prayer

2 Chronicles 1, Micah 7

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 1 and Micah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Kings 20, Hosea 13

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 13 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 20.

The most outstanding quality Hezekiah had was his ability to pray. In verses 1-11 of this chapter, Hezekiah gets some kind of deathly illness (v. 1) which involved a boil on his skin (v. 7). Isaiah came along and told him to meet with his estate attorney immediately because he was going to die and not recover (v. 1).

Unlike all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah actually believed the word of the Lord’s prophet. He did not order Isaiah to be imprisoned like Jeremiah was or killed like Jezebel tried to do to Elijah. Instead, he accepted that Isaiah’s words were God’s word.

Next, he didn’t argue with God or try to say that God’s will was unjust. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23a). Hezekiah was a sinner, therefore he was going to die someday, somehow. We live different amounts of time but we all are destined to die by some method at some time. This was Hezekiah’s time and the illness was the way. Hezekiah accepted that as true.

But he didn’t believe that it had to be true. Instead, he believed in the power of God. His first instinct, then, was to turn to God in prayer. HIs prayer is simple--“Remember, Lord” (v. 3). He did not claim perfection or any right to healing but Hezekiah did remind the Lord that he had lived a faithful, devoted life. He also reminded God that, as Judah’s leader, he did “what is good in your eyes” (v. 3). So personally and “professionally” Hezekiah could say that he had done the will of God.

And that’s it. That’s all he told God in his prayer. He did not directly ask for God’s healing; instead, he said, “remember me” and how I have lived my life and led your people.

God knew what Hezekiah wanted and how sincerely, based on his tears, he wanted it. So God both healed him (v. 7), promised him both another fifteen years of life (v. 6a) and deliverance from Assyria, the nation that had swallowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God also performed a miracle, the first daylight saving time fallback (vv. 10-11) to confirm Isaiah’s word.

All of this was accomplished because Hezekiah prayed.

There is no guarantee that God will answer your prayers or mine in this way. Honestly, there was no guarantee that he would answer Hezekiah this way. Hezekiah was the recipient of God’s goodness and love, not a shrewd negotiator with the Almighty.

So there are no guarantees. But. What might be different in your life if you prayed like Hezekiah prayed in this passage?

2 Kings 19, Hosea 12

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 19 and Hosea 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 19.

Hezekiah had a child-like simplicity as we saw in today’s passage from 2 Kings 19. Yesterday we read that, after the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, the Assyrians made a play for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, too. At first Hezekiah tried to buy them off, but that was merely a temporary fix. The Assyrians returned and wanted total surrender; they laid siege to Jerusalem, cutting off the food and water and urged the people to surrender.

Chapter 19 continued the story and told us that Hezekiah had a very simple response: he turned to God for help. His first act was to demonstrate his complete humility and dependence on God (v. 1). Was it dignified for the king of Judah, one of David’s descendants, to tear his clothes and put on sackcloth? Of course not; Hezekiah was more concerned about the gravity of the situation than he was with maintaining his dignity. Hezekiah’s second act was to contact Isaiah and ask him to pray (vv. 2-4). Note that Hezekiah understood what was at stake. The Assyrians were not merely trying to defeat Judah in war; they were attacking Judah’s God as much as they were attacking Judah’s capital city (v. 4). Hezekiah suggested in his message to Isaiah that God might intervene because of the blasphemy spoken by Assyria’s commander. That’s key to understanding what happened later.

Isaiah responded to Hezekiah’s message with an encouraging word: Don’t be afraid of their blasphemy; this Assyrian king Sennacherib will abandon his siege when he gets concerning news from home (vv. 5-7). This prophecy through Isaiah began to be fulfilled immediately (v. 8), but Sennacherib did not leave the siege without petitioning Hezekiah—in writing—to surrender (vv. 9-13). This led to Hezekiah’s third response to threat of the Assyrians which was to pray directly to God for help (vv. 14-19). God responded through Isaiah with a direct answer to prayer (v. 20) and a prophecy of the downfall of Sennacherib (vv. 21-28). God’s words to Sennacherib were to defend his glory against the blasphemous boasts of the Assyrian king (vv. 21-26) followed by two direct promises. The first direct promise was that Sennacherib would retreat because of what the Lord would do (vv. 27-28). The second direct promise was that Hezekiah and his kingdom would thrive again because of the Lord’s blessing (vv. 29-34). True to his word, the Lord defeated the Assyrians supernaturally (v. 35) causing Sennacherib to retreat as the Lord had prophesied (v. 36). Finally his own sons consipired against him and killed him (v. 37).

So Hezekiah was a simple guy; he had no grand scheme for defeating Assyria. He didn’t even try to muster an army to attack them. He simply humbled himself before the Lord, asked Isaiah to pray and prayed himself. Yet in his simple trust in the Lord there was great wisdom and great faith. Both his wisdom and his faith were tied to a deep belief that God was real, that what Hezekiah knew about God’s miraculous power was true, and that God was able if he chose to rescue Judah. Hezekiah’s prayer, though, was focused on God and his glory, not just begging God to fix the problem. His reason for asking for God’s help was simple: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

Do we care about that when we ask God to answer our prayers? Does it matter to us at all if God’s glory and fame are extended? Do we tie our requests to a desire to show more and more people that God is real? Or are we so myopically focused on our own problems that we never consider how God might be glorified by answering our request with a yes. If you look at the scripture’s teaching on prayer, you will see that what Hezekiah said in his prayer was exactly what God wants to hear. God wants our dependence on prayer to be about him and his glory. Whatever you’re praying for today, are you asking God to use his answer to you as a method to reach people for Jesus? That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer with yes.

2 Kings 13, Hosea 4-5

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 13 and Hosea 5-6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 13.

Have you ever spoken to someone who was clearly not a Christian but who prayed to God--to our God--for something and he or she believes that God answered that prayer?

If so, then you know how difficult it is to reconcile that with our theology. Either God answered the prayer of the wicked or the person is mistaken. This chapter of scripture may provide some insight for us. In it, Israel’s new king, Jehoahaz “did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them” (v. 2). As a result, he and the rest of Israel were oppressed by the Aramaeans (v. 3). This is all pretty standard stuff for unbelieving Israel in the divided kingdom age.

Until we get to verse 4, that is. Weary of the oppression of Hazael king of Aram, “Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and [amazingly] the Lord listened to him” (v. 4a). God provided a deliverer for Israel and they were relieved of their oppression. But this was not an act of genuine spiritual repentance. Verse 6 says, “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” Jehoahaz did not turn in repentance and faith to YHWH when oppressed by the Aramaeans; he simply cried out for relief and, when he got it, changed nothing about his worship or his life.

So why did God answer the prayer of this unbeliever? Because God is compassionate and gracious, that’s why. Verse 4b says that God did it “for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” Despite the unbelief and disobedience of Jehoahaz and most of the rest of Israel, God answered the king’s prayer because of who HE is not because of who was asking for help.

God certainly is not obligated to answer the prayer of unbelievers and I don’t think he regularly does so. See Proverbs 15:29 for a verse about that.

Also, it is important to see what the author of 2 Kings wrote in verse 23: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.” Note that phrase, “because of his covenant with Abraham....” God’s compassion was tied to his covenant with Abraham. That covenant may be the only reason that God answered Jehoahaz’s prayer. But I think this passage at least suggests that God, at times, will hear and answer the prayers of unbelievers just because he is loving, gracious, and compassionate.

Theologians call God’s kindness to humanity in general, that is, to both believers and unbelievers, “common grace.” If God ever answers the prayers of an unbeliever, it is an act of his common grace. No unbeliever should ever look to answered prayer as confirmation that God is pleased with him or her. All the answered prayers in the world do not neutralize the need of everyone for the gospel. But this passage is a good reminder of the loving, gracious nature of God. He answers prayer, not because we deserve it but because of who he is.

Are you regularly seeking the Lord’s favor in prayer as Jehoahaz did? If God was gracious to an unbelieving king of Israel, how much more will he listen and answer us, his children, who know him by faith?

2 Kings 6, Daniel 10

This devotional is about Daniel 10.

The section of Daniel’s book dealing with direct revelations continued in this chapter and Daniel saw a vision “concerning a great war" (v. 1). This vision shook him emotionally (vv. 2-3). Daniel was always a man of prayer as we read back in chapter 6. The fact that he “ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all” (v. 3) suggests that he fasted and devoted himself to extra prayer because of this revelation.

The “man” that he saw in verse 5 told Daniel that he “was highly esteemed” (v. 11) and that he was sent in response to Daniel’s prayers. In fact, this messenger said that he was heard from “the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God” (v. 12). The context suggests that Daniel was heard AND that God responded immediately by sending this messenger. Then why did Daniel have to wait three weeks for this answer? Because, according to verse 13, “the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”

The messenger, “princes” and “king” in this passage have usually been interpreted as other angels--demons, really--who opposed this angel who was sent with revelation for Daniel. Although God immediately sent an answer to Daniel’s prayer, that answer was delayed by demonic power.

We don’t get very much insight in scripture about the angelic world and how it works. This is the only passage that I can think of where an answer to prayer was delayed because of demonic resistance. Some believers have taken this passage much further than the Bible ever does; nevertheless, it is scripture and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Based on this chapter, then, maybe one reason that the Bible urges us to pray continually, patiently, without giving up, is that God’s answers to our prayers are sometimes delayed spiritually by forces we can’t see and rarely think about. This is not the only reason that answers to prayers are delayed but it maybe one reason why. So the lesson is to persevere in our praying even when God doesn’t answer. There may be more going on with God’s answer than you realize.

Have you given up praying about something--or nearly given up--because the answer hasn’t come yet? Take courage from this passage and keep on praying. No matter what, God is not ignoring your prayers.

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in Galilee would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenant with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 29-30.

After over a year of stability and prosperity living in the Philistine town of Ziklag, problems came to David and his army. Despite his confidence in David (29:3, 6-7), Achish king of the Philistines refused to let David and his army fight against Israel. This was a wise decision for him; his commanders were certainly correct that David would fight the Philistines from behind (29:4-5). If he refused to harm Saul, God’s anointed king, there is no way he would have fought against his king or the army of his own people.

However, while he and his men were away trying to join the battle, their temporary home city of Ziklag was being attacked and destroyed by the Amalekites (30:1-2). Then some of his own men turned on him; verse 6 says, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” Their thought process seems to have been, “I know we’ve won many victories together, David, but what have you done for me lately? It’s your fault, somehow, that we lost everything.

This was a situation that would put anyone in stress. Most of us would lash out in self-protective attacks but not David. Instead, according to 30:6c: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

We live in an era that talks a lot about self-care. Have a hobby. Get a massage. Go for a hike. Play golf. Veg out in front of the TV. Find a way to deal with your stress by doing something that you enjoy. It isn’t bad advice, exactly, but it isn’t the best advice for us as believers in God. The best way for us to deal with discouragement and defeat is to turn to the Lord. How did David do this, exactly?

Given all the Psalms that he wrote, I have to think that prayer was at the top of that list. David’s psalms are prayers to God set to music. Maybe he grabbed his harp and poured out his heart to the Lord musically but he probably sank to his knees first and asked God for strength and help.

Music may have come next. After praying to the Lord, David may have pulled out one of his favorite songs. He might have played and sang until he felt better.

Finally, verse 7 tells us that he sought God’s truth. The high priest was living in exile with him so he consulted the Urim and Thummim from the priest’s ephod and waited for God to speak.

This is a great pattern for us to follow when we are down, discouraged, disappointed, distraught, or defeated. (1) Pray (2) Listen to and sing along with Christian music (3) Read God’s word and look for direction.

Maybe you came to this devotional feeling down. You’ve got #3 covered; Do #1 and #2 next.

1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Today, read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “...the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, excepting Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter--ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said. Are you fully committed to that--to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word--or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Judges 19, Jeremiah 33

Today we’re reading Judges 19 and Jeremiah 33.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 33.

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the better known verses in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is often assigned in Bible memory programs because of the compelling invitation to prayer it contains: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” This is a great verse on prayer, but like every verse in the Bible, it needs to be interpreted in context. When you read this verse alone, it sounds like a blank check from God. “Just pray and I’ll show you such delightful things that you never knew before.” But what are these “great and unsearchable things”? Before answering that question, Jeremiah reminded us of the situation he was living in. Verse 1 reminded us that he was still a political and religious prisoner in the palace. Verse 4 reminded us that severe judgment was coming to the city of Jerusalem: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

Yet God was not about to abandon his promise to Israel. After a period of defeat and exile, the people of Jerusalem would “enjoy abundant peace and security” (v. 6) as well as cleansing “from all the sin they have committed against men” (v. 8). There would be great worship in the city: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.” (v. 9). Though Jerusalem was about to deserted and demolished (v. 10), someday it would be a place of great happiness and joy and worship (vv. 11-12). All of this will happen when Jesus rules on earth over Israel in the period of time we call “the Millennium” (vv. 15-16). So God was calling, through Jeremiah, to his people urging them to pray for the spiritual restoration that would come through the work of Messiah. God wanted to bless his people so much! The joy he wanted them to experience was far beyond what they had ever known. But they needed to call out to him in repentance and call upon him in faith, asking him to make good on the promise. When Israel put their trust in the Lord that wholeheartedly, God would establish his kingdom just as he promised he would (vv. 19-26).

Part of God’s purpose in allowing Israel to live in this unbelief is so that Gentiles, like us, would be gathered into his kingdom as well. But, like Israel, we wait for God’s timing to be accomplished when this great joy will be realized. Until then, we should call on God, as Jesus taught us to do, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The prayer of Jeremiah 33:3, then, is not that God will do wondrous things in your life today as much as it is urging us to pray for God’s kingdom growth and Christ’s return so that we can experience the beautiful promises of peace, joy, and prosperity described in this passage.

Judges 18, Jeremiah 32

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 18, Jeremiah 32.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 32, from 66in16

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem is in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender. Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approaches him wanting to do business; specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15). The purpose of this was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although he was warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance. This is a great, great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is our prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive in? We fly in, demand what we want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when we expect? Or do we take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer; this is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with our posture but in every way submitting ourselves to our almighty master? Are we willing to accept the kind of “no” to our prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage? Can we hold on to his promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 11

Today we’re reading Joshua 22 and Jeremiah 11.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 11.

The first seventeen verses of this chapter continued Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah but then verses 18-23 interrupted that prophecy abruptly. Some of God’s people were tired of hearing about his anger and coming wrath. Instead of heeding the message, they decided to kill the messenger (v. 19b). Jeremiah was completely unaware that there was a plot afoot against him (v. 19a) but God supernaturally revealed it to him (v. 18).

Jeremiah responded to this plot not by running away to some distant land. Instead, he called on God to deal with his enemies justly. He appealed to God’s righteousness and his knowledge of everyone’s hearts and minds (v. 20a-b). Then he requested in verse 20c-d that God bring his wrath on those who sought to kill him. God answered Jeremiah’s prayer and promised to “bring disaster” on his enemies (v. 23b). But that disaster would happen in God’s time--“in the year of their punishment” (v. 23b).

Note that Jeremiah’s request for God’s justice was based on truth. He mentioned that God is one who will “test the heart and the mind” (v. 20b). This shows that Jeremiah was not seeking an unfair punishment just because he was disliked by “the people of Anathoth” (v. 21a). He was not asking God to carry out his personal vendetta but was asking God to do the right thing as a perfectly righteous judge.

Although God divinely protected Jeremiah in this instance, he did allow Jeremiah to experience persecution at other times in his life as we will read about in future devotionals. God also allowed other faithful prophets of his to be killed. So God does not always promise or provide absolute protection for his people or even for those who are serving him in difficult circumstances. What God does provide is protection within his will and just punishment in his timing.

This should give us comfort when we hear of persecution of other brothers and sisters of ours in Christ and if or when we experience persecution for Christ. God is watching over your life and he will hear and answer your requests for help. But, as his servants, we must believe that he knows best about when and how to administer his justice.

It is also important to remember that God may choose to have mercy on persecutors. The very people you would like to see experience God’s judgment might be ones God chooses to save. Think about Stephen, for a moment, the first Christian martyr. He was executed for preaching Christ (Acts 7) and could have justly called for God’s justice on his persecutors. Instead, with his dying breath, he called out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60b). One of those who persecuted him and for whom he prayed as Saul of Tarsus (8:1). God allowed Saul to continue persecuting God’s children for a while, but then he saved Saul and used him to bring the gospel to the Gentile world.

All of us were guilty before God and deserve his righteous wrath; those of us in Christ have received his mercy despite our sins. It is appropriate to pray for God’s justice when someone persecutes you but it is also Christlike to pray for God’s mercy.

Is someone making your life difficult because you are a believer in Christ? Have you prayed for God to have mercy on them or to bring justice to them in his time and according to his will? Instead of holding anger and resentment toward others, these are the righteous ways to deal with persecution. As Romans 12:18-21 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises--his covenant love--for these people: v. 26b: “...your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed...”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us. Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Today’s OT18 daily readings are Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will--even when it is bitter--and follow him obediently.

Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, Psalm 141

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, and Psalm 141 today if you want to stay on track to read the Old Testament through this year.

This devotional is about Psalm 141.

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

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

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas? Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right. We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

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

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Today’s readings are Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 17, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123

Today we’re reading Numbers 17, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123.

This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “...we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you...,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God--absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone? The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life--at work or in your family or neighborhood--who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your family. What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

Exodus 21, Job 39, Psalm 69

Today we’re reading Exodus 21, Job 39, and Psalm 69.

This devotional is about Psalm 69.

The Psalmist seems to have been in a desperate situation when he wrote this song. Verses 1-3 describe the problems in his life by comparing them to the feeling of drowning. What gave him this feeling?

  • Verse 4 indicates that one of his problems was unjust hatred and accusations from others
  • Verse 5 tells us that another of his problems is his own consciousness of his guilt before God.
  • Verses 6-12 say that his passion for God caused family (v. 8) and others (vv. 7, 10-12) to mock him.

Can you relate to these emotions? Do you ever feel overwhelmed like you are drowning? Have you ever suffered socially because you take your faith seriously? David turned to the Lord with all his fears, anxieties, and enemies (vv. 13-29). He asked for God’s help and was confident that he would receive it (vv. 32-36). Then, in anticipation of God’s answer to his prayers, he promised to give praise and glory to God.

I sure hope you don’t feel overwhelmed by problems in your life today. But someone reading this probably does and each of us will feel that way at various points in our lives. Don’t try to deal with your fears alone. Bring them before the Lord asking for his help and anticipating how you will thank and praise you when his help comes.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalm 62

Today we’re reading Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalm 62

This devotional is about Exodus 14:10-15.

Although they saw the miraculous power of God repeatedly in the ten plagues, God’s people became fearful in this chapter when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. Verse 10b says, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Their crying out, however, was not for his help or his power. That would have honored God. Their cries were cries of unbelief as you can see in their words to Moses in verses 11-12.

Moses’s answer in verses 13b-14 was magnificent. It radiated faith in God’s promises: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Despite this perfect response to Israel’s unbelief, Moses must have felt some fear, too. God rebuked him in verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” The Hebrew word translated “you crying out” is singular. In other words, God wasn’t saying, “Why are you Israelites crying out to me.” He was saying, “Knock off the praying, Moses, and get moving.”

Did you know that there are some things in your relationship with God that you shouldn’t pray about? Asking for God’s help, strength, favor or for his power to overcome your fear is always appropriate. It is never necessary, however, to pray and ask God whether or not you should do something he’s clearly commanded us to do. We never have to pray about whether we should share the gospel, for instance, or go to church, or tithe, or read his word. We never need to pray about whether or not to obey any of the Ten Commandments or any other moral command of God’s word. Asking God whether or not we should obey his commands is not spiritual; it is an act of unbelief. God requires us to obey his Word; there is no need for further discussion.

Again, we can ask God for his favor as we carry out his commands. We can ask for his help so that we have the courage to obey his commands. We can ask for him to comfort our fears as we carry out his commands. What we shouldn’t do is ask for an exemption from obeying his commands. That is the opposite of faith.

Is there any area of your walk with God where you’re procrastinating on obedience? Are you “putting out a fleece” (to borrow the words of Gideon) when you should just be doing what God said. Quit praying (about that thing) and just do what God’s word tells you to do. As Moses told the people in verse 13b, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you....”

Revelation 8

Today’s reading is Revelation 8.

The seventh and final seal was broken by Christ at the beginning of our chapter today. Recall that the seven seals were holding the scroll of God’s wrath closed. Jesus was the only person capable of opening them and, as he opened each one, devastation happened on earth.

The horrible things that happened on earth during the opening of seals one through six were the result of man-made aggression or natural disasters. When Christ opened the seventh death here in Revelation 8:1, the angels got involved making the outpouring of God’s wrath an overtly supernatural thing. The results were even more severe than during the first six seals (vv. 7-12).

Within this description of destruction, however, we read in verse three that “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Twice in these verses “the prayers of all God’s people” are described in terms of aromatic incense offered in worship to God.

This is how God experiences our talk to him. While we may be suffering, crying out for help or for justice and pouring out our fears and anxieties, God receives our prayers as beautiful acts of worship. This is because our prayers are expressions of pure dependence on him. They honor him as the only one who can do the impossible and provide for us when we have no where else to go.

Prayer is an extraordinary gift to us but it is also a beautiful act of worship to God. I hope our studies of the Lord’s Prayer are helping you to pray. I also hope that this passage helps you understand how much God enjoys hearing us pray. Take some time today and offer this act of worship to him; the fact that you look to him honors him, regardless of what you talk to him about.