Teach. Pray.

It is our duty as believers to pray for one another and to pray for the Church. Prayer is good and it is right, but it cannot take the place of teaching.

Near the end of Samuel’s life, he has a heart-to-heart with Israel. He’s been their spiritual Father for many years. He’d made his fair share of mistakes. So had Israel. But at this point in time, Israel was on the road to repentance. What Samuel really wanted to do at times was walk away from them as a parent might wish to walk away from a belligerent child who just can’t seem to learn his lesson. But because the Lord was faithful to Israel, Samuel would be, too.

He encourages the people to set aside all idols and worship God alone. He tells—he teaches—Israel the right way in going about life as God’s chosen people. Prayer is all fine and good, but if someone is never taught the right way to do something, their chances of getting it right are slim. In addition to praying for them, Samuel chose to tell Israel what to do.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:23-24 (NIV)

And he prayed that God would help them to do what is right.

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Obedience and faithfulness must first be taught. To neglect teaching it to remain ignorant and immature.

Then we must pray that those lessons we have learned take root and grow and become fruitful. Once we learn what God says and how He says it, our prayers allow us to hear His voice so that He can continue to train us in the way we should go.

Read: 1 Samuel 10-12, Luke 13:22-35

Grip

Read: Numbers 28-29, Mark 9:1-29

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a believer. You weren’t a believer. And, sometimes, I’m still not a believer. Neither are you. Very few people in this world can claim to go through life with complete and unwavering faith. I am not one of those people. Odds are that you aren’t either. But that’s not the end of the world. Actually, the sooner we all come to that realisation, the sooner we can do something about it.

Mark 9-24.jpg

The man who spoke these words was going through a bit of a tough time.—that’s putting it lightly. For most of his life, his son had been suffering from convulsions caused by an evil spirit. Hearing that Jesus and his disciples were able to cast out demons, the man brought his son to them. Jesus was unavailable at the moment (being deep in conversation with Moses and Elijah) so the disciples gave it a go. They’d been at this for a while now and had experienced great success. But success was not to be found with this case.

Eventually, Jesus returned, rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and told the father that anything was possible if he’d only believe. First he states he believes and then asks Jesus to help his unbelief. Which was it? Did he believe or didn’t he?

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I win him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me he can do nothing.

John 5:5 (NIV)

In John, Jesus had a lengthy discussion about vines and branches. Any branch that doesn’t bear fruit gets cut off and burned up. How does a vine stay connected to the branch? How does a branch bear fruit? How can we keep from getting cut off and tossed into the fire?

Since vines don’t have to devote effort and energy to producing strong stems to hold them upright, they use their energy to grow outward. Vines are among the fastest growing landscape plants.

When it comes to training vines, gardeners often do not realize how important it is to direct growth from the time the vine is planted and throughout its life in the garden.

Dan Gill, Training Garden Vines Right the First Time

I had a Bible school teacher say that faith is our grip on God; grace is His grip on us.

Let’s put all of this information together.

  • I do believe. We have all been given a measure of faith. We’ve been grafted into the vine as branches. Since Jesus is the vine, we gain our strength from him. Our energy doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t be) be spent trying to support ourselves.
  • Help me overcome my unbelief. Just because we’ve been given faith and grafted in doesn’t mean that we immediately become amazing, fruit-bearing vines. It takes work. It takes coaxing. It takes training. God, as the vinedresser, prods us and guides us in the direction He wants us to go. He places us where we can be most fruitful and grow the strongest. Taking our strength from the main vine—Jesus—and holding on to the supports that take us higher, we can grow strong and fruitful.

Faith isn’t a mystical power. Some may say it’s a muscle we have to train. I disagree. I believe that a stronger faith is merely the result of a stronger relationship with the Father. Vines don’t worry about where to grow, they simply flourish where they are placed by the vinedresser. When we know and trust in the one who is training us, faith will come easy.

Let me leave you with a story from Charles Spurgeon.

There was once a good woman who was well known among her circle for her simple faith, and her great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman, living at a distance, hearing of her, said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her holy, happy life.” She went, and accosting the woman, said, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” replied she, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with a little faith in the great God.”

One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

Mark 4-27.jpg

Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

Get down and dirty

Down and dirty aren’t usually things people like to be. As humans, we tend to want to place ourselves on high ground. That didn’t turn out to well for the inhabitants of Babel. Most of us appreciate cleanliness. After all, we’ve been told it’s next to godliness. But what if I told you that our aim should be the opposite of up and clean? What if you’re more useful down and dirty?

When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.

James 4:10 (NLT)

In this verse, the act of bowing down is not meant to be when we feel like it. The original text indicates that bowing down before the Lord is a conclusive decision. It is not a daily choice, but an eternal one.

Like the roots of a tree, we must first go downward where we will find our sustenance before we can be brought up. No one sees the roots or the struggles they encounter as they wend their way through hard soil, yet we all enjoy the fruits of the tree that has a strong foundation.

Our foundation must begin where no one else can see it. Our roots gain more strength the deeper they go. The deeper the roots, the higher the heights a tree can reach. Trouble only comes when a tree grows up faster than it grows down.

When we try to exalt ourselves and show everyone the glory of our foliage before the time is right, we run the risk of toppling over at the slightest breeze because our roots are not strong or deep enough to support the weight of our own ideas about ourselves.

But when we dig deep, even if the struggle is unseen from the surface, we put ourselves in a position for God to use us and bring us honour. The deeper we root ourselves in Him—the more we can get down and humble ourselves all the while lifting Him up, the greater our potential for reward.

Leaves are not so nearly as important as roots. For without roots, nothing can grow at all. So let’s not be afraid to get down and dirty. God can work with dirt.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 27-28, James 4

Carried away

As we humans grow from infancy to adulthood, there is little we can do to stop or alter the process. We get carried away on this journey called maturity. As we age, our bodies mature. All we have to do is ensure that we do what we can to sustain ourselves—proper food, activity, rest, and those things change as we age.

We cannot prevent our bodies from maturing, but why do we stop our spirits from going through the same process?

So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start all over again with the importance of turning away from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.

Hebrews 6:1 (NLT)

The term go on here is not so much a call to action, but a call to let go.

…the thought [would not be] primarily of personal effort, but of personal surrender to an active influence. The power is working; we have only to yield ourselves to it.

The International Bible Commentary

No one wants to see a 40-year-old man still acting like the high school football jock. It’s embarrassing. So why is it okay when it comes to our Christianity? Why do we allow ourselves to remain in spiritual infancy when we’ve been called to maturity? By continually going over the basics of Christianity, we essentially anchor ourselves to spiritual infancy. We become malnourished because, while we should be growing, we’re only feeding ourselves the bare necessities required to keep us alive.

Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right.

Hebrews 5:14 (NLT)

Like giving solid food to a baby for the first time, the experience may not be the easiest, but it must be done if that baby is going to grow into an adult. Little by little, new foods are introduced that help a child grow and mature. Our faith works exactly the same. We’re not expected to go from milk to steak, but we do need to go through the difficult process of introducing new truths from the Word of God if we ever expect ourselves to grow.

We don’t have to make ourselves grow and mature, we just need to be sure we’re doing what we can to properly sustain ourselves through the process.

So, go ahead, let yourself get carried away. Just don’t forget to back your lunch.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 51-52, Hebrews 6

Game day

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I last used a football analogy, but in my mind, one can never use them too often.

This weekend, I made a trip out to go see two of my nephews play football. As a part of their fundraising (and to clear out room in storage), the team is selling off old jerseys. Since I didn’t yet have any team apparel, I snagged one of these game-worn shirts. Immediately after putting it on, I noticed some pretty major differences between it and the other jerseys I own. While my fan jerseys are all pretty awesome, they’d be useless if I ever actually wanted to play the game of football. Unlike a game jersey, they have little stretch and absolutely no room for protective padding. It got me thinking about how we, as Christians, wear different shirts and expect results that we are unprepared for.

Now, I can go to Saskatchewan, wear my green and white jersey with a name and number on the back and tell everyone that I play for the Roughriders. But no one is going to believe me. I’m just a fan. It’s obvious. Or I can step out onto the field in my new gold and black jersey and claim I’m a Bear, but it’s quite plain that I’m not. This is how a lot of Christians are. They get saved and become fans of the faith. It’s alright. They follow the rest of the team and wear the team shirt when it suits them, but they’re not team players. They aren’t equipped.

Then we have the armchair quarterbacks. You know, those people who wear the game jersey ballooning out across their shoulders. There’s room for equipment, but it’s not there. They know the playbook and the rulebook and are more than willing to tell everyone else how to play the game, but are again, ill equipped to actually get in there and do it themselves.

We also have those like my nephew, with both the playbook and rulebook memorized, game jersey on—filled out with a full set of pads, early to every practice, in every play, learning every position. This is how we are all supposed to be—eager to get on the field at every opportunity. And, if we’re not playing, we should be coaching—showing those with less experienced how to get things done.

Paul was Timothy’s coach. Paul had been in the game for a while and was raising up the next team to take his place on the so-called field of faith.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and make us realize what is wrong in our in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Word of God contains everything we need to get out there and do what He’s called us to do. And let’s set the record straight—God has not called any of us simply to be fans or armchair quarterbacks. We’ve all be drafted to the team and are expected to do everything we can to help the team grow, become stronger, and win.

Church, get ready. It’s game day.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 25-26. 2 Timothy 3

Pardon me once

When my eldest niece was young and she wanted to be excused, she’d asked to be pardoned. Twice. “Pardon me. Pardon me.” Someone told her that she only needed to say pardon me once. Then next time she needed to be excused, she put into practice what she’d been told. “Pardon me once. Pardon me once.”

If you’re the one in the wrong who needs to be pardoned, you only need to ask God’s forgiveness once. We almost always look at forgiveness as something that God does strictly for our benefit. We know that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice in our place. But as much as forgiveness is for our sake, it’s for God’s sake as well.

I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

When someone commits a wrong against you, you have two options: you can forgive or you can hold a grudge. The only benefit to the latter is that you can feel self-righteous by holding this fault over the person who committed it against you. But by refusing forgiveness, you are effectually cutting off that relationship from the root and preventing it from ever being able to grow.

Harbouring unforgiveness keeps that offense in front of you and, when allowed to fester, it will make you bitter. Like a weed in a garden left unchecked, it will propagate to other areas and choke out anything good. Unforgiveness forces us to look at a person and see their faults first. Everything they say or do—good or bad—goes through the filter of their sin. No relationship can ever grow or even move forward unless there is forgiveness and acceptance of it.

More than it affects the person at fault, unforgiveness, if left unchecked, can ruin the one holding on to it.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

So when God forgives us, for His own sake as much as ours, He forgets what ever happened. He has to. If He were to remember and keep record of all our wrongdoings, forgiveness in the future would be impossible to offer. In order to remain the God who forgives, God has to blot out our sins, destroy every record that it ever happened.

When we forgive others, three things happen: we release ourselves from being bound by unforgiveness, we release the offender from their punishment, and we take away the ability from anyone else to convict that person of their sin.

This is the example God has put before us. We only have to ask to be pardoned once. For His sake, God cannot withhold forgiveness, nor can He keep any record of our wrongdoing. That is to our benefit. And, if God has done all of this for us, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone who asks it of us?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 43-44, Colossians 2