“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ~Hebrews 11:6
Indeed, it pleases God when we draw near to him in faith. The apostle even says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). This is a precious promise of our Lord that we do well to keep in mind and continue steadfastly to believe, especially in times when we feel distant from him.
The writer of Hebrews brings this out poignantly as he explains that our drawing near pleases him when we “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” We cannot simply think that because we use the name of God or say prayers addressed to him that he will draw near to us. That is what ancient Israel did, crying out to God as if he was one among their many idols. But he is not like them and refused to be numbered as such.
In response to their unbelieving drawing near, he said: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). The explanation from Hebrews further illumines what this means–this means that the one to whom God will draw near is the one who comes with a submissive spirit, believing that God is God and that he accomplishes all his word. In this way is our faith proved to be real–when we believe that he is the Holy One who he proclaims himself to be and that he fulfills his promise, rewarding those who seek him with his presence and all things besides (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:32). God does not draw near to those who do not believe he is the Lord of all or who do not believe that he will keep his word and draw near to them–to do this is to have true faith. And with this God is pleased.
While our incarnate Lord spoke on earth, he said this: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). This is another point that it is good to think about in consideration of these things, as well. If we come in faith, believing God, it is because he is drawing us. Our sensibilities may certainly not be aware of that, but it is so. Therefore, when we are in times of doubt or distance or confusion, it is good to remember that God will draw near to those who draw near to him in faith–and that if anyone is coming in faith, it is because he is drawing us to himself.
And in this truth we may stand with firm assurance and plead with God as David or wrestle with him as Israel until the hour when he grants our plea and rewards our seeking with his felt presence in our hearts, with strength in the trials of life, and with all good things besides. For he has already given his Son for us–will he not then finish his work, blessing us and enabling us to come to him in lowliness of heart as a little child? Not only does it please him when we draw near in faith, but it pleases him to give us this faith and draw us to himself.
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us: he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” ~Micah 7:18-19
“Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'” ~John 14:23
What a rich verse! The unity and fellowship of the Triune God dwelling in the heart of a believer! This is indeed the truest definition of all that is wonderful in the word, “home.”
I have always thought that where my immediate family is, there is my home. It doesn’t matter if the setting is a camper, a tent, or a house of our own; for is it not the people, instead of the location, that truly makes anywhere really “home”? That understanding has had to change just a bit for me in the past year or so because it has become necessary for my immediate family to be separated by many miles. For this reason, “home” can sometimes seem like a slightly elusive concept at the present hour. Regardless of that, I haven’t really had a case of the “homesickness” because I have maintained communication with my family–and communication is so very much of what draws people together and makes home “home.”
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” ~I Corinthians 12:12-13
Additionally, in the past few years I have come to see that the people of God are also, in a way, family, being fellow members of the body of Christ. Therefore, where the people of God are, there I also may perhaps have a little taste of the unity and fellowship of “home.” I praise the Lord that I am one who is very blessed to have my own blood family as my spiritual family, as well.
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” ~Psalms 62:8
But there is one thing that is greater even than these things: that is that God is my home in an ultimate sense. When I think of God as my home, I am reminded that, just as conversation takes place during daily life among the members of a family, binding them together in communication, even so our prayers should be often lifted to our God. As throughout the day we speak with one another of everything–whether of the mundane business of cleaning up, or of the large things looming on the horizons of our futures, or of the dreams near and dear to our hearts–even so we should all be familiar with God as with our Father, speaking to him often and of everything within our hearts and minds. For in this he is pleased–and in this we are also brought nearer to him. In this way, we dwell, as it were, within the very house of God. And that is the believer’s final hope, final rest, and final home–what a blessing to even now have a foretaste of that here in our own families, in our own churches, and our own walk with the Lord….
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints, for the courts of the LORD…” ~Psalms 84:1-2
In Exodus 17:1-7, Israel is thirsty at Rephidim, crying out against the Lord, threatening Moses, and testing God. Despite this, God was merciful to them, sending Moses to a smite a rock, from which he made great streams of water flow in abundance.
Even though the children of Israel were doubting, angry, manipulating, boisterous, and rebellious, God gave them what they needed–which also happened to be the thing they desired and were clamoring for. He could have sent great punishments among them for their wrangling, unfaithful spirit; instead, he preserved their lives and the lives of their animals in his steadfast love and mercy.
From this, let us take example from our holy Lord of how to be patient and how to extend mercy to those in our lives with wrangling, unquiet, demanding, manipulative spirits. Let us not respond in anger because we have been disrespected (or even had the wool pulled over our eyes); but let us learn to imitate our Father and respond in true love. Let us respond by doing what is right–by doing what is necessary to treat them with dignity, as our fellow creatures (and often as our brothers in Christ); by doing what is necessary to maintain the bond of peace and harmony in truth; by doing everything for the edification of the brethren, bearing witness to the truth in behaving with both justice and mercy.
If the Most High God could bear this affront to his majesty with such patience, how ought we to respond to much lesser indignities from our fellow creatures?
May God give us hearts to learn from him and both a willingness and a desire to change in order to conform more and more to the example he has given for our obedience.
I wrote this poem some time ago, but am just now getting it posted….
The RoadI walk because of your faithfulness. Now the road is level. When I peer ahead to see where it goes, I see but a mirage. May I walk in faithfulness to you. You know where it leads; The road has been devised for me. It may turn sharply soon; Perchance it may lead to a cliff. The road may soon surmount a hill; Or take me down the slippery scree. I may escape a sudden fall, To be brought very high. Or, perhaps, from joy aloft, The road may plunge down to grief. Only you know, O Lord. You know the meadows and passes, The storms and the lulls, The passions and the coldness, The twists and the fogs, The fears and the confidences, The love and the trust, The mercy and the justice, That are on my road. But I walk because of your faithfulness. Summa et Soli Deo Gloria.
We can never be free from sin while in this life…yet God is merciful to us and carries us through, for “salvation is of the Lord.”
“Thou shalt not be afraid of them; but shalt well remember what the Lord thy God did unto Pharoah, and unto all Egypt. Deut. 7:18. Be ye not terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” Deut. 20:3,4. Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Job 38:11.
The assaults of original sin will ever return; and we must not be surprised when one conflict is over, that another arises. This contest is unavoidable, for the enemy is within us. It makes us more careful and humble to know this, than to believe that we have only to encounter with sin from without, and not from within: and if we desire to feel less evil in us than God suffers us to have, we may be…
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This hymn is very valuable in describing for us just what our baptisms signify. Until we really learn what it means to be a child of the God of the Covenant of Grace, our Christian walk will be dull and lusterless, not filled with the joy of the Lord. Because this hymn so beautifully describes what it is to be in true covenant with God, I wanted to share it with you all today.
I found this powerful hymn a few summers ago when it was one of the songs I was practicing for the next week’s church service. It struck me immediately as as beautiful description of what ought to be the true response of a Christian when considering what it means to take the name of the Trinue God in baptism. I was also drawn to the flowing seventeenth century tune with which it is paired in the green Trinity Hymnal. Even though the words were written in the eighteenth century, it seems to me that when they are put together with this tune, this song has the strong sound of the hymns of the Reformation.
Baptized into your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your seed, your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin:
Your Spirit e’er shall live within.
My loving Father, me you’ve taken
Fore’er to be your child and heir;
My faithful Savior, me you’ve given
Your righteous, holy life to share;
O Holy Spirit, you will be
A comfort, guide, and help to me.
And I have vowed to fear and love you,
And to obey you, Lord, alone;
Because the Holy Spirit moved me,
I dared to pledge myself your own,
Renouncing sin to keep the faith
And war with evil unto death.
My faithful God, your Word fails never,
Your cov’nant surely will abide;
Oh, cast me not away forever,
Should I transgress it on my side!
Though I have oft my soul defiled,
In love forgive, restore your child.
Yes, all I am and love most dearly
I offer now, O Lord, to you.
Oh, let me make my vows sincerely,
And what I say, help me to do.
Let naught within me, naught I own,
Serve any will but yours alone.
And never let my purpose falter,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
But keep me faithful to your altar,
Til you shall call me from my post.
So unto you I live and die
And praise you evermore on high.
Johann J. Rambach, 1723
Tr. By Catherine Winkworth, 1863
Rev. in Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978; alt. 1990
Tune NEUMARK 126.96.36.199.8.8.
Georg Neumark, 1657
There is a saying in our house, “When it rains, it pours.”
This is not in reference to precipitation.
This is in reference to life.
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Proverbs 27:1
Sometimes it may be good news…
Sometimes it may be bad news…
Sometimes it may be the weather…
Sometimes it may be a phone call…
Sometimes an unexpected turn of events drives you out of the house when you really wanted to stay in and get something in particular done…yet strangely, when you aren’t so sure what you’re doing–and may even be hoping for one of those surprises to send you out–you end up wasting your time when you could have gotten something more valuable accomplished if you had set your priorities straight…
In our home and household, these drastic changes to plan hardly ever come singly–or even in pairs. Often, there is a torrent of “you never know, do you?” moments interspersed among periods of relative normalcy. Hence, our saying, “When it rains, it pours around here….”
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” James 4:13-15
Some people don’t like it when they hear people use the phrase, “God willing,” or “if the Lord wills,” etc. But I use these types of phrases purposefully, because I myself know that it is he who shapes my life. I lay my plans; he alters them to suit his purposes. I may be unwilling at the time, but never has he harmed me by changing my plans–even when these things hurt, the changes have always turned out to have been for good for me.
So, all that was to say that you never know in the morning what will happen before the day is out, before–or even if–you will snuggle back down into bed…
At least, I don’t know…
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? ~Romans 6:16
You are that one’s slave to whom you present yourself to obey. What is prayer but presenting yourself to obey someone?
Essentially, prayer is submission. The spirit of true prayer, in the biblical sense, is that of submission to the Creator God. Prayer is an vital part of worshipping God in our spirits. Your head can bow, your eyes can close, your tongue can speak–but if your heart is not bowing down in humility before God, you are not worshipping nor are you actually praying. Worship of God–and thus prayer, also–is not determined by one’s situation in time and space; it is determined only by the attitude of one’s spirit.
It is the one before whom we bow in true heart-humility that we shall serve. Do we honestly worship God in our spirits when we pray? Do we actually lift our praises to God in submission to his perfect will? Do we bend our thoughts to honestly desire and delight in holiness? Or do we withhold our hearts from him and act with lipservice towards the one who bought us?
One way to check ourselves to see whether or not our hearts are in submission to the Father of spirits is to look at our prayers. It may well be that we discover that our thoughts always wander off to serve another master even while our lips are towards the only true Lord–or it may be that we find our hearts more often concurring with the psalmist; “Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word!” (Psalm 199:169)