Psalms 125-127 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He brings restoration to each life in amazing ways

Over the years many of the old masterpieces, paintings from centuries ago, have required restoration.  The process is tedious and lengthy.  It includes cleaning, x-raying the thickness of the canvas, filling in holes, removing the varnish, removing layers of deterioration and color and then product matching.  Since the artist has long since passed away, another artist is chosen to paint only the areas that are without paint, never adding paint to the master’s work.  The finished product is a beautiful restoration of a masterpiece to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Our Creator is also involved in the restoration of His masterpieces.  Sometimes the process is tedious and somewhat lengthy, but His process is not considerate of dead artists because He, of course, is the artist.  After years of exile and pain, Israel was on its way to restoration in our reading today. 

@ Psalm 126
“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!  We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.  And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’  Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!  What joy!” (1-3)  The painful years of exile in Babylon had softened the hearts of the remnant of Israel, and as they returned home, they sang songs of praise and joy.  The process had been difficult, but the Lord had done amazing things for them; and now with great hope, they sang, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert.” (4)

Regardless of the damage we have caused to the masterpiece of our life, God is all about restoration.  Sometimes the process is slow as He softens our hearts and often the process is long because there is much to restore, but He longs to hear us pray like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

Sometimes restoration can only come through our forgiveness of others.  “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” (Job 42:10) Job, Joseph, Daniel…sometimes we are damaged by the words or deeds of others, but when we forgive to the point that we are able to pray for them or bless them, restoration will come and make us like new.  God is all about restoration.

Moving Forward: I’m thinking today of the amazing things God has done for me and His willingness and ability to restore whatever I need.

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 3-4

Habakkuk (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He uses whatever means He chooses to change the hearts of men

I’ve had several friends throughout the years that are just plain bold.  They’re not intimidated by anyone and seem to have the intestinal fortitude to ask the hard questions of others without batting an eye.  Some of them have come from difficult situations that have made them strong and fearless, and I think a few of them just don’t know any better.  Regardless, they are the ones I like on my team, whatever the task because they get the answers we need.  After reading Habakkuk, I get the impression that he was one of them.  I mean, with a name like Habakkuk, it’s either going to make you or break you, and in the way he addressed the Lord, I think we can assume he made it just fine.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen!  Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.  Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?” (1:2-3)  See what I mean?  Habakkuk was bold, he asked the hard questions of the Lord, and he certainly lived up to the reputation of a prophet.  God answered Habakkuk’s questions because He understood his heart.  Over the years, the prophet pleaded with the Israelites to repent and seek God’s help, but sin and disobedience increased.  In these verses, He was calling on God to act.  Many of us find ourselves in similar situations, calling for our nation, our family or our friends to repent and praying for God to act, but as Habakkuk learned, we must be prepared to accept how He chooses to respond.

“Look around at the nations; look and be amazed!  For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people.  They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” (1:5-6)  God would one day allow the Babylonians to humble Israel, but this wasn’t what Habakkuk had in mind when he prayed.  Not willing to hold back, he responded to the Lord, “O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins…Will you wink at their treachery?” (12-13)

God will use whatever means He desires to bring about change in the hearts of men, and He went on to inform Habakkuk that Babylon would one day receive its punishment for its willingness to destroy Israel.  Whatever change we are praying about in the lives of individuals or nations, we must surrender to God’s omnipotent plan for the answer he chooses and not attempt to confine Him to our limited understanding.

When I surrender to His divine plan for the one I am praying about, I often say a similar prayer as this offered by Habakkuk, “I have heard all about you, Lord.  I am filled with awe by your amazing works.  In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by.  And in your anger, remember your mercy.” (3:2) Remember your mercy.  We surrender to your plan, but our hearts cry for mercy. Don’t give us what we deserve, but be merciful in how you perfect and change us.  And we know He hears our prayer because we, just like Habakkuk, have heard all about Him. (3:2) 

Moving Forward: I may not be a bold prophet like Habakkuk, but I know how to pray a bold prayer for my nation and for those I love.  I will trust His plan to bring about change, but with it, I pray for His mercy. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 9-10

Deuteronomy 1-3 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He sometimes waits to answer our prayers to make us stronger

There’s nothing I like more than when God says yes to my prayer.  Bring out the brass band, serve the fried chicken and potato salad.  It’s time to celebrate!  When He says no to my prayer, I may have a low day or two or 30, but eventually, I accept His wisdom.  When He says wait, I want to perhaps negotiate a deal, offer a bribe or, in my weakest moment, move forward on my own.  Not good.  I have come to understand when God says wait, it’s not because He wants to make me suffer, but it’s because He is perfecting me or my circumstance to answer my prayer according to His will.  He always has a purpose in my waiting.

After 40 years traveling in the desert to make an 11-day journey, Israel was finally poised to enter the Promised Land.  In Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, we’ve learned in our reading that God was perfecting His people, but it seems they were terribly slow learners. “Forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the Lord had commanded him to say.” (1:3)

Moses began his instructions from the Lord with a brief history of their travels since they had left Mt. Sinai headed for Canaan.  Because of the people’s negative response to the scouting reports by ten of the spies sent into Canaan, they would have to wait as a nation to receive the answer to the prayers that they had cried out in Egypt. Because of their hard hearts during their waiting period, only their descendants realized the answered prayer, except for Joshua and Caleb.

It seemed like every time the Israelites moved forward one step, they would retreat two steps, and, of course, it’s impossible to make any progress on a journey that way. As with Israel, it’s in the waiting period that we discover what we are made of.  While we wait for our prayers to be answered by God, our choice is whether or not will we trust Him or murmur, complain and disobey like the Israelites did in the wilderness.  The writer of Psalm 119 understood the challenge, “My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.  When will you comfort me?” (82)  No one has said it’s easy to wait for our answers to prayer, but do we really want to turn an 11 day waiting period into 40 years? Help! 

It’s in the waiting period that we learn what God is made of.  Through the history lesson of Moses, the Israelites learned that God was faithful, even when they were not.  God was merciful even when they didn’t ask for mercy.  God was loving even when they were unlovable.  God was leading even when they didn’t want to follow.  Even more important was that God revealed His glory to them throughout the entire journey whether they wanted to see it or not – a glorious pillar by night and by day.  We are not alone while we wait! God is revealing Himself to us along the way.

It’s in the waiting period that we learn what we are made of.  Will we trust Him regardless of the circumstances?  As we wait for God’s answers, are we learning what He is made of?  Do we see His glory leading us along or have we closed our eyes in discouragement?  Ultimately, God may answer no as He did to Moses when he requested to enter Canaan; but regardless of the answer, it will be the perfect answer at the perfect time.  After all, one day Moses’ journey would be to the eternal Promised Land.  His final answer was yes.  There’s nothing I like more than when God answers yes to a prayer in His timing and in His way.

Moving Forward: Some days I’m straining to see answered prayers, but in His perfecting and with His grace I sense His glory and receive His goodness as I wait.  He can be trusted. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 21-24

2 Chronicles 16-20 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He searches for the cry of the righteous heart and will answer

As parents, it’s difficult to watch our teenagers struggle through situations because they have refused our help.  We’re standing close by them, ready to help at a moment’s notice, but it’s as if they forget that we are the ones who brought them to this point in life through our guidance and direction.  Instead, we see them turn to peers or others who really don’t know them at all for the help that we are so willing to give.  We watch and wait for any indication that would tell us they are seeking our guidance.  I wonder if this was somewhat how the Lord felt when King Asa, who had sought His help for many years, decided to turn to others for help. 

@ 2 Chronicles 16
King Asa started his reign in a positive manner.  God was his help, his source and the one he ran to for help. Last week we read the covenant Asa and the Israelites made with the Lord, “Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.”  Because of Asa’s reliance and trust in the Lord, the country was protected from war.

Unfortunately, as time when on, Asa decided he no longer needed his Father’s help, and he made alliances with Aram to secure protection for Israel instead of praying to God.  A prophet came and pronounced judgment on Israel because of this, “What a fool you have been!  From now on you will be at war.” (9)  Then, to add insult to injury, “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (12)  There’s nothing wrong with using physicians, but why not seek the Lord’s help first?

God, the Father of all Israel, was standing by waiting for Asa to pray for help, but Asa failed to do so.  What happened to cause this change in his heart anyway?  And why do we fail to pray when we should and instead turn to others for help?   I once heard an evangelist say that pride keeps us from praying.  When we fail to pray for a need and in turn make alliances with others for help, we are saying to God that we feel we can handle it all by ourselves.  We really don’t need His help.  Or perhaps we don’t trust that God is able to manage our problem, and in a sense, that is pride too.

Just like a loving parent, God is standing by waiting for us to ask for help.  After all, He knows our need before we even pray because of how intimately He knows us.  In fact, the prophet told Asa, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (9)  God is actually searching to help those who trust in Him.  David declared it in Psalm 34:15 and Peter did as well in I Peter 3:12, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help.”  Do we really want to let a thing like pride or unbelief keep the Creator of the Universe, the One who knows us best, from helping us in our time of need?  I pray not! 

Moving Forward:  Oh yes, I need His help today. I can’t do it myself. Hear my cry, Lord. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 119

Numbers 33-36 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His instructions will provide a blessed future for us

I really don’t like going to the doctor, but sometimes I just have to do it.  A while back a doctor diagnosed me with pharyngitis, sinusitis and some other itis and then ordered a prescription of antibiotic to kill all the infection.  His most important instruction was that I will be certain to take all the medicine even when I started feeling better because we want to kill all the infection or it could return.  And really, when those with experience and authority give instructions to us, it’s wise to follow them.  Sadly, the Israelites just didn’t see it that way. 

@ Numbers 33
The Israelites had finally finished their 40-year trek in the desert and sat poised to enter Canaan, God’s Promised Land.  Through Moses, God gave a prescription of sorts to the Israelites for them to enjoy a healthy and productive life in Canaan.  “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.” (51-53)  The instructions seem clear enough, take all the medicine, drive out all the people and destroy all their idols.

Like my doctor explained to me, God let the Israelites know what would happen should they fail to drive out all the people, “But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live.  And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” (55-56)  And as we know, that is precisely what happened to Israel.

Because they failed to drive out all the Canaanites and destroy all the idols, the Israelites’ everyday lives were slowly infiltrated by them, and this brought about their downfall.  Eventually, the Assyrians and Babylonians swept in and drove them out of their land.  What part of all do we not understand?

I’m happy to report that I have taken all my medicine so that not even a little trace of infection is left to grow and infect my body again. What we don’t destroy could destroy us. And so it is with sin.  How foolish it is to preserve something that we know to be sin simply because it seems so harmless, because it is too beautiful to let go of or because it makes us feel good.  There’s no such thing as a little bit of pornography, a little bit of stealing or a little bit of lying because eventually it will grow, spread and easily affect our entire lives.

The lesson we learn from the Israelites today is to follow all of God’s instructions, and then we can be assured that we will live happily and healthily in the land He has given us.

Moving Forward: Lesson learned! Taking all my medicine and following all of God’s instructions. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 16-20

Numbers 29-32 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Just as He is faithful to His word, He expects the same from us

Sometimes it’s difficult to accept people at their word, particularly if we don’t know them very well.  In fact, if we’ve been taken a few times, it’s easy to become a little cynical when we’ve provided goods or service for someone in exchange for a promise to return with a payment.  When I’m asked to do this at my book table, I have to admit I sometimes hesitate for a second or two. That old spirit of suspicion creeps in, and I wonder if I’ll ever see the promised payment.  I’ve learned, however, sometimes for God’s people to be blessed, we have to put aside cynicism or preconceived ideas and just trust. 

@ Numbers 32
Moses understood this scenario all too well.  After leading this challenging group of Israelites for over 40 years and experiencing many disappointing responses from them, He was asked a favor, a request from the men of Gad and Reuben that involved trust. “The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock.  If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.”(4-5)  Because Canaan was to be divided amongst the tribes of Israel, this request did not seem so unreasonable, except that the rest of the territory west of the Jordan had not yet been conquered!

Moses may have choked on his manna at this request as he offered this immediate response, “‘Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?’ Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. ‘Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land…’” (6-8), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Moses ends with, “You brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing!” (14)

Even a great leader like Moses was capable of jumping to the wrong conclusion on occasion. The men of Gad and Reuben had no intention of deserting their brothers before conquering the land.  They desired to leave their wives and flocks east of the Jordan while they joined their brothers in the battle for the rest of the territory. These tribes were true to their word and fought alongside their brothers until the land was conquered.

We can’t really fault Moses for misjudging the intention of these tribes.  As a whole, the Israelites had not lived over the previous 40 years in a manner that would develop trust in them, but giving others the benefit of the doubt rather than living with cynicism is a much more enjoyable way to live.  If we lose something tangible in the process, it’s good to remember everything in this life is fleeting.  On the other hand, if we live our lives in a way that builds trust in the hearts of others regarding us, this discussion is a moot point.  I’ve always told teenagers that their parents will trust them when given a reason to do so, and the same is true for us in our relationships.

Perhaps Moses was sensitive to the request of Reuben and Gad for another reason as well.  Why did these tribes desire to stop short of the Promised Land? Rich pastures and grazing land were a substitute for God’s intended blessing for them.  Some people just choose to live on the edge of God’s blessing, but then that’s a discussion for another day. 

Moving Forward: I choose to live my life today without cynicism towards others and to live with integrity so that others will know I am true to my word. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 11-15

Numbers 5-8 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He desires to grant His blessing at our request

God bless you! Blessings to you! May the Lord richly bless you!  These are phrases that we say or write for many different reasons, from a sneeze to a wedding wish.  For many of us, they have become a part of our every day vernacular, and that certainly is not a bad thing.  But I wonder if we really understand the solicitation we are requesting from God on behalf of the dear one we are addressing.  In light of our scripture today, all I can say is “Bring it on!” 

@ Numbers 6:22-26

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing:’ 

“May the Lord bless you [impart His holiness to you] and protect you [keep you safe every moment of the day and night because He never sleeps, Psalm 121:4].  May the Lord smile on you [place on you His radiant shine so you may reflect His love to you everywhere you go] and be gracious to you [provide compassionate forgiveness for your sin and eternal life with Him even through you may not deserve it].  May the Lord show you His favor [His kindness, support and approval and preferential treatment] and give you peace [a calm, serene state of being regardless of your surroundings that surpasses all understanding].”  Amen!

When we ask the Lord to bless others, we are asking Him to flood their lives with His holiness, protection, smile, grace, favor and peace.  One simple word reflects such great goodness from God when said in His name.  “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” (27)  Evidently, He’s listening and waiting on our call for Him to bless.  How could we disappoint Him!

Moving Forward: I ask the Lord’s special blessing on His dear ones who are reading these words today.  I understand what that blessing really means, and I know He will respond. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 10-14