Our sense of worth, along with our fundamental self-identity, comes from what we believe people think of us. And it colors everything we see, feel, think and do. That’s too bad! We ought to rather base it on what God thinks of us! And what does he think? How does he see us? Just look at the cross of Christ. God loves you so unconditionally, unstoppably, inexhaustibly much that he gave his one and only Son to redeem you and bring you into his forever family. You are not loved because you are valuable; you are of inestimable valuable because Who loves you!
The God who is able to keep you from falling in your eternal salvation is just as able to keep you from stumbling in the daily journey of that same salvation. At this moment he is giving you the will to and the power to work out your salvation with deep commitment and unfading energy. By far, God bears the yeoman’s share of getting you to your eternal destination, so work with him a little in the next step or two.
A Simple Prayer for Sustained Effort:
Heavenly Father, as I enter the second week of this year, having submitted my desires to your scrutiny and requested your blessings up my goals, I now ask you to sustain my progress. Help me to take the next step of faith, to do the next right thing, to love the next person you place in my path, to exhibit the character of Christ in the next moment, even when I am tired, distracted or just want to give into my selfish, disobedient, short-sighted flesh. You have promised to keep me from falling and bring me to glory on the final day, but I pray that you will keep me from falling today. You have promised to finish the work you’ve begun in me, but I pray that you will advance that work even in the next few moments. Help me to keep putting one footstep of faith in front of the other, until I string together a long obedience in the same direction. Make me an example of an enduring disciple. And may I glorify you every day and in every way even in the minute details of my life. In the name of your Son and my Savior, Jesus, I pray. Amen.
God has no reluctance granting the desires that he has placed in your heart. So surrender your wants to him and invite him to replace them with what he wants. His are far better, infinitely so, than what you could ever imagine.
A Simple Prayer for a Great Year:
God, as I stand at the starting line of a brand new year, I intend to run strong and finish well. But I will need your help to run in a way that glorifies you. So my sincere prayer is that you would replace my desires for the things that I would like to achieve and put within my heart the things that you desire to accomplish. I confess that the wants of my flesh are strong, and so are the influences of this world. Purge me from all the selfish, sensual and sinful forces, both internal and external, that daily bombard my mind and compete for my affection. Protect my heart and my mind; help me to delight in you continually. Dear Father, place your desires in my heart, then grant them I pray. And when this year draws to a close, may I have been a living example of one for whom you have granted the desires of the heart.
The obscurity of the most obscure life can be shattered by the power of a bold prayer; the most insignificant person becomes significant when they reach out to the God of heaven with the boldest of requests.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.
Much has been written about this little, obscure verse in recent years. Jabez has been forever popularized by those who have written about him, and in the process, his biographers have become wealthy. I have no problem with that—someone needed to discover Jabez and tell his story.
In just two verses hidden among long lists of forgettable names, Jabez suddenly appears and then, just as suddenly, disappears. But his brief story is anything but forgettable—mainly because he had the temerity to rise above his circumstances and ask God to bless him with a distinguished life.
In his book, The Pursuit of Excellence, Dr. Ted Engstom writes these challenging words:
Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott. Lock him in a prison cell and you have John Bunyan. Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge and you have a George Washington. Raise him in abject poverty and you have an Abraham Lincoln. Strike him with infantile paralysis and he becomes a Franklin Roosevelt. Burn him so severely that the doctors say he’ll never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunnngham–who set the world’s one mile record in 1934. Deafen him and you have a Ludwig van Beethoven. Have him born black in a society filled with racial discrimination and you have a Booker T. Washington, a Marian Anderson, a George Washington Carver. Call him a slow learner, “retarded,” and write him off as uneducable, and you have Albert Einstein.
All of these people, like Jabez, and like most of us, have this in common: we all have things, challenges, obstacles, what we often refer to as baggage in our lives that we have to carry around that can either keep us from becoming what God intends for us to be, or can motivate us to become all that God has designed us to become. Basically, our baggage comes in two or three different categories.
- Physical—some of the baggage we bear we were born with. Birth defects; from injury or illness; that which came from our parents’ gene pool…chromosomes and DNA which causes us to have our height, weight, shape of face, color of skin, even determines to some degree the kind of personality we have.
- Familial—some of the baggage we pick up comes as the result of being wounded by the most important people in our lives—our parents and other family members. Some of the heaviest baggage we carry comes from the mistreatment or even abuse of the people we trust…physical, sexual, emotional abuse.
- Failures—many people carry the baggage of the guilt of past mistakes—a failed relationship, a failed marriage, a failed business, academic failure; the baggage of a moral failure, a sin, whose consequences you live with everyday.
Whichever baggage we carry, the reality is it can weigh us down and keep us from enjoying a happy, productive and significant life, or it can be the very thing that motivates us to turn it over to God and receive his help to overcome and become all he wants us to be.
Jabez is the patron saint for those who are courageous enough to confront the baggage in their lives and tap into God’s willingness to empower them to overcome it. A couple of things stand out in these two verse about Jabez:
One is his unique personal history of Jabez. And what stands out about his history is that it was marked by obscurity. I mean, who is this man…where did he come from…and who were his brothers? As a matter of fact, doesn’t it seem that this little vignette is totally out of place with the rest of the chapter. It’s as though the writer spaced out in writing this genealogy and slipped in this tid-bit about Jabez, which has no connection to the rest of the chapter. Jabez appears out of nowhere. There’s no history…no family line to trace…no story.
Or is there? Is there a story here in his obscurity? I think there is. I like what the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry says about these verses: “The Spirit of God singles out Jabez for notice and lingers over him with delight. He is a bright gem on an apparently hard and uninteresting surface shining with brilliancy…His name would have not notice…but for what there is of God in it…it is this that gave Jabez a name in eternity.
Jabez is not known for any heroic act; Scripture remembers him only for his bold prayer. I like that about this man. Most of the time our heroes of the faith are people we elevate to such a height that they become untouchable. By nature a hero is someone far superior in character or in deed than we are. We can’t really identify with them in everyday life; we can only look up to them. But Jabez is just like us. He is a nobody, a non hero, an obscure man who found his way into the pages of history, not because of a great act, but because of an act of faith. What gave Jabez significance in an otherwise insignificant life was that he boldly called upon God.
Here is a special truth that we can derive from this: The obscurity of the most obscure life can be shattered by the power of a bold prayer; the most insignificant person becomes significant when they reach out to the God of heaven with the boldest of requests.
The second thing I notice in these two verses is the unique character of Jabez. And what stands about his character is that he was disadvantaged from the get-go. He had a less than ideal background and a tainted nature thrust upon him by his mother at birth. The very first thing we read in verse 9 is that he was more noble than his brothers. Apparently he lived in a family of scalawags.
It is noted that he was more honorable than they because he rose above the character flaws that seemed to haunt his family. His brothers gave into their flawed nature; he rose above it through prayer. You also see that one of the greatest influences in this flawed character was the outlook of his mother. She named him Jabez, which in the Hebrew language meant, he will cause pain.
Why did she name him that? Because the birth of this child was more difficult than usual. Now this is important because in the Hebrew way of thinking, a negative name, which in this case commemorated the pain of his mother during childbirth, made him a born loser.
He was destined to fulfill these negative expectations; his named became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this name created an emotional hang-up which kept him from leading a full life. His character stuck with him. His mother’s prediction became his predilection; it became his nature. He was a real pain.
It has been well documented the influence a parent’s words and attitude has on the outcome of their child’s future. The story is told of two men, Bill Glass and Jim Sundberg. Jim Sundberg’s father told him he would end up in prison someday, just like others in his family. And that’s exactly where Jim ended up. Bill Glass’s father told him as a young boy that one day he would grow up to be a famous ball player. Years later Bill Glass became a famous athlete in the professional ranks.
Even if you have been saddled with a bad reputation, a flaw in your character, expectations of others that are extremely negative and low, a future that doesn’t look too positive, you don’t have to settle for it. In a moment God can take your flaws, your weakness, your propensities and turn them around. He is the master of taking weakness and turning them into strengths; of turning scars to stars, tragedies to triumphs, disadvantages to advantages, when you boldly submit them to him and expect him to change them. You are just a bold prayer away from rising above.
I think maybe God is just waiting for you to send up a big, bold, bodacious prayer. Who knows, maybe you will be the next Jabez!
Power praying is simply obtaining what God has already provided. Elijah’s story is there to remind us that this is what we should experience in prayer. In fact, we are told in James 5:17-18 that the drought began because Elijah prayed and the rains returned after three and a half years because he prayed. Then James adds that Elijah was someone no different than us—he just happened to pray earnestly. So when you pray today, link your prayers to God’s promises and watch what happens.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 18:41-42
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
Someone once made a study of all the promises that God has made in the Bible, and came up with a total of 7,474. That’s a lot of promises! Now some of those promises are general in nature. Others are specific; ones that we can appropriate in response to specific needs. Whatever the case, one thing we know about God: He makes promises—and he fulfills them!
Yet we have a part to play in securing God’s promises for our lives, because even though his promises are sure, they are not automatic. Often, there is a gap between God’s promise and its fulfillment, and that gap can be closed only through our prayers.
That’s the truth we observe with Elijah in 1 Kings 18:41-46. God had sent Elijah to pronounce drought against King Ahab and Israel because of the sin—a severe drought of three and a half years. Then in 1 Kings 18:1, God is ready to call off the drought, so he commands Elijah to go present himself to the king. So Elijah announces to Ahab that the time has come for God to end Israel’s punishment by sending rain: “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41) “Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” (1 Kings 18:44)
Now here is a powerful point to this story that might be easy to overlook: Not only did Elijah proclaim God’s promise concerning rain, he then obtained God’s promise of rain in prayer. Elijah did some major power praying to procure God’s promise. Notice seven actions:
- Elijah separated himself to pray. “So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel.” (1 Kings 18:42)
- Elijah took a posture of humility. “He bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:42)
- Elijah expected results. “Go and look toward the sea.” (1 Kings 18:43, compare James 1:6-7)
- Elijah persisted. “Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back’” and look for rain. (1 Kings 18:43)
- Elijah acted upon his prayer in faith. “The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’ So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” (1 Kings 18:44)
- Elijah’s praying produced results. “And there was a great rain.” (1 Kings 18:45, compare with James 5:16.)
- Elijah’s praying produced empowerment. “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel.” (1 Kings 18:46)
Could it be that Elijah’s story is there to remind us that this is what we should experience in prayer? No doubt about it! In fact, we are told in James 5:17-18 that the drought began because Elijah prayed and the rains returned after three and a half years of drought because he prayed. Then James adds that Elijah was a man just like us, who just happened to pray earnestly.
The implication from this is that we too can become powerful people for God—if we pray. And if we are to pray those Elijah-like prayers that are “powerful and effective” (James 5:16), we must understand how to link our prayers with God’s promises, and then start doing some major power praying to procure those promises.
Think about it: Power praying is simply obtaining what God has already provided.
Why does God desire to answer our prayers? Not for our petty purposes—although he graciously takes those into account—but for his redemptive purposes God supplies our needs and fulfills our desires. He blesses us with abundance, graces us with favor, covers and cares for us, supplies us with success so that people will look at us and be attracted to him. Through his blessings upon us, he receives glory, honor and praise. As we were created to do, we bring glory to him being a real, live example of answered prayer.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 8:59-60
And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.
In 1 Kings 8, Solomon prays one of the most moving prayers you will ever encounter in. It is long, but worth reading—and if your heart is tender toward God, you will be moved, for Solomon is really praying what you and I often pray. He asks for forgiveness—repeatedly and in advance; he prays for protection; he requests provision; he invites God’s abiding presence; he appeals for success.
We pray those prayers, too. And God is faithful to answer our supplications—even when it doesn’t seem like he is or it feels like his answer is way too slow in coming. God forgives—repeatedly, he protects and provides daily, he is with us always—even when we can’t see or feel him, and at the end of the day, he grants us the kind of success that is eternally celebrated in the heavenly realm.
So why does God do that? Why does he answer the prayers of little ol’ insignificant us? Is it because we are just so lovable? Perhaps—he really does love us with a crazy love, you know. Is it because we are so deserving? Not a chance! Is it to make us more comfortable? Perhaps, but probably not, since he is much more concerned with our character than our comfort. Is it to relieve our pain and soothe our hurt? It could be—he really is moved with compassion by our plight. God answers prayers for a variety of reason, some of which we will never grasp. God has his reasons, and for those of us who call out to him, whatever his reasons, we are eternally grateful that he is a God who not only hears but answers prayers. How blessed we are to be the people of God!
Yet there remains a reason God answers our prayers that we don’t often think about. If we could ever get our brain around this, I think we would probably present our prayers and petitions in a lot better frame of mind and with a great deal more trust than we are prone to do. What is the reason God answers?
So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other. (1 Kings 8:60)
There you have it. Not for our petty purposes—although God graciously takes those into account—but for his redemptive purposes God supplies our needs and fulfills our desires. He blesses us with abundance, graces us with favor, covers and cares for us, supplies us with success so that people will look at us and be attracted to him. Through his blessings upon us, he receives glory, honor and praise. As we were created to do, we bring glory to him being a real, live example of answered prayer.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)
Now understanding the purpose of answered prayer in that light ought to make praying a whole different—and better—experience for us, wouldn’t you say? Get addicted to God’s glory—even in your praying—and you will likely see a significant uptick in your prayers being answered.
Greater than all the good things we might want from this world, the best thing is something not of this world: a life that pleases God. And when we dedicate ourselves to offering up a life that makes the Lord happy, his promise is to bless us with a happy life. Really! Scripture promises, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 3: 5-9
That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” Solomon replied, “You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne. Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
If you could ask God for anything, what would that be? Riches? Fame? Power? Those would certainly be tempting. At least they would for me. But there is something far better than wealth, celebrity and position, and in fact, without it, those are at best, short-lived, perhaps even squandered, and at worst, misused to our detriment.
I am talking about wisdom, of course. Wisdom is the ability to discern good from bad, the discipline to choose right from wrong, and the practice of putting truth into practice in every day life, in matters great and small. And wisdom at its most noble, most impacting and most enduring comes from God.
Solomon could have asked for anything else—wealth, power and fame—but he asked that God would grant him the wisdom to lead the people over whom God had placed him. Now presumably, since God asked, he would have given Solomon those things. But Solomon asked for wisdom instead, and the Lord was impressed with his request.
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. (1 Samuel 3:10)
Greater than all the good things we might want from this world, the best is something not of this world: To please God. For when we sincerely desire that which pleases him, God happily blesses us with his abundance as well:
So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Samuel 3:11-14)
Solomon could have asked for anything, he chose wisdom. Good choice! That is a pretty good pattern for us to follow. Ask for the things that please God, he may just give you the things that please you.