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 sought 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

Micah (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He desires our fellowship rather than our sacrifices

It’s painful when someone close to us leaves or ignores us.  Our first response is to question what went wrong, what we did to cause the separation.  While it’s true that time heals wounds, it sometimes takes a long time to finally stop second-guessing what we could have done differently.  The one place we can go for solace is to God because He really does understand our hurt and our questioning as we read in Micah today. 

@ Micah 6
“Listen to what the Lord is saying: ‘O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me!’” (3)  It’s hard to imagine that humanity would put God in a position where He would ask these questions.  How foolish are we anyway? Yet, I would think most of us have given cause for God to question our distance from Him at one time or another.  It is our God we read about on Tuesday in 2 Chronicles 16:9, whose eyes “search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  He loves us enough to go searching for us.

The Israelites response to His questioning was typical, “What can we bring to the Lord?  What kind of offerings should we give him?”(6)  When we have been in a similar situation with a loved one, what do we really want from them?  We want the person, not their stuff.  Flowers and gifts are nice to receive when a relationship is restored, but they are not proof to us that it has been restored.  How we walk with one another in relationship tells the story, and God feels the very same way.

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (8)  We do our best to make our walk with the Lord confusing and difficult to understand at times, but it’s actually pretty simple.  He isn’t after some showy sacrifice to appease Him; He wants relationship just like we do.  We also prove our love and commitment to Him by doing what is right in our dealings with others – just doing the right thing!  Showing mercy to others demonstrates that we acknowledge and appreciate the mercy He has extended to us. Humble submission in our walk with Him is really what He desires, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Samuel 15:22)

Oh that we would never cause God to question our relationship with Him with, “What have I done to make you tired of me?” However, if we do, He will receive our true repentant hearts back without our flowers, gifts or showy sacrifices because, bottom line, He wants us! 

Moving Forward:  I’m challenged today to fulfill His requirements – Do what is right, show mercy and humbly walk with Him, never tiring of His Holy presence. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 5-6

Jonah (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He shows mercy to us through the hard things of life

My friend had a dog that loved to play hide and seek.  When he was told to go hide, he ran to the nearest rug or blanket and stuck his head under it.  I guess his logic was if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Jonah reminds me of that dog.  Did he really think that hiding out in the bottom of a boat at sea would prevent God from seeing him?  Surely Jonah was smarter than that!  As the saying goes, “You can run, but you cannot hide.”

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing, and for Jonah, preaching a message of redemption to the evil Assyrians was a hard thing because he really didn’t care about their souls.  However, God did care for them, and the Book of Jonah is full of God’s mercy.  God was merciful to the Assyrians despite their evil deeds and sent Jonah to minister to them, and God was merciful to Jonah in his utter disobedience.  God could have allowed the sea to become his grave; but instead He provided a lesson, a discipline to help turn Jonah’s heart.

After three days of inhaling fish innards, Jonah evidently decided a trip to Nineveh sounded pretty good. “I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows.  For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (2:9)  God has a way of getting our attention and letting us know that He sees us with our head under the carpet.  In His mercy, He accepted Jonah’s repentance, “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.”  Although he must have smelled like the inside of a sardine can, Jonah was alive, submitted and on his way to Nineveh.

God could have sent another prophet to Nineveh, but then Jonah would not have experienced first-hand God’s incredible mercy.  He had additional lessons to learn about pride, selfishness and most importantly about God’s love for all people.  When God asks us to do the hard thing, the thing that rubs us the wrong way or the thing that we dread, we can learn from the Jonah experience.

We can’t outrun Him or outwit Him as Jonah proved to us.  In our submission to Him, we will move past the prejudice or hatred or whatever it is that is making it a hard thing to do. In this perfecting of us, God will also touch the lives of others through it.

Moving Forward: I can accept whatever difficult task He has for me today with the knowledge that He perfecting me as well as touching others through it. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 3-4

Hebrews 1-4 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because He became flesh, He understands all that we face

Our propensity to judge the behavior of others would be curtailed if we were given the opportunity to walk a mile or so in their shoes.  In their shoes we may come to understand the reason why they do the things they do.  When we’re trying to comfort someone or give direction, we so often hear, “Well, you just don’t understand” or “You just don’t get it,” and many times they are right.  Jesus, on the other hand, gets it all!  He has walked in our shoes and understands anything and everything we are going through. Praise the Lord!

We’re not certain who authored Hebrews, though most believe it was someone who knew or traveled with Paul or even Paul himself, but what a challenge faced the writer!  Most of the Jewish Christians were probably second generation at this point and faced extreme persecution from the Jewish leaders as well as the Roman government.  On top of that, doctrinal error was threatening the church, and it appeared that many were considering returning to Judaism.  The writer of Hebrews had the task of presenting the legitimacy of the risen Lord, the benefits of accepting Him and the lifestyle of one who does.   He, or possibly even an educated she, began with the humanity of Christ and the fact that He walked in our shoes.

“It was necessary for Him to be made in every respect like us, His brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then He could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested.”(2:17-18) Because of His humanity, Jesus is a sympathetic mediator for us to God as our High Priest who goes before God on our behalf.  Jesus understands us, and He’s on our side!

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”(4:15-16)  We might be tempted to say, Of course He didn’t sin, He was God and had all of heaven’s resources to help Him.  Well, we’re not God, but we do have all of heaven’s resources to help us stay strong.  “He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (I Corinthians 10:13)  Help is on the way!

The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to make the point that God, through His Son Jesus, became human and understands all the trials and temptations we face and knows how to provide what we need to endure and conquer.  All we need to do is run, not walk, to His throne and tell Him all about it.  This seems to be the difficult part for us, running from our temptation and trial and running to Him for help.  But when we run to Him, “We will receive His mercy.” He understands our need and does not punish.  Then, “We will find grace to help us.”  He will give us all the help we need at that moment whether we deserve it or not.  What part of that deal did the Jewish believers not like?  It’s beyond me, but then I haven’t walked in their shoes.  Fortunately, He has.

Moving Forward:  How great to know that He understands everything we will face today. Any temptation that comes our way, He’s been there, but did not yield.  Any trial we walk through, He’s been there and came through victoriously.  And He will give us exactly what we need to do the same. 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 25-28

Philemon (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we generously forgive others

As a rule, we’ll do just about anything for our good friends.  We celebrate with them on their joyous occasions, and we run to them to give comfort and aid in their difficult moments.  It is disheartening to have a friendship dissolve over a dispute or offense.  In our reading today, Paul was treading on dangerous ground in his friendship with Philemon.

Philemon was a prosperous businessman in Colossae who hosted the church in his home.  Paul had nothing but good to say about him, “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (4-7)  A careful reader may catch that this is not just a casual letter, but one with an agenda of sorts, “praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.”  A request was coming.

Philemon’s slave from the past, Onesimus, had either stolen from him or damaged his property and had run away.  This betrayal by someone he trusted had obviously caused heartache to Paul’s dear friend. Sometime later, the slave happened to encounter Paul in Rome and accepted the Lord as his Savior. Paul had some choices to make – keep Onesimus as his assistant and remain silent, turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities where he could possibly face death or return him to Philemon for punishment.

And now the request, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus.  I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” (8-10) Circumstances had changed over the course of time. Yes, Onesimus was a slave, sadly a role that was acceptable at that time, but now he was a fellow believer.  Salvation is the great equalizer in life. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).

Paul may have been referring to the meaning of the name “Onesimus” which means profitable or useful as he continued in his request, “Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.”(11) Paul was definitely placing their friendship on the line when he added a promise to personally pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon. He added, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!”  (19)

Although this comment sounds remarkably like a major guilt trip, Paul was counting on Philemon to remember that at one time he, too, was forgiven and set free from sin.  Jesus paid a debt for him that he did not owe just as Paul was willing to do for Onesimus.  This personal letter of Paul’s serves to remind us all of the forgiveness and grace that has been extended to us.  How could we not extend it to others?

In situations where others have cheated us or been unkind, it is so very helpful to remember that God loves them as much as He loves us.  He may not like their deeds, but He sent His Son to die for that very reason.  When we forgive and offer mercy to others, we are behaving like Jesus, and that could only be good. 

Moving Forward: Should the occasion arise today, I choose to forgive others for any unkindness, remembering that God loves them.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 21-24

Hosea 8-14 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: Because of His love for us, He does not willingly let us go

The value of a soul.  Well, we really can’t place a value on one’s soul – it’s priceless.  So much so that God sent His only Son to die in order to redeem that soul.  When we’ve been praying for someone for a long time, one who is resistant to the Lord, we’re often tempted to give up on that soul.  Hosea continued to reveal God’s abiding love for His people even though they had rejected Him.

“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?  How can I let you go?…My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.” (11:8)  In the previous three chapters, Hosea summarized Israel’s rebellion against God, and because of their continued rejection of God, they would harvest what they had planted (8:7)  But God’s heart was torn, “How can I let you go?

Hosea challenged those who had rejected God for so very long, “Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.  Say to him, ‘Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises.’” (14:2)  This, this is what God is longing to hear; and His response to heart-felt repentance is, “I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.”(4)

There are several individuals I have prayed for as long as I can remember, asking God to touch their lives and change their direction.  I must admit that I have gone through periods where I’ve just given up because it all seems so futile.  Then I read something like this, revealing God’s unbelievable capacity to love and to hope, and my commitment is renewed to keep praying, keep believing.  These dear ones I have been praying for may walk through some seeds they have sown, but if our pure and Holy God loves them so very deeply, who am I to give upon them? 

Moving Forward: My hope is renewed today as I continue praying for those who desperately need fellowship with the One who loves them so deeply. 

Tomorrow @ John 10-12

Daniel 7-12 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He hears and answers our prayers

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer!  Listen as I plead.  For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair.  See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.” (9:17-18)  Daniel’s fervent prayer for his people and for his city of Jerusalem arrests me as I read it and reminds me of the need for continual prayer for my city, for my nation.  Because of Israel’s gross sins, Daniel didn’t ask for undeserved help for His people – he asked for God’s mercy.  I, too, cry for mercy.  Lord, don’t give us what we deserve. 

@ Daniel 10
Most of us have experienced times when we pray desperately for a need, but the answer doesn’t come.  Sometimes we feel disconnected from God because of unforgiveness or sin in our lives that seems to block the flow of communication with Him.  Other times our answers are delayed because of God’s testing; and in these moments, our faith is stretched as we grow to trust Him more.  We even have been known to pray amiss, and God cannot answer our prayer.  We learn that Daniel experienced a delay in his answered prayer for yet another reason.

The heavenly visitor said to Daniel, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way…Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” (12-14)  Twenty-one days…interesting to note that Daniel had been fasting for twenty-one days.

We know Daniel was a man who completely trusted God and whose prayer life was remarkable.  Once again he proved his faithfulness to God by steadfast prayer and fasting until the answer came.  Little did he know that the answer came immediately but was hindered by the enemy; and likewise, we don’t know when the answers to our prayers have been hindered by the enemy.   I am encouraged by our reading today to dare to be a Daniel and pray through the hindrances until the answer comes!

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10)  The good news is that we are not fighting alone.  Like Daniel, we have the heavenly hosts in our army fighting in the heavenlies on our behalf.

When we experience a delay in answers to our prayers, we’re challenged to examine our hearts to know we are free from unforgiveness.  We are challenged to pray according to God’s will and pray that He will remove our desire for anything that is not His will.  Then, whether the delay is a testing or a hindrance, we can pray with tenacity for the answer.  “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16)  The answer’s on the way!

Moving Forward:  Encouraged by Daniel’s prayer of mercy for his people, I will pray in earnest for my nation and God’s mercy for us.  And for the many challenges I face today, I’ll pray according to His will until the answers come – they’re on the way! 

Tomorrow @ John 5-6