse 8, Jesus says this about prayer –

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

And in Romans 8:26,

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.

In my case, sometimes I imagine the groaning of the Holy Spirit comes with an eyeroll of the Holy Spirit.  Groan, Michael never gets this prayer right, I’ll have to fix it for him.  Again.

So God, being perfect, knows what we need before we ask, and if we get it wrong, intercedes for us and prays for the correct thing.

So why do we pray?  When we pray for God to do something for us, knows in advance and corrects our prayers, so why do we pray?  Do we think our prayers are somehow going to change God, when it is God who is perfect and we are fallible?

When we pray and ask God to change, then we miss the most powerful aspect of prayer.  Pray doesn’t change God.  It changes us.  It brings us in line with God’s will, His plan, His desire.  Our goal in prayer should not be to put together some sort of compelling argument so that God will answer our prayer.  Our goal should be for God to bring us in line with His will so that our prayer and God’s will align.  When we are in line with God’s will and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are seen as righteous before God.  And James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous person is very powerful.  Not because we are powerful or even righteous, but because He is powerful.

          II.      Prayer through difficult times

When we are seeking the very face of God through our prayers, God is pleased with us.  In the Old Testament, the incense burned on the altar represented the prayers of the people, God tells us the prayers are a pleasing aroma.  David wrote a Psalm, essentially a prayer about prayers, where he wrote in Psalm 141:2 –

Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Slide4It’s important that we pray; if we look at the rest of James 5:13-18, James gives a lot of insight into the purpose of our prayers.

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.  Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land.  Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

We’re not telling God anything that He doesn’t know.  But God wants us to acknowledge Him in all our ways, through good times and bad, through times of plenty and times of famine.

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer was given as a “model” prayer.  It was never intended to be mere words, quoted over and over; the same chapter two verses earlier, Jesus cautioned us not to let prayer become “meaningless repetition.”  Instead, God wants is to open our heart, go into our closet and have a private conversation.  Just God and me.  What do we ask for if God already knows?  The New Testament has many verses that tell us what God wants us to pray for.

  • Pray at all times —Ephesians 6:18
  • Pray for opportunities to witness —Ephesians 6:19
  • Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding —Colossians 1:9
  • Pray without ceasing —1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Pray for knowledge —Philemon 6
  • Pray for good conduct —Hebrews 13:18
  • Pray for wisdom —James 1:15
  • Pray for those who are sick/suffering —James 5:13-14
  • Pray for one another —James 5:16; 1 John 5:16
  • Pray for those who persecute you —Romans 12:14
  • Pray for good health —3 John 2
  • Pray without doubting —James 1:6
  • Pray with the right motives —James 4:3
  • Pray knowing God is listening —1 John 5:15-16

So we should be honest.  We should pray what is on our hearts.  And above all, we pray that it is not our will, but Thy will be done.

       III.      Pray in Life

Because if we’re honest, we don’t always like it when we don’t get our way.  This list above are all good reasons for us to pray, and answers to those prayers seem to be within God’s will, but then sometimes God is silent.  Or God says no.

Sometimes God says no when we pray about our finances.  Sometimes God says no when we pray about our health.  And some of the toughest prayers are when we pray about life itself.

In Genesis 5, the descendants of Adam are listed.  At the age of 130, Adam had a son Seth, and Adam then lived till the age of 930.  Seth had a son Enosh when he was 105, and then lived to 912.   Enosh lived to 905, his son Kenan was just a young child at the age of 70 when he fathered Mahalel.  And so on until Noah; Noah was 500 years old when he fathered Shem, Ham, and Hapheth.

Slide7So why don’t we live until the ripe old age of 900 years?  Why do we die?

The length of our lives have been impacted by our sin nature.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve at the fruit from the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And knowledge of Evil taints us; what we have seen cannot be unseen.  Part of the fall of man included this judgement from God in Genesis 3:22 –

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”

And Noah, at 500 years old, lived in such an evil, wicked world, that God brought forth a flood to kill all the evil.  After Noah, the Lord said in Genesis 6:3,

And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.”

It seems to me that God has a purpose for death.  We have a deadline sometime in our life to accept the sacrifice of His son.  We don’t know when that deadline is, but it is surely less than 120 years.  And this limit is because of our own sin nature.  We are limited in days because of God’s mercy and protection from this fallen world.

So when my stepfather was moved to hospice last month, there were many days God interceded in prayer.  Maybe I overthinked it.  Overthunked it?  Do I pray for my stepfather to continue living so we can enjoy his company for a while longer?  Do I pray for his release from pain?  We loved him so much none of us wanted to see him suffer, yet we loved him so much we didn’t want to see him go.  And it was at this point, this fork in the road between two conflicting prayers of life and death I found myself, marked with tears of grief either way.  And I know that God answers some prayers the way we hope about health and life and death, but eventually death comes to us all, and we are marked for eternity by the choices we make.

I’m thankful the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans.  And eyerolls.  I know that God provides peace that surpasses all understanding, but I couldn’t figure out how to get from grief to peace.  I needed God’s guidance, I needed God’s comfort, and I realized the fork in the road wasn’t between life and death.  When I prayed for God’s will to be done, I realized the third option was not life, not death, but life everlasting.  There is peace knowing that Jesus Christ rescues us from death and gives us eternal life, and that I know I will see my stepfather again in heaven, where there is no pain and there are no tears to wipe away.

          IV.      Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd

This life offers many challenges, and when we are younger, I think we believe we can win them all.  But age and experience teaches us that we cannot win over all our enemies, we cannot live without the impact of illness, we do not always feel blessed by abundance and opportunity, and grief and sadness will come to all of us.

Kind David had a full life.  We’re familiar with his childhood, full of braggadocio and power.  His faith was so pure that God enable David to bring down the giant Goliath with just a stone.

Slide10But his life had challenges, especially as he got older.  Despite David’s loyalty to King Saul, Saul kept trying to kill him.  David lived in caves for a while because David wouldn’t harm Saul, yet Saul would try to kill him.  Later, once David was king, his whole family had serious issues that dwarf what you or I face.  David’s oldest son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s brother Absalom was David’s favorite, but Absalom was outraged that King David did nothing, so Absalom ordered the king’s servants to murder Amnon.  Absalom lived in exile and eventually organized a rebellion against his own father, King David.  In 2 Samuel 18:33, David cried out in heartbreak and grief, “O my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

We’re not sure when David wrote Psalm 23, but no doubt David had already experienced grief and heartache few can bear.  It’s only 6 verses, but they’re powerful verses.

Psalm 23,

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Slide11.JPGSuch a beautiful prayer.  It speaks not just of our life now but our confidence in a life everlasting with our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting to me that this Psalm is part of a Messianic trilogy.

Psalm Verse Time / Image Theme
Psalm 22 / The Good Shepherd My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Saviours Cross Past His past death for His people
Psalm 23 / Great Shepherd Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Hebrews 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him… The Shepherds Crook Present His present care and provision for His people
Psalm 24 / Chief Shepherd Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. The Kings crown Future His future return for His people as the King of Glory!

Past, present and future.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 in a little more depth.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord.  Every word in the bible is important.  Jesus is Lord.  We sing songs about Jesus being our friend and our savior, and those are true, but he is also Lord.  The Lord’s name is Yahweh, sovereign, almighty, delivering Lord God.  When we seek comfort, begin by acknowledging that He alone is Lord of all.

Is.  Jesus is my shepherd right now.  Yes, he was there in the past, and yes, He will be there in the future, but Jesus is the great I AM.  He is here now within our midst.

My.  Jesus is personal.  He’s not a figurine hung on a cross in the front of a church.  He is not an abstract idea of goodness, He is not simply a long dead teacher or morals.  He is Mine, and I am His.

Shepherd.  Jesus is our shepherd, and we are His sheep.  What’s interesting about sheep is they are 4D.

  • Dumb
  • Dirty
  • Defenseless
  • Dependent

They are dumb; if there was a school for farm animals, sheep would be dropouts.  If there is a wire fence, they will get their necks caught in it, not just today, but tomorrow, too.  Their wool smells like you’d imagine a wool coat would smell if you left it in the rain, they have no ability to defend themselves, they have terrible eyesight, they are fearful skittish creatures that are prone to wander and get lost.  No wonder we need a shepherd who will provide for us, protect us, guide us, and wash us clean as snow.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Don’t get confused; David isn’t saying, “I don’t want a shepherd.”  The word “want” here means “needs.”  If the Lord is my Shepherd, then there is nothing else I need.  The Lord Jesus is all sufficient, and I place my trust in Him.  There may be trials of all sorts ahead for us, but the Lord uses everything for good, and I will trust in the Lord to provide everything I need for the day he has given me.  Everything will be ok.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

When our bodies are tired, we put them to bed.  A nice comfy bed and a soft fluffy pillow, and we rest.  The Lord does this for our soul, if we only let him.  If we follow the Lord, our soul can be still and know that He is God.  When we rest in Him and leave our troubles with Him, He restores our soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  He teaches me to be righteous so that I may bring Him glory.  I cannot do this on my own, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  If I am following my Lord’s direction and letting Him guide my path, then the Lord receives the glory due to Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

This world is not the valley of life.  This world is the valley of the shadow of death.  Death comes to us all, no more than 120 years and for most of us a lot less.  My hope alone is in Him so that one day I may walk in new life.

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me.

David has changed pronouns; in the first three verses, David talks to God in the third person and refers to him as “he.”

But when you are surrounded by evil, God is not a distant third party.  We can talk to Him directly.  David talks directly to God, saying, I have nothing to fear for my hope is in you.  You surround me, you comfort me, you love me.  And if you are for me, then who can be against me?

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Hebrew word here translated “rod” can also be translated as rod, scepter, and weapon.  It is not a “walking stick.”  A shepherd’s rod is about two and a half feet long with heavy pieces of iron embedded on the end, like a mace.  The rod is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon for protecting the flock from enemies, whether the threats are wild animals or human thieves.  When used as a weapon, it is intimidating and deadly.

Slide14The rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4 represents God’s defense and His divine guidance.  His rod is used to drive off our enemy, Satan and his minions.  God’s staff is used as guidance to us, to lift us back on the pathway after we fall.  The Lord protects me from my enemies, and rescues me from my own mistakes.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

God provides everything I need, despite the efforts of Satan to undo me.  In fact, God provides an abundance for me so that my cup runneth over and I can provide blessings to others.  Even though he is my Lord and my Savior, God treats me as an adopted son and an honored guest.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;

If you trust in the Lord, then no matter how far you stray, the Lord follows you with goodness and mercy.  The Hebrew word used for “follow” is the same word used when Pharaoh “followed” Israel across the Red Sea.  It doesn’t mean goodness and mercy follows from a distance.  God is actively pursuing us daily.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

            V.      Conclusion

God knows our lives.  He knows us before we are born, He knows us through our final destination.  He actively pursued us and rescues us.  And while goodness and mercy may actively follow me, one day I am going to slow down enough so that he catches me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever is a very long time.  It’s far longer than the 120 years allotted to us.  Our prayers bring us in line with the spirit of the Living God who comforts us and provides for all our needs; he is our shepherd, and there is nothing we shall want.  I know that my stepfather dwells in the house of the Lord, and one day, I too, will dwell there, for Jesus promises there are many rooms in His mansion, and one day he will come back for me.  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

I’ll leave you with these two verses from our hope and future in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 7:17,

for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 21:4,

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

The Lord is my Shepherd.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Waiting on the Promises of God

  I.      Introduction

Open your bible to Genesis 15, and the first two words are, “After this.”  After what?  Ok, open your bible to Genesis 14.

II.      A Promise Given, Genesis 15:1-3

Let me summarize what’s happened with Abram recently.  In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot had settled down with his family near Sodom and Gomorrah, hardly the best decision Lot had ever made.  An intense geopolitical power struggle was going on, and I count no less than 9 kings and kingdoms that were at war.  Four of the kings conquered and pillaged Sodom, and Lot was captured and hauled off as a slave.

Slide3

Abram had a mighty army of… 318 people.  More than enough, with the Lord’s power.  Abram routed the four kings, recaptured all the possessions and people, including Lot.  And he gave all the remaining captives and possessions back to the King of Sodom, saying (in Genesis 14:22-23),

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

Abram made it clear that if and when Abram received all the things that God had promised to Him, that God alone would get the glory.

Ok, let’s go back to Genesis 15:1 –

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.

Now God says to Abram, you have chosen wisely.  You have chosen a way that pleases me.  The Lord your God will be your very great reward.  And do not be afraid that the kings will return to attack, for I will also be your shield.

Trusting in the Lord can be hard.  We have our sense of self, our entitlements, our wants and needs, and we’ve placed them on the throne of our hearts as idols to be worshipped.  We follow our idols instead of trusting in the Lord.  We leave our church and bible study on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we’ve forgotten what it was that resounded in our heart earlier in the day.

The Lord makes His promises to us, but we find it easier to trust in ourselves.  Sometimes it’s terrifying, to place our trust in something besides ourselves.  Sometimes it seems stupid.  “You’re building a *what*, Noah?  Dude, it’s not even raining.”

The bible tells us that trusting in the Lord will seem foolish, but we are to do it anyway.  Proverbs 3:5 should be a memory verse for all Christians,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Paul reinforced this in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:15,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.

Now, after Abram’s battles with the four kings and then rescuing Lot, God comes to Abram and says, “Do not be afraid.”  Did you know that in the bible, every time God says, “Do not be afraid,” He then tells us why we should not be afraid?

This is the very first time in the bible, “Do not be afraid” is said.  I read somewhere that the bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, one for every day of the year, a daily reminder from God to be fearless in our Christian faith every day.

Slide9

God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, because I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”  God gives Abram two reasons not to fear. The first is that God Himself will be Abram’s shield.  God will protect Abram.  God protects you and me, too.  We may face calamities, loss of loved ones, but these are temporal things.  Jesus says in Matthew 10:28,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

There’s that “do not be afraid because” statement again.  God is our shield against the devil; in John 10:28, Jesus says he gives us eternal life and no one will snatch us out of His mighty hands.  God is our shield.  Psalm 3:3 we sing,

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,

my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

But the second reason not to fear, God tells Abram, is truly amazing.  Not only will God be Abram’s shield, God will also be Abram’s reward.  Not just any reward, but an exceedingly great reward.  There is no greater reward than God.  Gold and diamonds are insignificant compared to the God who created gold and diamonds.  Compared to God, all the plunder Abram just gave back to the King of Sodom is like dust.

But what does it mean to have God as a reward? How can God be a reward? We belong to Him; He does not belong to us.  How can God, the Creator of the universe, give Himself as a reward to humans, let alone a single person?

Abram may have been confused by this as well.  Maybe in his own mind, Abram is thinking, “God can’t mean that He will give Himself to me.  He must mean He will protect me and provide for me. That must be what God means.” But that is not what God means.  God means that God Himself is what Abram is seeking.  God Himself is what Abram wants.  God Himself is what Abram needs.  God Himself is the missing piece of Abram’s life.  God Himself is Abram’s exceedingly great reward.

What do we pray for?  We often pray for what we do not have but we think we need.  We pray for physical needs like food or money.  We pray for wisdom to make good decisions.  Sometimes, when we do not understand what God is doing, we pray for understanding.  We pray for encouragement when we feel the trials of life are overwhelming.  We pray for protection from those who are against us.  We pray for healing and life and health.  We pray for truth and a better understanding of God’s plan.  We pray for God to be able to use us.

  • Bread
  • Light
  • Knowledge
  • Care
  • Life
  • Truth
  • Fruitfulness

These are all good things to pray for.

Slide12

In Genesis 15:2, Abram had concerns, prayers, requests from God.  And God says, “I know.  I am going to give myself to you.  And in Me, all your needs will be met.”

Are our prayers met the same way?  I believe they are.  In the Gospel of John, we find seven “I am” statements.

  • “I am the Bread” (John 6:35)
  • “I am the Light” (John 8:12)
  • “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)

Slide13

Everything we ask, everything we imagine, everything we need or want is found in Jesus.  We all want something from the Lord, but God wants us to want Him.  We want some answer to prayer, but God wants to give us Himself.  It is in Him, that all these other things are found.  When Jesus Christ is our everything, we can go hungry, we can wander without direction, we can wonder how that bill will get paid, we can have health problems and family crises and still have a peace that passes all understanding because Christ is ours to hold.  Jesus says we will live the abundant life if we find all we need in Him.  Our minds are so earthly focused, it is hard to understand how just by loving Christ and enjoying His presence that we can have the contentment, joy, peace, and happiness that would never be ours otherwise – even were God to grant us all the things we prayed for.

It is so hard to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone. We want to focus on the things that come through Him and from Him, rather than focus on Him.  Jesus says, “I give everything I am to you,” and we reply, “yes, but what about my Christmas list?”  So I am in full understanding when, after God tells Abram that God Himself will be Abrams very great reward, Abram says in verse 2 –

But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me?”

Isn’t that we often pray?  “Oh Lord, thanks for everything, your promises, your comfort, your Holy Spirit.  But what will you give me?”  Abram wants a son.

III.      A Promise Believed, Genesis 15:4-6

Then in Genesis 15:4, God promises Abram that Abram will have a son of his own.  And not just a son, but more descendants than Abram can count.  God and Abram go outside and look at the stars and says that if Abram can count them all, that’s how many his decedents will be.  And Abram believed.

Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement.  Genesis 15:6 –

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Believe in the Lord, that He is who He says He is.  He is the great I am.  He has sent His son for the transgressions of our sins, and we are now washed clean in His sight.

How can we know God keeps His promise?  How do we know that when we die, that we have eternal salvation, freely available to all who believe?  Abram is a great testimony.  He believed God.  God credited it to him as righteousness.  Not because Abram was a great guy and has some nice sheep and goats, but because He believed.  And Abram, on this expression of His faith, was declared righteous.

Is this same credit is available to you and me, just by believing?  How can we believe?  By choosing to believe.  We believe by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is, that all creation belongs to him.  Romans 4 – the entire chapter – is devoted to this one sentence, that Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:18-25 –

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

In one of the great mysteries of this universe, at least to me, is that God keeps His promises to us.  And if we only believe that Christ died for our sins, then God will forgive our sins and credit our belief to us as righteousness.

It’s not about how fervently we pray, how many times we attend bible study, how often we do good things for those who can’t.  We do those things out of love, but it’s not our prayer or our service or our worship that gives us salvation.  It is our belief.  God wants us to believe in Him.

What did Abram believe?  Was it merely the promise of more grandchildren than he could count?  There’s more to it than that – in John 8:56, when Jesus was talking to Jews who were trying to kill Him, He says,

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

If Romans 4 tells us that Abram was the father of all Gentiles, then Jesus says that it was Abram’s faith in the future Messiah that brought Abram joy.  Abram, as well as countess others throughout the Old Testament, are saved through their faith in the future Messiah yet to come.  Abram believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life, and that the Messiah that would come through Abram and his descendants. It is at this point, when Abram believed the Lord that the Lord credited him with righteousness.

When we believe God’s Word, that God gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus for it, like Abram, we are declared righteousness by God. There is no other way to receive eternal life. Abram believed the promise, and so was justified. Of all the ways that God gives Himself to us, this is the greatest. God told Abram in verse 1, “I will be your great reward” and now Abram has received God’s righteousness as part of that reward. No matter what happens in life, if we have Jesus, if we have God as our reward, we have more than everything we need.

The promise has been given, the promise has been believed, and now we will see the promise guaranteed.

IV.      A Promise Guaranteed, Genesis 15:7-21

In Genesis 15:7 –

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

God has made this promise to Abram already in chapters 12 and 13, but perhaps Abram is wondering when God’s going to keep his promise.  Genesis 15:8 –

And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram says, “Well, ok, God, I trust you that you’re going to give me a son.  But how can I know you’re also going to give me the land?”  Abram is already 85 years old at this point, and he and his 318 men in his army aren’t getting any younger.

God then makes a covenant with Abram, a complex scene that involves sacrificing animals and dividing them in half.  Some commentaries tell me that this symbolized a way back then to seal a deal.  The two people would sacrifice and split their animals in half, then walk in between the pieces.  The thought was that, if I break my side of the covenant, may I become like this sacrificed animal and be split in two.

Now in these more modern days, we are much more civilized.  We don’t divide animals in half.  Now it’s the lawyers who are animals trying to divide the people in half.  But I digress.

But this covenant with Abram isn’t fulfilled with both partners walking between the animal pieces.  No, a blazing torch appears and passes between the pieces alone, symbolizing that God alone will fulfill His promise to Abram.  Abram doesn’t need to do anything except believe in the Lord.  The Lord makes this promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 –

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.  You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

This is a prophecy about the future.  God has delayed his promise in order to show Abram, and show the Israelites that it is not by their effort that His covenant will be fulfilled. It is by God’s faithfulness alone His promises are fulfilled.  God tells Abram that his descendants will go to a land that is not theirs and be slaves for 400 years.  When that time is up, the nation they serve will be judged.  Abram’s descendants will then come out of the land with great possessions.  Before all of this happens, Abram will die in peace.

Why is God telling Abram this?  Because the promise of the land will not be fulfilled in Abram’s time.  Abram may be getting impatient to get some of the land that God has offered to him, but God says that the promise of the land will only be fulfilled with Abram’s descendants, long after Abram is dead.  The reason for this is because the iniquity of the people dwelling there is not yet complete.

And when God walks through this covenant alone, God is saying that He alone will fulfill this covenant.  No matter how Abram sins or fails to live up to God’s standards, God reassures Abram that God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Just like our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a one sided covenant.  God asked Abram to bring the animals, which Abram did.  But God walked through them alone.  God asks us to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.  But God paid the penalty, bought our salvation, and guarantees it all by Himself.  God requires nothing from us except to believe in Him and have it credited to us as righteousness.  He does not demand anything of us.  Eternal salvation is a one-sided covenant which cannot be broken.

God does it all.  God does not meet us half way.  God doesn’t even meet us most of the way.  God does it all.  We do nothing.  In legalistic churches and groups, we talk about being committed to Christ, about the works we must do to secure our salvation, about have a Christian must say, believe, and do certain things.

But God’s covenant with us reveals something else entirely.  We aren’t the promise keepers.  God is.  He makes the promises to us, and He keeps them all by Himself.  We don’t give ourselves to God.  He has already given Himself fully and completely to us.  We don’t make covenants with Him.  He makes covenants with us, and there is only one name to sign on the bottom – His.

Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There is no labor, no hard work, no effort involved.  Paul writes similarly in Philippians 1 that He who began the good work will carry it on to completion. Philippians 2 says that it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. God does it all in us and through us.

Are you still trying to win your salvation?  Are you still trying to prove that you’re worthy enough to enter His kingdom?  It’s time to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross.  Just trust in the Lord.  Trust in His unconditional promises to you. Don’t try to meet God half way.  Let Him do it all in you and through you for His good pleasure.

  V.      Conclusion

We talk about “accepting” Christ, but this a term not found in the bible.  What we “accept” is an understanding that God has called us and is calling us.  We realize that we are wretched and naked without God.  There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves on our own, but we trust in the Lord, trust in the promise of Jesus that when we put on Christ, we are then clothed and beautiful.  Perhaps we do not feel our prayers being answered today, but God will fulfill each and every promise He makes.

And when we feel that when we have found Christ, our journey is not complete.  We find Christ so that we can seek Him more.  We accept Christ so we can accept Him more.  We acknowledge Him as our Lord so that He may command and lead us to pastures green, the land He promised unto Abram, and the salvation promised unto us.

Psalm 23:1-3,

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

To God be the glory.

Rebuilding the Walls

              I.      Introduction

Nehemiah 1 Rebuilding the Walls

We covered Esther in two weeks and Ezra in two weeks, like we were in a hurry.  But we’re going to slow down and spend the next several weeks in Nehemiah.  Let’s dive right in with an introduction to Nehemiah, who he is and what he’s doing.

            II.      Background History

The Jewish people had sinned and God had judged them; it was approximately 605 years before Christ.  God used Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, to invade Judah and lay siege to Jerusalem.  In 597 BC, the prophet Ezekiel (who we studied just 2 months ago), documented the pillaging of Jerusalem and the deportation of Jews to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as the tributary king of Judah.  However, despite Ezekiel’s warning, Zedekiah entered into an alliance with Pharoah Hophra of Egypt.  Nebuchadnezzar II responded by sacking Jerusalem a second time in 587 BC and destroying Solomon’s temple. The Jewish king Zedekiah was forced to watch his two sons executed, then the king’s eyes were put out and the king was imprisoned until his death.  The remaining healthy Jews still in the city were taken to Babylon, leaving behind only the weak, the poor, the sick.  The city of Jerusalem was raised to the ground.

Thus began the Diaspora of the Jews which continues to this day.  The Diaspora refers to Jews that live outside of the Kingdom of Judah.  Today, about 44% of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, the rest are the Diaspora, Jews scattered mostly in the US and Western European countries.

The Jewish people lived as servants in Babylon, and many, like Daniel, Mordecai and Esther, and Nehemiah proved themselves trustworthy and faithful.  They understood the exile as a consequence for their sins.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah

Fifty years go by, and the king of Babylon is now Cyrus the great.  In 538 BC, Cyrus’s Declaration was issued which permitted Jews to return to the land of Israel.  Then began the return to Zion, called Aliyah by the Jews, which continues to this day.

In Nehemiah’s time, there were 4 waves of Aliyah, returning to Zion, after Cyrus’s Declaration.  The prophet Ezra tell us the first Aliyah was small, approximately 1000 young Jews led by Sheshbazzar to rebuild the holy temple on the temple mount in 538 BC.  The second Aliyah was larger, later that same year, and led by Zerubbabel, and totaled nearly 50,000 people.

A third Aliyah was led by Ezra himself when Ezra was an old man, years later in 458 BC, and 5000 additional Jews returned to Zion.  Ezra strengthened religious laws and the use of the Hebrew alphabet which was critical to the identity of the Jewish people as separate and holy.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah 2

The book of Nehemiah chronicles the life of Nehemiah and the fourth wave of Aliyah.  In the book of Nehemiah, chapter 1, Nehemiah identifies a mission, a service to the Lord, and we can learn much about how he learns of his mission, how he prepares for his mission, and how he executes his mission.  Let’s look at Chapter 1, and I love the way this book begins.  It identifies Nehemiah’s mission and right away how he approaches God.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

 In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said:

 “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

 I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah learns that the place of his ancestors is in poor condition and in need of help, and it moves Nehemiah to tears.  Nehemiah cried and fasted and prayed to God, and his prayer is a study on how to pray.  There is praise and worship, there is confession, there is adoration and supplication and application of scripture.  Nehemiah was a man of prayer which is also why I believe he was also a man of action.  God was with Nehemiah because Nehemiah was constantly with God.  Nehemiah did not act without praying first, and did not pray without acting.

Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, a position of no small importance.  Wine presented to the king would first pass through Nehemiah, who would taste the wine for signs of poison.  Nehemiah, as cupbearer, would be in nearly constant presence of the king, and so would also be an unofficial advisor with the king’s ear.

Nehemiah Hebrew Calendar

Months go by without an answer from God.  Chapter 1 says Nehemiah starts praying in the month of Kislev.  He prays throughout the month of Tevet, the month of Shvat, the month of Adar, the month of Nisan.  And in the month of Nisan, Nehemiah is in the presence of King Artaxerxes, looking sad.  The king must have been very familiar with Nehemiah’s presence, notices Nehemiah’s sad face and asks why.  Nehemiah explains that he is sad because the city of Jerusalem is in ruins.  Chapter 2, verse 4, the king said, “What is it you want?”

And again Nehemiah shows us why he is such a man of God.  He’s been praying for 4 straight months, but when he is finally in the right place, right time, in front of the king, verse 4 says Nehemiah first prayed to the God of heaven, and then answered the king.  We don’t know the content of this prayer, but by necessity it had to be a short prayer.  Maybe it was “Lord have mercy” or “Thank you O Lord” or “Lord be with me” or “Your will be done, O Lord.”  It shows that Nehemiah knows this meeting with the king is the answer to his prayer in Chapter 1, and Nehemiah is going to go to the Lord before he says or does anything.

          III.      Power of Prayer and Patience

Prayer is powerful, and I confess I do not fully understand why.  I am a flawed man, full of sin and selfish pride.  God’s judgment and wrath rightfully belongs on me for my sin, but instead, God has extended His grace to me, given me mercy by sacrificing His own son for me.  It is only because of the blood of Jesus that I can approach God and His holiness at all, and when I do approach God, God listens to me.  He cares for me.  He loves me.  And He loves it that I pray to Him.  I have nothing to offer God except me, and I only exist because God willed it. And yet, God loves prayer.  Proverbs 15:29 says,

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”

And James 5:13-16 says,

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

We are only righteous because of our faith and obedience to Christ Jesus, not of our own doing.  But it pleases the Lord to answer the prayers of the righteous.

Nehemiah prayed for months.  Sometimes he prayed aloud, other times he prayed silently.  Nehemiah prayed patiently for 4 months.

How long is patience?  Is being patient waiting for 4 months?  While 4 months is a long time, you and I may have prayers that last longer than that.  I know I do, and I have unanswered prayers that go on for years.  How long is patience?  I think it’s always 1 more month.  Or 1 more year.  Or 1 more whatever.  Just keep praying.

God always answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is “no” or maybe the answer is “not yet,” and it’s not the answer we were looking for.  But we go to God in prayer, in faith that the Creator God of the Universe can answer it.

That’s how Nehemiah prayed.  And the Lord God moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to provide all the materials necessary for Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem.  But not all were pleased to see the Lord answering prayers; Nehemiah 2:10 says,

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”

Even when the Lord is answering prayer, obstacles may still exist.  Often those obstacles are people, naysayers, they tell you it cannot be done or that it’s not worth doing.  Or that your God is a little god and isn’t really on your side.

But our God is an all-consuming fire.  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  And when God is for us, who can be against it?  Nehemiah led the fourth Aliyah to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, knowing God was answering prayers.

            IV.      Twelve Gates of Jerusalem

Let’s take some time out to examine the work before Nehemiah.  He’s rebuilding the city walls for two reasons.  One is to protect the small Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem from attack; the walls had collapsed or been torn down, leaving little or no defense.  The other reason is to bring glory to God; this was city of the temple of the Lord.

You might think Nehemiah chapter 3 looks boring with its list of gates and builders.  And if you read Nehemiah 3 by itself, I might agree with you.  I’d rather watch old reruns of “home Improvement” with Tim Allen that read this old boring list of people building gates.  But you may have heard that every word of the bible is important, so let’s dig a little further and see if twelve gates of Jerusalem are described anywhere else in the bible.  If we read all the way to the end of the bible, we find the twelve gates of Jerusalem are described in Revelation 21.

Revelation 21:9-14

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem have their origins in the twelve gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, and suddenly we realize that we’re not just studying Nehemiah restoring Jerusalem, but it is also a prophetic picture of God restoring His church, the spiritual City of God.  Revelation goes on to describe each door as a single pearl, but we also know that Jesus is the pearl of great price.

Revelation is written with some amazing imagery and symbolism, and the one of the keys to understanding Revelation is to understand the Old Testament picture first.   Each gate had specific meaning to Jews in their daily life, and each gate has a spiritual meaning for Christians.

Nehemiah Twelve Gates

The Sheep Gate, rebuilt by Eliashab the high priest.  The Sheep gate led to the sheep markets where lambs were sold for sacrifice in the Temple.  The gate also led to Golgotha, the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion.  For Christians, the Sheep Gate is the first gate into our lives, where we accept Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus is the door by which everyone must enter to be saved.  And if we read all the way to the end of Nehemiah 3, the last gate mentioned is the Sheep Gate.  We’ve come full circle around the walls of Jerusalem, and realize that everything starts and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus is our high priest that restores our relationship with the Lord.

It’s interesting to me that when Eliashab rebuilt the Sheep Gate, Nehemiah 3 says they “dedicated it and set its doors in place.”  Every other door we’re going to study says they rebuilt their gate and set the doors and bolts and bars in place.  The Sheep Gate has no locks on it.  The sacrifice of Jesus is always open to every sinner, and access to the other gates is impossible without first accepting Jesus.

Also, look how much work Eliashab did rebuilding the Sheep Gate.  They went as far as the Tower of the Me’ah or the Tower of the One Hundred and to the Tower of Hananel which means “God’s mercy.”  Remember when Jesus said if a shepherd loses a sheep, he’ll leave the other 99 and go look for it?  Between the Tower of God’s Mercy and Jesus looking for His lost sheep, God is calling to us.  And we’re 3 verses into this list of gates and builders and we realize there is great meaning in this list of gates and builders.  The Sheep Gate is the Gate of Salvation.

Next to the Sheep Gate is the Fish Gate where merchants brought fish to the fish market.  Jesus told Peter, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  After receiving the Lamb of God through the Sheep Gate, God begins to use us to reach other unbelievers.  The Fish Gate represents the Gate of Witnessing, of spreading the message.  And if you look at verse 5, the fish gate was “repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work. “  Jesus didn’t come to spread the good news to the rich, but was born in a manger, among the common people.  During the ministry of Jesus, He gave us many warnings how wealth can hinder our walk with Him.  Whether rich or poor, the message is for everybody.

The third gate is the Jeshanah Gate which means the Old Gate.   This is where elders of the city would meet to discuss important matters and issue judgments on disputes.  God’s truth never changes, it’s as old as time itself.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And the wisdom of our elders should be respected.  Let’s call this gate a Gate of Foundation.  I started thinking of it as the Gate of the Old Testament.

The Valley Gate led out to two main valleys that divided Jerusalem.   To the west was the Hinnom Valley.  The Ammonites had built an altar here to Molek and sacrificed children by fire.  Josiah rendered the valley ceremonially unclean by spreading human bones over it in 2 Kings 23.  The name itself “Ge Hinnom” is also used for hell itself, the Lake of Fire.  The other valley is Kidron that Jesus crossed to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In 1st and 2nd Kings, this valley was used to burn pagan altars and images during the cleansings of Jerusalem.  The Valley Gate is a Gate of Suffering for Spiritual Growth, as Jesus showed us the night before his crucifixion.  But though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

The Dung Gate.  Yuck.  The garbage of the city was taken out of this gate.  Notice it also leads to the unclean Hinnom valley.  It represents the sin in our lives.  But the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin if we just accept Him.  Then we can place all of our sin and shame at the feet of Jesus, whose blood cleanses us of all sin.

The Fountain Gate, primary access to the Gihon Spring, the sole source of water to Jerusalem.  All of the fountains like the Pool of Shiloah were fed from this spring.  What do you think this represents to us?  Jesus is the Fountain of Living Water.  If anyone is thirsty, let them come to Him and drink.

The Water Gate is the 7th gate, and 7 is the Bible number for perfection.  This gate needed no repair.  The water symbolizes the washing by the Holy Spirit.  Later, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra will stand in front of the Water Gate and read from the Book of the Law to the people.

The Horse Gate, where the King’s chariot passed through.  In the bible, the horse represents both discipline (James 3:3) and warfare (Zechariah 10:3).  Make no mistake, we are in a spiritual battle, for which we must put on the full Armor of God.

The East Gate is also called the Golden or Beautiful Gate and it symbolizes the return of our Messiah and waiting on the Lord.  In Zechariah 14:4 it says, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”  The week before His crucifixion, Jesus spent each night on the Mount of Olives . Each morning he would enter through the East Gate.  He later ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and will return the same way He left. At that time He will again pass through the East Gate into the city of Jerusalem.

The Miphkad Gate.  Miphkad apparently is a difficult word to translate, it means meeting place, muster point, appointment, numbering in a census, or inspection.   Appointed Place or Inspection seems the best translation, and this is the final gate before the entrance to the Temple.  It is the place where God calls his people together at the final judgment.

The other two gates are mentioned later in Nehemiah.  The Ephraim Gate is described in Nehemiah 12 and was associated with the Feast of Tabernacles which is God’s feast for the harvest of the last days.  It means “Doubly Fruitful” and could refer to “Jew and Gentile” or “Earthly and Heavenly”.

Prison Gate, in Act 12 Peter is led by an angel through this gate.  All wickedness will be judged, and only those who have accepted Christ Jesus as their advocate escape punishment.

The order of the twelve gates represents our spiritual growth. We begin at the Sheep Gate by the forgiveness of our sins by the sacrifice of our Savior.  We become fishers of men at the Fish Gate and tell everybody about the Christ Jesus.  The Old Gate is our foundation of our faith, the Valley Gate is our purification.  The Dung gate is the rejection of our old life and sinful ways.  The Fountain Gate as we drink from the Living Water of Christ Jesus, the washing of our sins by the Holy Spirit at the Water Gate.  We put on the full Armor of God at the Horse gate to stand ready to fight the spiritual battles.  We await the return of our Messiah at the East Gate.  The final Miphkad Gate is a gathering of God’s people at the final judgment for eternal life, paid for by the blood of Jesus at the Sheep Gate.

              V.      Conclusion

The diaspora of God’s people.  We have been separated from God by our sins.  The Aliyah of God’s people.  We return to the Lord, our sins paid for by the blood of the Christ.  We are patient and prayerful until His final return, we gather for an eternity with Him inside the Twelve Gates of the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21 again, verse 1:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

When will this day come, the day of our resurrection and dwelling in New Jerusalem forever?  We must continue to pray and be patient, for however long “patient” lasts.  The day will come when I will stand with you, my brothers and sisters, inside the walls of the New Jerusalem and sing the praises of Christ our Savior.

Nehemiah New Jerusalem

To God be the glory.

Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

Christian Carnival CCLXXVIII

Welcome to the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Whoa, CLXXVIII. That’s a lot of Roman letters just to say it’s the 278th edition.

My apologies for the late edition. Real life, as always, got in the way. No excuses, I’m just late.

This week’s best Christian writing is presented for your intellectual perusement and enjoyment.

Yolanda Lehman presents I RECOMMEND JESUS posted at Ain’ta That Good News?!, saying, “Yolanda Lehman shares an evangelical tool that will help you share Jesus with those you love. In simple, plain language she explains the GOOD NEWS found in scripture! Only God can fill the hole in your heart friends–I recommend Jesus!”

Rosalind P. Denson presents Let It Go posted at A Fruitful Life, saying, “Dr. Denson encourages readers to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” She encourages people struggling with an unforgiving heart to simply “let it go” following the example of Christ.”

NtJS presents Book Review: 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free posted at not the jet set, saying, “I recently received the book 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free by Phil Lenahan from the Catholic Company. I was not sure what I would think about this book since I have read so many personal finance books. Could I really learn something new?”

Cecille Carmela presents How Does God Talk To You? posted at Rightful Living, saying, “How does God talk to you? Find out by searching through His deepest desires, through meditation, Bible scriptures and forgiveness.”

Jim DeSantis presents Christian Dating: Four Ways To Find Your Spiritual Match. posted at On Line Tribune | Spiritual Matters, saying, “The Christian faith, most faiths for that matter, teach that we are not to be unequally yoked. In lay terms this simply means we are to be wise when seeking a relationship to avoid future spiritual conflicts that can result in heart break. Here are four ways to find the mate matched to your beliefs.”

FMF presents Is It Ok for a Pastor to Earn $600k a Year? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “Should there be a limit on how much a pastor makes?”

ChristianPF presents Extravagant Giving posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “This is a story of some extravagant giving that I have recently been the recipient of…”

Rick Schiano presents Discipline Your Child a Biblical Perspective posted at Ricks Victory Blog.

Rani presents Prayer of the Week for Children- Allowance posted at Christ’s Bridge, saying, “This prayer is a part of my new series of children’s prayers.”

Keith Tusing presents How to Partner with Parents and Protect Kids in Our Culture posted at CM Buzz, saying, “CM Buzz is a site dedicated to encouraging, and providing resources for Children’s and Family Ministers.”

Dana presents Something to be proud of posted at Principled Discovery.

Dana presents A game of catch, a game of life posted at Simple Pleasures.

michelle presents Isaiah 55:8-11 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….

Tracy Dear presents Not Condemned posted at New Mercy, saying, “I try to give God glory while I stumble through a difficult marriage. I want to polish the monuments of the things He’s teaching me.”

Shannon Christman presents Why Don’t More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living? posted at The Minority Thinker.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?, saying, “I ask some questions about the new movie “Angels and Demons” and receive some thoughtful replies.”

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher continues a series on what the gospel is and isn’t.”

Rey of The Bible Archive asks serious questions about the method of Christ’s atonement in Theological
Necessity for a Physical Resurrection.

Fiona Veitch Smith presents Christian Speculative Fiction – a ‘lost’ genre? posted at The Crafty Writer.

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Sue has several articles; technically, that’s against the rules, but I’m listing all three anyway –

Sue Roth presents “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…” posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “A reflection on abandoning self to God.”

Sue Roth presents If he hadn’t risen from the dead, he’d be turning over in his grave. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “On the need for Christian unity”

Sue Roth presents Gianna Jessen: she survived “choice” and lived to tell about it. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “Read the amazing story of Gianna Jessen, a young woman who survived her abortion. She is an eloquent spokesman for life. And be sure to click the link for her home page. You’ll be able to hear her sing… with the voice of an angel.”

NC Sue presents The unforgivable sin? Or the unanswerable question? posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING.

That concludes the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Want to participate? Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our
carnival submission form.
Past posts and future hosts can be found on our

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Christian Carnival CCLXV

Welcome to the CCLXV edition of the Christian Carnival, this week’s collection of the best Christian writing on the planet. Prolific writing this week, too! There are a huuuge number of submissions. Grab a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy.

Richard H. Anderson presents Shalom for the shepherds posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Fred Black presents You Can’t be a Beacon if Your Light Don’t Shine (Why You Don’t Want Eeyore as Your Marketing Guy!) posted at Fred Black: Internet Business Blog.

Ryan McCoskey presents Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy posted at Think, Laugh, Know Me.

Frank McEleny presents What fire, has the younger generation acquired? « Scottish Warriors For Christ posted at Scottish Warriors For Christ, saying, “Is there a whole generation, or generations, that know nothing of the genunine “presence of God?””

Bible SEO presents The Seven Conditions of Christian Discipleship posted at Bible Study Exposition Online, saying, “Bible Study on the Seven conditions of true Christian Discipleship: – What does it mean to be a Disciple? How can one become disciple of Jesus Christ? What is the discipleship NOT? This bible study presents the seven conditions of true Christian discipleship demonstrated by Jesus Christ himself.”

Yolanda Lehman presents “But, it’s TOO EASY…..” posted at Ain’ta That Good News?!.

FMF presents Free Money Finance: Should Christians Have Life Insurance? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “A controversial topic for Christians. I like this article best, if for no other reason he liked the name “Chasing the Wind.” 🙂 – Michael

Eric Canaday presents The Truth About Tithing – Christianity Unplugged posted at Eric Canaday’s Posts – Christianity Unplugged, saying, “There is a lot of fear and condemnation in Christian circles around the subject of tithing. This post was written to unveil the biblical truth about tithing.”

ChristianPF presents The top 20 Christian Financial websites posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “These are 20 of my favorite financial resources for Christians on the web.”

JLS presents The Devil Is In Everything? posted at Pastoral Musings, saying, “Is the devil truly in everything? Discernment ministries have a place, but there is a need for balance. Many seem to have gone over board and see the devil in almost everything.”

The Last Epoch presents Episode 1 – Act Two « The Last Epoch posted at M, saying, “Comments are welcomed.”

Paul Kuritz presents Gran Torino: The Making of a Modern Relic posted at Paul Kuritz: Opinions.

Bob MacDonald presents In my small corner posted at Sufficiency.

Minister Mamie L. Pack presents Going to the alter posted at The Life I Now Live.

Chris Brooks presents Review: Bible Study Magazine posted at Homeward Bound, saying, “A review of Logos Bible Software’s new magazine.”

Raffi Shahinian presents Faith and Theistic Evolution: A Top 10 List posted at parables of a prodigal world.

Lawrence of Arabia presents The Erosion of Identity posted at Revolt in the Desert.

andriel presents The Emergent Contemplative Prayer Model posted at ReturningKing.com.

Diane R presents Synthesis and More Synthesis posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet, saying, “Synthesis is the big postmodern philosophical thing to do today. But what is it doing to Christianity?”

James John Hollandsworth, M.D. presents How Is Your Faith Tested? posted at Light Along the Journey, saying, “Do you think of “the testing of your faith” as a monumentous event, or as a daily choice?”

Rodney Olsen presents The Building Blocks of a Good Marriage posted at The Journey – Life : Faith : Family, saying, “What are God’s plans for a long and lasting marriage?”

Ken Brown presents Replacement Theology and the Return of the King posted at C. Orthodoxy, saying, “Tolkien’s epic provides a brilliant analogy for the relationship between Jesus and his Jewish forebears.”

Annette presents Do YOU have a pickle Jar? posted at Fish and Cans, saying, “Received this in an email, thought it worth posting.”

Wickle presents I love my wife « A True Believer’s Blog posted at A True Believer’s Weblog, saying, “Wickle has heard some comments lately about marriage and wives, and decided to spell out his feelings about his wife.”

Weekend Fisher presents The practical realities of love posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher picks up the conversation from C.S. Lewis’ comments The Four Loves and looks for how God’s love reflects itself in the different kinds of human relationships. Each ‘practical reality’ of love is based on the love of God for us. ”

Rani presents Prayer of the Week- THE LOVE YOU GIVE ME posted at Christ’s Bridge, saying, “I hope this prayer of the week brings you closer to God.”

michelle presents Matthew 5:4 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….

Mark Olson presents As Lent Nears posted at Pseudo-Polymath, saying, “An invitation extended.” Looking for some meditation and prayer time for Lent?

Jeremy presents http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2009/02/psalm-headings.html posted at http://parablemania.ektopos.com, saying, “It’s a look at a popular view among scholars about the order in which psalm headings came to be added to psalms that seems at odds with a common view about the textual composition of I Samuel.”

That concludes this edition of the Christian Carnival. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Christian Carnival II using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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