Fill my cup, Lord

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By Adam Graham

“And herein is that saying true, `One soweth and another reapeth.’ I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor; other men labored, and ye have entered into their labors.” John 6:37-38

The context of the scripture is that the disciples were baptizing even more than John. The disciple’s success was the result of the ministry of faithful people who we don’t know. Probably these people didn’t even know they were sowing, maybe they even felt like they weren’t accomplishing anything or were failures. I really relate to them.

However, they ultimately prepared things for the Lord and his apostles. This gives me the feeling that we may be sowing and earlier Jesus promises:

“And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.-John 4:36.”

Lord, we thank you for your word. Lord, we are weary today and have been so restless. We feel more like those who sows, perhaps without realizing it, and someone else reaps. Strengthen us and encourage our hearts today. We thank you for your peace. We thank you for being with us. Please give us direction and purpose today. Show us your vision. Prepare us to receive from you whatever we need to fulfill your plan for our lives. Protect us from the enemy’s interference today. Empower us to resist the devil and overcome his wiles. Please bring forth a good harvest of bountiful spiritual fruits in our lives today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Lord, amen.

Can Faith and Doubt Coexist?

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Whether Faith and Doubt are in mortal combat depends on what definitions of both words we have in mind. Faith, according to M-W.com, means:

1
a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty(1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2
(1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion(1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
3
: something that is believed especially with strong conviction;especially: a system of religious beliefs <the Protestantfaith>
Doubt, according to m-w.com, means:
a : uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-makingb : a deliberate suspension of judgment
2
: a state of affairs giving rise to uncertainty, hesitation, or suspense <the outcome is still in doubt>
3
a : a lack of confidence : distrust <has doubts about his abilities>b : an inclination not to believe or accept <a claim met with doubt>

Certainly, we can find ourselves uncertain of what opinion or belief is right, but refuse to allow it to interfere with our decision-making and loyally remain faithful to God’s word.  This is a “test and see that the Lord is good” mode of  taking a gamble or going out on a limb in a hope that maybe God will deliver and nothing to be ashamed of if one is young in the faith. Tentative baby steps would be inappropriate for the mature, but through the process of taking them, we learn by experience that God is indeed good.

For some, taking God at his word may indeed require they make a “deliberate suspension of judgment” on any points where they’d reach a different conclusion than God did if they leaned on their own understanding.  Really, though, this is doubting in ourselves  in the process of choosing to trust God. It is highly countercultural, but hardly contradicts the idea that doubt is poisonous to sprinkle the poison on our own flesh/sin nature.

Naturally, it is logically impossible to have a strong conviction about a belief we are uncertain of. So in that regards, it would be an oxymoron to doubt the truth of our firm convictions. We can have an “unshakable” faith on some things, and doubts about other things, but we can’t be both quavering and standing firm on the same belief at the same time.

To move on to the next definition of doubt, however, we definitely can be in a “state of affairs” that is suspenseful or otherwise has an uncertain outcome and have any definition of  faith. In fact, it is in such circumstances that we most need to have faith and that our loyalty to and trust in God is most tested.

One can lack confidence in God or distrust him, but choose to still remain loyal and faithful to him anyway. This is bruised and battered, struggling faith is a spiritual wound as real as, and quite similar to, having a broken bone.  Unless the break heals properly, depending on the severity of the spiritual wound and where it is, the patient will either die or remain crippled in their faith, that is they will be spiritually unable to move and grow properly in the area of impact.

Those who do make a full recovery, however, bear testimony that their faith is not only fully restored, their trust and loyalty to the shepherd is much stronger than it was before. Good shepherds have been known to break a leg bone of a sheep prone to wander, to teach it to stay close. God likewise has a tendency to try our faith by putting us into circumstances that he well knows will inflict (or reveal) doubts and make it as painful to walk in faith as it is to walk on a broken leg. We may call this “failing a test.” God sees it more like a toxin being used as a prescription medicine.  He well knew what side effects we’d experience when he gave it and decided the spiritual benefits made it worth putting us through the suffering.  He promised he won’t ever give us a stronger dosage of this painful, potentially deadly treatment than we can bear, but that itself can of course be difficult to keep believing in our darkest hours.

An inclination to not believe or accept God is the doubt that is the sworn enemy of , or at least contradictory to, every definition of faith. If you have this kind of doubt on a grand scale, you are not even a Christian and you probably well know it. If you have a habitual, unrepentant sin in your life, that also by nature rooted in not believing or accepting God’s word. Most of us are works in progress here, though, as God is in the process of transforming us from cancerous, dead, defeated “sinners”  into healthy, living, victorious “saints.”

This is a good spot to note that a proposed alternate supreme opponent of faith, fear, is simply an emotional response preparing you to either avoid or defend yourself against an anticipated real or imagined future danger and can also be triggered by awareness of a danger already present.  This god-given emergency response system can be helpful if wisely utilized and if it isn’t a “false alarm.” However, the relevant point is that being afraid of something God’s word told us we don’t need to be afraid of does require doubt of the previously mentioned “enemy of faith” variety.

The dictionary definitions of faith that God most values, and desires to grown in us, is complete trust in him and a firm belief in his word even when it cannot be independently verified, and a firm belief that he will keep his promises in Heaven, if not this life, without any guarantee he will come through for us at all beyond the subjective experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

God is notorious for using our struggles with doubt themselves to produce this kind of faith, but but we cannot have the final product while we’re still in the fires of these tests of our faith. We may fancy we have only passed the test when we maintain faith through difficult circumstances where we can’t scientifically know the outcome. Rest assured, my limping sibling, the Good Shepherd knew when he cracked his staff across your leg bone that the bone would break.  You may be flailing and limping, but you haven’t failed. The fiery pain shooting through your broken faith may feel like you’re in a furnace, but so long as you don’t give up and choose to forsake God, you will come through it with an even stronger, more loyal faith as he teaches you through this to stay close to, depend upon on, and more  fully trust in God.

Humans Make Unsafe Toxic Waste Dumps

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You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none,  and for comforters, but I found none.(Psalm 69:19-20 ESV)

God declared King David a man after his own heart. We might expect to find a man full of the fruits of the spirit. Instead we find a man who suffered much hardship, made huge mistakes (Bathsheba, murder .  .  . ) and who left testimony that he suffered great mental anguish, too.

Not only was this epitome of what God is looking for in a man one who struggled with a nasty temper’s lust for vengeance, he admits to being broken to the point of despair, not only to God, but allowed these words out in public so we can be reading text that give us an intimate look into the heart of an imperfect, flawed man who earnestly desired and sought the heart of God.

David’s writings are full of his pain and anger and all the other things men seek to hide. Most of his actual actions and life choices recorded in the scripture are courageous, true to his convictions, merciful, loyal, and he is known for his exuberant and joyful worship before the Lord.

Today, we often fall into the opposite: hiding our “inappropriate” feelings and unpleasant wounds and forcing ourselves to go through the motions of the godly Christian life, with an increasingly fake smile and increasingly justifying acting out in ways that release the internal pressure by making our problem someone else’s also. We may then wonder what is wrong with us, beat ourselves up, stuff that pain down as well, and repeat the cycle.

If this is you today, you can get victory. Take off the mask. Be honest, starting with God, about who you really are and what you really struggle with. Confess the shame, reproach. Perhaps, like David, you won’t find anyone on this Earth who will or can comfort you, but God already knows what the real deal is. He knows the chains restraining you and where you are needy.

After David had finally poured out before the Lord his bag of toxic garbage, God in his grace then granted David a song of praise and a grateful heart that desired to exalt the Lord by giving thanks. He encourages us then in Psalm 69:32-33, “You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.”

Forgive us, Father, for the times we’ve struggled to follow you in our own flesh while holding onto toxins that inevitably will spill over onto others. We recognize that we are not fooling you, that you already know the truth of who we are in our hearts better than we. Give us courage to stop simply going through the motions, to be honest before you about how we really feel, and to confess our struggles with sin. We thank you that you will not despise your people for being captive, and we thank you for where you have freed us and will free us. Revive our hearts, oh Lord. Grant us the grace you gave King David, to truly manifest the fruits of the spirit and live victoriously.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Why Did God Make His Promises?

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“by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Which here refers back to God’s “own glory and excellence,” which Peter referenced in verse three.  Peter emphasizes that God gives us his great promises, which ought to be more precious to us than anything, by, or because of his glory and his greatness or supremacy.  Divine nature likely references back to the divine power that we’re told granted us all things in the previous verse and in context refers to God’s holiness.  Peter goes on to say we obtain to this by having escaped the corruption in the world, suggesting that we were originally made to have holy desires and be holy as the Lord is Holy, but what Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden corrupted our design. To use the language of computers, we’re born with both our  software and our hardware corrupted and our code is full of errors. God’s greatest promise to us is to debug us both spiritually and physically and return us to the pristine  operating conditions that he originally intended us to have.

God’s promises, Peter tells us, all have this end goal in mind. Nothing God promises in the Word is intended as a blank check to continue to delight in our malfunctioning and relish in our buggy ways. His promises are all intended to advance his ultimate goal of restoring us to proper working order, not through our efforts to fix ourselves, but though his power at work in us.

Lord, one question haunts my mind: do I want to be whole? Do I want to escape from the corruption of my sinful desires? Do I want to be changed? Lord, I want to want to be free of the slavery of sin. Grant me by your grace the desire to open up to you and risk trusting you to transform me into the person you made me to be. Fill me with courage to count as loss anything that gets in the way of your will for my life, to bear the holy spiritual fruits and to be free from corruption. We have not already obtained, but let us forget what is behind and press on to reach the mark of this high calling in Christ and obtain the ends of the promises you have made. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

The Grace and Gift of Sanctification

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“who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” (2 Timothy 1:9)

Previously, we discussed this verse in light of verse eight. In the larger context of chapter one, Paul is encouraging Timothy, reminding him of the gifts God has given Timothy, including faith, and encouraging him to keep those holy fires burning his heart at a time when Timothy appears to be struggling with fear, likely related to the persecution of the saints that has Paul writing from prison.

In verse nine, Paul continues to encourage Timothy, reminding him that God’s gift of salvation and his call on Timothy’s life didn’t come because Timothy measured up according to the reasoning of men, not because of any worthy accomplishment or good deed on Timothy’s part, but because God had a purpose for Timothy, a plan for his life God had worked out before the beginning of time through the gift of grace Christ gave us in time.

In fact, in verses ten through twelve Paul goes on to remind Timothy that Christ has abolished death, that is, ended the effect of death and that Paul is suffering for teaching about the Lord who is higher than Caesar and has brought to us a light, life, and immortality that Caesar cannot overcome. Paul assures Timothy there is no shame in suffering for that because he knows the Lord is able to guard either what Paul has entrusted to God or what God has entrusted to Paul, which comes back to our fates in eternity from one angle or another.

Lord, thank you for saving us for good works, not by good works. Thank you for your gift of grace and your work in us of perfecting us to be fit for your kingdom. We lift up our hearts and souls and minds and bodies to you today, Lord, and we ask you to lead us and mold us according to the  purpose that you had for us, for you called us, designed us, for holiness and only you can make us what we were always meant to be. Change us, God, wash us clean from the inside out.