When Fools Pray

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The other day we examined this verse from the view of apologetics. In that article, we learned how Christ provided a model for us to follow when unbelievers confront us about our faith. We learned how to not answer a fool according to his folly and how to answer a fool according to his folly without falling into the trap of becoming like the fool and validating the fool’s “wisdom. While I hope this article was helpful to many, this only examined the verse from an anthropocentric point of view (i.e., man-to-man).

But what can this verse teach us about prayer? How does this verse relate to the man-to-God interaction? At first, one might think that this verse has nothing to do with prayer. After all, it never overtly mentions prayer or praying, nor is there anything within the original language that would suggest it addresses prayer either. However, I believe that it can provide an insight into that central aspect of one’s relationship with God, especially when tragedy strikes.

Let’s be honest: When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Stephen Paddock shot up a Las Vegas concert, or when personal tragedy unexpectedly slammed into your own life, how many of us either thought (or heard from others), “Where is God? And what is He doing?” How many people said things like, “Why would a good God allow such terrible things to occur?”

Such questions are not unusual to ask in the wake of disaster or tragedy, but such questions explain why the above verses are needed to understand prayer. For when we approach God in prayer, He is the wise person and we are the fools. (1 Cor. 1:25)

I know this sounds harsh but it’s the truth.

If you don’t believe me, look at Psalm 14:1-3, which begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who do good.” At first, one could read this, wipe the sweat from his brow, and say, “Whew! Glad that’s not me. I’m not an atheist.”

But then it goes on to compare this type of fool with mankind in general, saying: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)

The conclusion of God is the same about all of us. Atheist or not, we are all fools, for none of us seek after God. None of us do good. Not even one.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, there must be an expectation that our imperious, insincere, and individualistic nature will express more foolishness through our questions of and accusations against God than we could ever intend or imagine.

The question, for example, of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” is fraught with foolishness. 1) It establishes a scenario that accuses God of bad, one might even say “indefensible,” behavior 2) It implies that God’s goodness is invalidated because He permitted something tragic to occur 3) It assumes that a good god would only permit good things to occur to his subjects and 4) It asserts that there is such a thing as “good people.”

But when we go to God in prayer with such questions, the answer that we receive will most likely come in two forms.

First, God expresses His goodness and His wisdom by not answering us according to our folly. If He were to engage our foolish question directly, He would be silently agreeing with all of the aforementioned premises and would be trapped within the boundaries that the question defines. But since the logical conclusion of the question comes to either “God is good but arbitrary and absent” or “God is not good,” He cannot answer us according to our folly.  Instead, He must challenge our foolishness by redefining our thinking. Therefore, God’s answer to such a prayer would most likely begin with a question of His own. This was a favorite tactic of Jesus’ and it often helped expose the foolish heart of His accusers as well as their feelings and motivations for asking the question in the first place.

Such is the nature of all of God’s questions. Even a simple one, such as “O you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31) forces the hearer to examine himself and the hand that holds the hammer. In answering God’s questions we begin to see the chasm of holiness and wisdom that separates God and us. In this way, He maintains His character without being drawn into an argument whose boundaries and definitions have been set by a fool.

Second, once we begin to see where He’s going with this, God will answer us according to our folly, so that we do not look wise in our eyes. God’s desire is to bring us to repentance. To give us eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is not just to shame us or to make us look stupid. Therefore, He will take the argument we have set up and show us why the argument we have set up is false.

For example, in the above question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” there are several foolish things within the question itself that can help disprove it.

1) It assumes an objective moral law, which all people can agree upon, as the basis for its definition of good and bad, but if this is true there must be an objective moral lawgiver who made us humans capable of understanding this standard and applying it to our lives. Such a lawgiver (being objective and moral) would be incapable of being bad 2) Within the context of this objective moral law, the questioner’s belief that it is unjust if good people do not receive only good things and if bad people do not receive only bad things is exposed 3) But if the premise behind #2 is true, yet bad things happen to everyone, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that none of us are good? 4) Consequently, if none of us humans are good, then do we not deserve to have bad things happen to us? 5) And if #4 is true, then have we not asked the wrong question to begin with? Should not the question be “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” 6) Finally, if God is the One permitting good things to happen to bad people, then do not all the pleasures and joys and blessings one has enjoyed in life only validate God’s goodness? 7) And does not this expression of His goodness in these small things beg the question, “How far does God’s goodness extend to us bad people?”

In such an examination of the foolishness within the question we posited, we begin to discover that God’s goodness extends much farther and much further than any of us can imagine.

Indeed, it is for this reason, I believe, that the apostle Paul once wrote “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4, NKJV).

For God’s goodness goes beyond the supply of material blessings and it extends past the boundaries of providing us with relationships that satisfy our need for love and belonging. God’s goodness not only intervenes throughout our life history to prevent suffering, His goodness also steps into human history to become bad in our place so that we might become good and finally receive the rewards of a good person (namely, salvation and eternal life with Him, see 2 Cor. 5:21).

We must be humble, therefore, when we approach God in prayer. Otherwise we run the risk of asking unintelligible, angry, or unanswerable questions. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis once spoke on this very thing when he said:

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.

This is why, I believe, Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that reduces foolishness and orients us wholly on God. Maybe you know it. It goes like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9-13)

Follow this model and you will find a heart emptied of foolishness. One that is not accusing or offended at God, but one that is pursuing Him in wisdom and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, both now and for all eternity. Amen.

To Answer Fools

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These verses at first glance appear to be a contradiction in command. How, exactly, are you supposed to not answer a fool according to his folly and answer a fool according to his folly at the same time? For God to instruct us to such action seems like a cruel joke at best and an impossibility at worst.

So, when a Christian encounters someone using a solid biblical doctrine, such as God is love, to justify a well-known unbiblical behavior, such as drunkenness, homosexuality, or adultery, how is the Christian to respond? We run the risk of either becoming like the fool or validating his foolishness and making him appear wise in his own eyes. Either way, we lose.

Fortunately, Christ provided us with an example of how to follow these verses and avoid falling into either trap. Continue reading

The Glory of God and Kings

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At first glance, this verse seems a little odd. God conceals and man searches things out? It sounds like a cosmic Easter Egg hunt where man is continually searching for the colorfully decorated, yet hidden truths of God, while the Father watches on in amused pleasure.

But this is not the purpose of this verse at all. It is not purporting a deistic “hide and seek” relationship with God. Rather, it is reminding us of how the relationship ought to be, how far we have strayed from that design, and is calling us back to living in proper subjection to the Father.

The arrangement of God concealing and man searching puts things in its proper order. The concealing of things establishes a thirst and a curiosity and a hope that would have never existed in man. For if one sees, he will not have need of hope, and if one understands, he will have no joy in discovery. It is no secret that the value of an object or of a truth is always equal to the rarity of, the desire for, and the accessibility to that thing. For instance, gold is valued because it is rare, highly desired, and not accessible to all. But if gold was commonplace, if it was not rare, it would lose its value for it would be easily accessible and lightly desired. Similarly, if gold remained rare, but no one viewed it as desirable or useful, then the value of gold would diminish tremendously. But when an object is both rare and highly desired, the only way to establish it as having supreme value above all other similar objects is to conceal it. Thus, God and His Truth and all the mystery that surrounds them are established as that which is to be concealed in order to set Himself apart from all other gods, worldviews, and glories as supremely valuable.

Such an arrangement brings God glory. He does not want to remain inaccessible to man forever. To do so would diminish His value and His glory. Rather, He wants to be found. But if He did not conceal Himself or His Truth, the person who received Him would not properly respond to this gift. But when He is concealed and a person discovers the kingdom of God like a treasure buried in a field, then in his joy he will go and sell all of His possessions so that he can buy that field and retain that priceless treasure forever. It is this response, the one of insurmountable joy coupled with the inestimable denial of all you once held as valuable, that gives God glory. In this way, we see that the concealment is not only to elevate the worth of God in our eyes but is also to elevate our joy and appreciation for what has now become our own.

Similarly, “the glory of kings is to search things out.” Kings, in Old Testament days, were God’s representatives to the nation of Israel, just as we Christians are Christ’s ambassadors to this world. If those who represent God will not seek out the concealed things of God, then they will be unable to share the value of God to others. But if they pursue God and His eternally unfolding mysteries, they not only benefit but also the people under their charge. Although the joy these people will express for having received the gift of God and His salvation will first glorify God, the kings’ glory comes in the giving to his people of that which is rare, desired, and was once inaccessible to many.

However, the glory of God in concealment is not for our benefit only. As the scripture tells us, such concealing is also for God. “It is the glory of God to conceal things.” As the supreme God and the supremely valuable One in all the universe, He alone holds the authority to reveal or to conceal. Both actions bring glory to God.

In revelation, God chooses to bridge the gap between Himself and man and provides man access to the character, will, words, emotions, and person of God. Such vulnerability allows a man to see God for who He truly is, instead of making “educated guesses” from the workings of a depraved mind. Plus, this vulnerability permits him to have the opportunity to reconnect with God in the pure and holy way God originally designed and desired for man to relate Him. For this reason, we are told, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) So, in revelation, God gets the glory by being sought and found.

Whereas revelation includes mysteries that can be understood, concealing does not. In concealing, God chooses to hide parts of Himself to maintain and emphasize His separateness from man. The mysteries unique to concealing are those things that are unique to God alone. They include, but are not limited to, God’s majesty and dignity, glory and splendor, His sovereignty, wisdom, and unfathomable knowledge of creation. (Job 38 – 42). His grace. His love. His predestined plan from the foundations of the earth. Such are the things that force a man to his knees and compel him to proclaim, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 41:4-5)

If God were to reveal all things to man, man would mistakenly assume that he was relating with an equal. Such a belief would only repeat the fault of original sin whereby man presumed to be like God and set himself in opposition to God through the assumption of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, God conceals some things from man to protect us from both His wrath and the folly of our depraved minds. He conceals things so that we may always live in a proper relationship to Him, knowing that He is infinitely holy and sovereign and good and wise, and we are not.

To challenge the concealed things of God does not glorify God nor does it engender praise. Such behavior only rebels against Him and demands an answer where none is permitted to man. Thus we are reminded “who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). But when God conceals these things from man, He surrenders nothing of His uniqueness. All things remain from Him and through Him and to Him (Rom. 11:36), calling man out of his ostentatious existence and back into the original design where man is subjected under God, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). And where the heart of man may continuously proclaim “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Php. 4:20).

Thus we can say with Solomon: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

The Glory of Prepositions

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God abides in us to perfect His purposes through us. This is an interesting and a comforting thought. This God of love lives in us, stays with us, and flows through us to accomplish His desires. But we are not passive partners in this process. We have our own role to play. And this role is primarily practiced through the act of obedience.

But, if you’re like me, obedience can sometimes be a slippery thing. For years I used to flounder in frustration when reading verses like Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding) or 1 Cor. 10:31 (Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God). These types of verses seemed to excel in telling me what to do but appeared to fail in explaining how. It felt as if God had wedged me between my desire to do the right thing and my ignorance of the process.

But God had done no such thing at all. In fact, when I looked at these types of verses more clearly, I realized that in every instance God had provided a hidden instruction so that my obedience could be carried out as He intended. The answer, though, came in those small connecting words we often overlook in scripture. Tiny words that race past our eyes and hide within the shadows of metaphors and expansive revelations. These are the words we imagine revolve around the center of a sentence’s solar system, while in reality, they are the stars whose gravity holds all of the other words together and maps the circuit of the ideas within.

What are they?

They are the prepositions. Words like “in” and “with” and “for.” And without them, no Christian can ever obey God.

Consider the following:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Php. 4:13

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:10

or

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5

Obedience can never be done without the prepositions. In fact, it is the prepositions that empower the obedience. If we are honest, we know we cannot do what God commands us to do in our abilities alone. But when we embrace the belief that it is Christ working in and through us, we can boldly step out and proclaim, “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Ps. 108:13) This gives a whole new dimension to prayer and obedience. For once we have completed the process of following and have synced our heart and mind up to God’s so that we know His will, He command to go and do changes our requests from scavenger hunts to discover His will into requests to perform His will. We can step out in power and in confidence because it is He who is doing the work, not ourselves. Like an arrow shot from the archer’s bow, we do not set the aim or the trajectory or the target. Our objective is to only fly straight and true, piercing the bullseye according to His will.

Thus, obedience in Christ is not only praying in the name of Christ but it is also acting in the will and the power of Christ. The man who forfeits the opportunity to obey the calling of God because he is unable to accomplish the vision in his own strength is both missing and understanding the point all at the same time. He is so close to the adventure of God he teeters on the edge of understanding and faith, but he is so focused on himself that the distance between his usefulness and impotence in Christ has become immeasurable. If he would accept that God only wants him to be remembered as a useful tool and not a glorious building, then he would be able to yield himself to work in the strength and will of the Carpenter’s hand. But the one who does not empty himself of grandiose visions of glory or depressive visions of failure can only experience God’s desires for his life as an observer, not as a participant. His heart is focused too much on what he believes he can do in himself.

But God does not want us to obey within the the limitations of our abilities. He wants us to obey within the infinite realms that His prepositions provide “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2) For since we have been crucified with Christ, the only thing that should remain in the obedient servant is a willingness to be used and a hopeful expectation to see God do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:2).

Remember, when God calls us to obedience, He calls us to future action. Sometimes that action is milliseconds in the future (will you defend your faith or deny that you know me?) and sometimes it is months or years in the future (lead my people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land). Either way, our faith must rest in God’s future grace in order to propel our obedience. Too many times we want to focus on the now because that is the one aspect on life’s timeline we can control. But God is a god of tomorrow as much as He is a god of today. Our faith need not be in what we can control now but in what God is controlling next, whether it be seconds or eons to come. If we cannot trust that God is there (in the future) as well as here (in the present) we cannot believe the calling and vision He has placed on our lives will be fulfilled. Everything will be left up to random chance. But a God who lives in the future is a god who calls us forward.

He is a god who secures the outcome in the power of His might. He is a creating god, ensuring the chaos of today is ordered into the fulfilled promises of tomorrow. A god of the future is a trustworthy god. An unsurprised god. A victorious god. And an unchanging god. He has no need for variance because as a god of the future, He has no need to react.  He is always out in front of us, creating, planning, coordinating, and inviting exactly the right person(s) to accomplish His purposes, of which we are a part. As an elected member of this future god’s tribe, our job is not to worry about today (for He has planned this day and its events from long ago) nor is it to ask about the what-ifs of tomorrow (for He has already arranged those outcomes as well). Our job is to boldly follow this god into the future He has designed and to exchange our anxiety for security. When we work in Him and with Him and for Him we no longer need to question what will happen. We only need to seek the when.

In this way our obedience demonstrates that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Heb. 10:39) For we know that whether our obedience leads to another event that fulfills God’s plans or a death that glorifies His name, we will always be stepping into the future with God.

Reflections on Psalm 145

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The one who extols and blesses and praises God’s name continuously is the one who maintains a high view of the holy standard God exemplifies in both His words and His actions. This helps a person remember that there is a standard above himself, an unflinching and unbreakable law that calls one to a higher code of conduct than anything we could imagine. Keeping God’s holiness constantly in view helps us remember that we are not the first cause to our morality, nor are we the end of the argument (i.e., the last person to whom we are accountable) for our choices. There is someone superior to us who holds us to a higher standard than we have ever held ourselves. Praise reinforces this knowledge and provides the kernel of submission we require to live a life rooted in the stability of this truth. To be a person full of integrity, whose actions and words align.

The continuous practice of praise allows us to conform our lives to God’s will and provides security even in the darkest times of life, for the truth of God does not change. His words and deeds are continuously consistent (He does not change like shifting shadows). Therefore, in verse 18 this is why it says, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” God is not nearby, like a player waiting to be called off the bench to enter the game.

God is near.

He is personal.

His words are hidden in our heart so that we might not sin against him. Those words define us. They construct our habits and thoughts. They provide a path of righteousness to walk in for His name’s sake. And when our actions and deeds match the holy standard of His actions and deeds it gives our prayers gravitas because this alignment is what it means to “call on Him in truth.” It is speaking out of an integrity and a righteousness that He has designed in us, based out of His perfect character, not out of an identity that our broken pathologies have defined. When we see God as superior and continually exalt and extol His name above all other names (especially our own), we then understand our position in relation to Him. We can respect and revere and love Him as we ought. And as a result, God fulfills the desire of those who fear Him and preserves those who love Him (v. 19-20). Not so that we may benefit materially, but so that our lives may proclaim the goodness of His name and be an eternal echo of that old hymn that says:

Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.

Why Pray?

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Why do you pray?

Me

Because I have a problem and I either don’t know what to do

or need help with the solution.

 God

In other words, you require supernatural intervention, either in word or in deed?

Me

Yeah. I guess that sounds about right.

God

And what would you do if I immediately gave you the answer

or performed the miracle upon request?

 Me

What would I do?! I’d be happy! I’d praise you!

I’d tell everyone about what you did for me!

God

And after that?

Me

After what?

God

After the adrenaline and the joy wore off? What would you do then?

How would you be on Thursday of next week if your boss came in

and laid you off from your job?

Me

Wait! I’m losing my job next week?!

God

No. No. No. Hypothetically. What would you do?

Me

I guess I’d pray again.

(You promise I’m not losing my job?)

 God

Why?

Me

Because I need a job! I need to eat, pay off debt, have a place to live,

provide for my family, etc.

 God

Have I not been providing for you this whole time?

Have you ever gone without?

 Me

No.

God

Then why are you worried?

Me

Because I need money to survive in this world.

(Come on, God, don’t be coy with me. Am I really getting laid off?)

 God

My dear child, is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Me

Philosophically? Sure…I guess. But practically I’ve got to pay my bills, God.

My family has to eat.

God sighs heavily

Me

What?

God

Do you not know that the silver is mine and the gold is mine?

That the earth and all it contains belongs to me? Have you

not heard that if you honor me, I will shower you with so

much blessing you will not be able to handle it all?

 Me

Well….yeah.

God

My child, I AM the most practical answer to all of your concerns.

But if I am only a piece of philosophy to calm your anxious soul or

a rational argument that provides order for your worldview, then

what are we doing here?

 Me

What do you mean?

God

I mean, why are we talking?

Me

Because, God, You know all things! You can do all things!

God

But what good does any of my wisdom or help do for you if you value your personal security above your relationship with me? I do not want to be another method that you use to increase your happiness. I want to be the end that you are pursuing, not another means by which you seek yourself.

God places His hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye.

God

Do you understand?

Me (sheepishly)

I’m trying, Lord.

God

Prayer is not about receiving more of what you want.

It never has been that way and it never will be.

Me

 You mean, it’s not about the answers, the healings, or the money?

God

No.

Me

 Then why pray?

God

Because every answer I grant your prayers, whether a “yes” or a “no,” is not done to make your life easier. It’s done to give you a newer, brighter, and cleaner revelation of who I am. I do not act on your behalf for any other reason than to help you receive the one thing that will never wear out or fade in value.

Me

And what would that be?

God

Me. Prayer is about receiving ALL of me.

Me

 Oh, God, I don’t know that I can do this on my own. Teach me how to pray.

God

Just start with the words “Our Father” and filter everything else, both your petition and my answer, through these two simple words. Everything else will flow from there.

Quick Thoughts: The Problem with -ed

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It happens to the best of us. At some point, we recognize the need for self-improvement. We make a plan, buy the clothes or equipment needed, and gin up as much passion and enthusiasm as we can muster.

At first, everything is fine. And the results, though small, are churning out baby endorphins for our brain’s enjoyment. But then one day when the alarm goes off, we take a deep breath, stretch, and sigh heavily.

“How much longer do I have to do this,” we wonder. Continue reading

Praying Psalm 95

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Below is a prayer that follows Psalm 95 verse by verse.

God, when you invite me to “Come” you order an injunction against my passivity and procrastination. You call me out of my excuses and you call me into the raucous, stadium-rocking joy that celebrates you as the solid foundation of our salvation. Forgive me, Lord. For I have not celebrated you as I ought. I have not treasured the intransigent nature of your character nor the insoluble gift of salvation that flows out of your person as I ought. I have pursued small pleasures instead, trading permanence for things that can rust or wither or die.

Give me a heart, O God, to come into your presence with a thanksgiving and a song of praise that equals the glorious nature of yourself. For you are not only a great God. You are a great King above all gods. You hold the depths of the earth in your hand so that in the pressured darkness where the monsters swim we may rest within the surrounding walls of your strength. The heights of the mountains are also yours, giving us new challenges to climb, peaks to stand upon, and a pure vision of the roads that lay before us. You have made the sea, O God so that we can satisfy the desire to explore, and you have formed the dry land to teach us the value of work and the mystery of life.

Oh come, let us all worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For none of these gifts are given to help us understand ourselves better. Rather, they point back to the nature and character of His being. God is deep, and sometimes He stands in thick darkness calling us to come forward and meet with Him (Ex. 20:21). God places our feet on high places (Ps. 18:33) but He also calls us to cast away from the shore of security and explore the whole expanse of Himself (Dt. 4:29; Mt. 4:19). To move towards a kingdom not built with human hands. To become citizens in a better country than the one we have abandoned where God is not ashamed to be called our God and has prepared it for us (Heb 11:16). He has shown us that work is necessary both in the doing and the persisting, so that in our successes we may celebrate that He does not passively wait for time to tick down. He, too, is a perennial worker, shaping all mysteries after His will and giving life where a desert once lived.

He is our God. But we are stubborn, stupid, wandering sheep. We need a shepherd to guide us with his hand.

Therefore, help us to hear Your voice today, and to not harden our hearts. People have done this many times in the past and have put You to the test. They have demanded miracles and proof of Your love, despite having seen You work in their lives. We know that such behavior angers You, Lord, not because of our limitations to understand Your greatness. But rather because we have evaluated the landscape of our lives and have chosen something small to replace the God of infinite worth. Keep us from being that person who goes astray in their heart. May we know God’s ways. And enter into His rest. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Extravagant Love

Mark 14:3-5 (NIV)

 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

Have you ever noticed that extravagant expressions of love seemed to follow Jesus? A woman anoints Him with a years’ worth of perfume. A tax collector gives half of his possessions to the poor. Crowds lay palm branches at His feet and rejoice at His entering Jerusalem. And an untold number of people give their lives to promoting only His name throughout the world.

To many, these expressions of love would appear wasteful. And they would be if they were done for anyone other than God. No human beings’ life can match the worth of such excessively gracious gifts. But when compared with the insurmountable richness of God, the tribute of one’s possessions, monies, or life can never match the worth of His person or the gift of His grace.

In his book What Jesus Demands of the World, John Piper says, “…the Son of Man  came to save people from their suicidal love affair with possessions (and every other idol) and to lead then into a kind of impossible obedience that displays the infinite worth of Jesus.” (p. 23) This is not only the goal for Jesus’ relationship with Zaccheus, it is also His goal for the relationship you and I have with Him as well. The question that we must ask is: when or how did I most recently deny temporary, worthless things for the express purpose of displaying the infinite worth of Jesus? I know that if I am honest, I cannot remember a time that I put the public display of Jesus’ worth above my own. I have sought and dreamed of making myself great, but not Jesus. I have considered how to set my children on the path of success, or how to proclaim the beauty of my wife. I have lived a life full of potential selflessness and have squandered it on selfish pursuits. My goal has been to make much of myself, not of Jesus.

Perhaps this is why the question, “How do I extravagantly love Jesus?” struck me so hard. Despite being a Christian for over 35 years I realized I have relegated the expressions of extravagant love for God to “super Christians,” such as King David, the 12 apostles, Mother Teresa, or Billy Graham. I figured I could “try” to do my best, but extravagant love was such a low priority, it was completely off my radar.In reality, “trying” was just something I told myself I would do in order to muffle the twisting screams of conviction in my heart.

But God will only allow His chosen children to sit in the belly of their acidic choices for so long before He vomits them onto the beach and reminds them of their call to follow Him. Thus, I found myself staring at the heart of the question “How do you extravagantly love Jesus?” and trying to manage the stench of my sin.

“Extravagance,” I learned, comes from the Latin extravagari. It is a compound word that combines extra (meaning “outside”) and vagari (meaning “wander”). In other words, when you are being extravagant you are literally “wandering outside” the norms. You are so FAR outside the norms, in fact, that society or convention sees you as being “unusual, unreasonable, inappropriate, abnormal, or absurd.” This begs the question, then, have I restrained myself from loving God extravagantly because I do not want to be viewed as “weird?”

Perhaps. But I think it is more than that. I think extravagant love frightens most of us because we intuit that it demands more than a piece of living, such as behavior, or money, or relationships. Extravagant love demands all of life. Like sunlight through a magnifying glass, extravagant love is focused. It is white hot. And it burns away all idolatry within the heart. It refuses to give any ground to immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, crude joking, deception, disobedience, or anything else that partners in the unfruitful works of darkness. Extravagant love is not holding up placards within a crowd of thousands. It is standing alone in opposition to evil when everyone else bows down. It is exposing the deeds of darkness not only in our speech but also with our lives. It is being filled with the Spirit and making the best use of the time we have, being careful that we walk not as unwise but as wise followers of a God whose person is so compelling and alluring that others are drawn to Him because they have interacted with us. (Eph 5:1-21)

Half-hearted love cannot accomplish this goal. A heart divided between God and anything else is a heart that belongs to sentimentality, fads, or hollow imitation and will not be able to stand firm when the flaming arrows of the evil one begin to strike. A half-hearted loved cannot imitate Christ, who walked in love and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. A half-hearted love cannot say, “Not my will but thine be done” because it is always protecting other interests. Only those who love God extravagantly can live this way. Only they understand the truth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous statement, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer is not trying to be melodramatic here. He is trying to be biblical. “Freely you have received, ” Jesus said. “Freely give.” (Mt. 10:18) In other words, if you put limits on extravagant love you will find that your self-imposed boundaries prevent you from moving beyond your human capabilities so that you may see the work and the wonder of God. It is a basic truth of relationships that the degree of selfishness always diminishes the degree of love being expressed. If you do not freely give Christ your love, you cannot expect a deep intimacy with Him. Not because He is petulant or passive-aggressive, but because you have imposed limits on a relationship where there should be none.

In these moments it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we just need to focus more so that we do not damage the relationship we have with God. But this would be a poor approach to preventing a relapse into half-hearted love. Why? Because the idea of “I need to focus more” is founded on the emotion of fear and anxiety. 1st John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Therefore, you do not need to work from a position of fear or anxiety. You need to work out of the emotion of love. Your goal should not be “don’t mess up.” Your goal should be “how do I show God love today?” How do you do this? Go back to 1st  Cor. 13:4-7 and write down the characteristics you find listed there. Next, define each characteristic in terms of an “I will” or an “I will not” statement. This will help put a practical, hands-on approach to it. For an example, see this handout: love-is

Finally, it must be pointed out that extravagant love always risks extravagant suffering. Maybe we don’t love in this way because we don’t want to be hurt. But vulnerability is always necessary for intimacy. And conflict is necessary for connection. Without conflict, we cannot explore, understand, learn, stretch, or discover. Conflict provides a challenge. It forces us to examine ourselves and our presuppositions against alternative ideas, beliefs, or realities that demand an answer. Even the most liberal of us tend to gravitate towards stasis, as evidenced by our desire to avoid change or conflict as much as possible. But the reality is that we cannot grow without it. We NEED conflict. Even the entertainment of such an idea as this forces us to wrestle with things we once thought resolved and it is this struggle that will eventually make us stronger, regardless of whether we reinforce our beliefs or adopt new philosophies. For this reason, we are warned in scripture that we Christians will be persecuted. We will not be immune from it. Christ suffered and we will too. And if you intend on extravagantly loving Christ, you must be prepared to extravagantly suffer for Him too. Sometimes this suffering will be an internal conflict and sometimes it will be an external one. And sometimes it will be both at the same time, making you feel like you are about to be ripped apart.

But when you go through these trials of your love for God, remember the words of Paul:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith,with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me,that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Eph. 6:10-20)

Look at that final sentence again. “Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” If Paul needed prayer for his extravagant love, so do we.

I will pray for you. Will you pray for me?

Cross-Reference Living

Have you ever felt like your enemies are oppressing you? Or that your situation is only getting worse, with no end in sight? David did. In Psalm 64 he makes a complaint against God, but as is often the case, the psalm that began hopeless ends with hope and joy!

How did David do that? How can we do this?

I think David had an intimate knowledge of God and the scriptures to help him on this journey, and we can do the same, if we will cross reference our situation and our thoughts with God’s words.

Below is a table. On the left are the verses from Psalm 64. On the right are corresponding verses to show how to use God’s word to combat these types of thoughts. To move us from hopeless to hopeful. Practice this type of thinking this week to help you through your problems and pains.

 

Psalm 64 Cross References
v.1a – Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; Mt. 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 

Heb. 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 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.

 

1 Jn. 5:14-15  This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

v. 1b – protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Isa. 54:17 no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

 

Jn. 10:27-29 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

 

Prov. 2:7-9 He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.

 

v. 2- Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
Gen. 15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

 

Ps. 34:16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

 

Rom 8: 37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

v. 3 – They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
James 3:6-12 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

 

Eph. 6:10-13 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

v. 4 – They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

 

Eph. 6:14-17 – Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 

 

v. 5-6a – They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Rom. 1:18-21, 28-32 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

 

v. 6b – Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. Jer. 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”

 

v. 7-8 But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Ps. 108:13 With God we will gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies.

 

1 Jn. 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

 

 

v. 9 –  All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
Romans 14:11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

 

Php. 2:9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

v. 10 – The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
Php. 4:4-6 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

 

Lk. 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 

1 Thess. 5:16 Rejoice always.

 

Rev. 4:8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”