Every Christian is on a journey to know God more fully (John 17:3)… but rarely does anyone explain that the path is not an easy one nor is it well-populated. It can be strange and disorienting, especially as you look around and it seems no one else is travelling with you, or that no one else has passed this way before (not true, but it can feel that way).
John Newton (1725-1807), best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ in another hymn describes the way our Father draws us near and refines our faith into the finest spiritual “steel”…
I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith:”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
~ John Newton (1725-1807)
Source: Winchell, James M., ed. An Arrangement of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts. Boston: James Loring, and Lincoln & Edmands, 1832.
Aiden Wilson Tozer was 23 years old when he was called to pastor a new church in Clarksburg, West Virginia. On August 18, 1920 at a campground a few miles outside Cleveland, Ohio, leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance scheduled an ordination service. After the formal ceremony and laying on of hands, Tozer was deeply moved by the grave implications of his calling to be a preacher. He slipped away from the crowd and found a quiet place to be alone with God. It was a divine encounter that marked him for the remainder of his life. He never forgot the essence of what he prayed that evening. Years later as the new editor for the Alliance Weekly, Tozer published his prayer in an article “For Pastors Only: Prayer of a Minor Prophet” (May 6, 1950). What follows is a slightly edited and updated version of that prayer.
“Lord, I have heard Your voice and was afraid. You have called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. You are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, You have stooped to honor me to be Your servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God. You have ordained me Your messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected You, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.”
“My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Yours. You have said, “I knew You – I ordained You – I sanctified You,” and You have also said, “You shall go to all that I shall send You, and whatsoever I command You, You shall speak.” Who am I to argue with You or to call into question Your sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Yours. So be it, Lord. Your will, not mine, be done.”
“Well do I know, God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor You, You will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor You in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.”
“It is time, O God, for You to work, for the enemy has entered into Your pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Your flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech You, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Your own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow You.”
“Lord Jesus, I come to You for spiritual preparation. Lay Your hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Your terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
“I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falls out to Your servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Your kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if, in Your permissive providence, honor should come to me from Your church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Your mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.”
“And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to You; let them be many or few, as You will. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Your servant to do Your will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.”
“Though I am chosen of You and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray You, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Your power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Your strength and tell of Your righteousness, even Yours only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.”
“Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Your saints in glory everlasting. Amen.”
Source for the unedited text: Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 66-67.
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:5
a prayer that He will guide my heart
to two destinations…
1. the love of God &
2. the patience of Christ
personal experiences with Him
observable qualities in me
only through knowing Him
can I make Him known
guide my heart, Lord!
The book of Judges is an account of one of the darkest periods in the history of God’s people. Armed with His promises but weak in faith, the first generation to enter the Promised Land convinced themselves it was too hard to drive out the Canaanites. Defeat became a way of life. Settling down to live with the enemy, God’s people continued to speak His name, but they forgot who He is and what He had called them to do. The God of Abraham and Moses was reduced to a place of mere recognition among the gods in this world. Exclusive devotion to God disappeared.
But the God of grace and mercy did not forget His people. Keeping His promises to their forefathers, He pursued a very lost generation. Sending years of pressure into their lives, the Father waited on His people to cry out to Him… to genuinely turn away from all of the gods of Canaan, and to return to Him with all their heart. Hearing their cries, the Father would then send a deliverer – called a “judge” — to go against and remove the disciplinary oppression of God’s people. This cycle of forgetting God when at peace and remembering God when under distress is repeated by the people until it seems darkness has triumphed. However, by the end of the book, God’s people have stopped crying out. There is no happy ending… Judges is not a “feel good” story about the natural condition of the human heart.
During one of the cycles, the Midianites were invading the land during the annual harvest. As soon as the Israelite crops were ready to be brought in, the parasitic oppressors would arrive, driving God’s people into the hills, and destroying everything Israel had earned in that year. This went on for seven seasons. Then the Bible reports: “And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.” (6:6)
And He heard their cry.
A young man named Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press. Hiding his meager efforts to keep some of the harvest for his family, Gideon was not on a mission to oppose the enemies of God’s people. He was just trying to get ahead. He was a product of his age. A farmer. A survivor. An idolater.
To get ahead in Gideon’s day meant doing business with the local gods. Asserting that they controlled the weather and the harvest, Canaanite deities had to be appeased if you were going to be successful. If you wanted to trade with Canaanites and marry their daughters, you had to show some respect for their beliefs and values. So you kept your identity as a devotee of Yahweh, but you engaged other gods too, unconsciously embracing a Canaanite worldview.
Years later the Psalmist described the creeping syncretism that was blinding the people of God…
“They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.” Psalms 106:34-38
The altars of Canaan were used for child sacrifice and sexual perversion on a massive scale. The people of God had become Canaanized in every aspect of their lives. In the sight of God it was sin (3:7, 12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). In their minds, it was the right and sensible way to live (17:6, 21:25).
In order to go on God’s mission, Gideon first needed to know God. God cannot be just another “priority” in a busy life. God does not hang around just to bail us out of our latest predicament. God does not exist for us.
We exist for Him.
He will never be satisfied with the tiny spaces given him by His people (then or now)… to exist as one god among the “gods” in our cultural pantheon. I can’t give him a few minutes of reflection on Sunday, and then live as if He doesn’t exist the rest of the week, sacrificing my life on a dozen other altars in my heart, and doing what everyone else does (unthinkingly) to be happy and get ahead. He will not accept anything less than all of my devotion. Jesus said it this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
As Gideon begins to understand this truth, he builds a personal altar to Yahweh. But it’s not enough. He has other idols roaming around in his life. Listen…
Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, The LORD Is Peace… That night the LORD said to him, “…pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God…” Judges 6:24-26
There can only be one altar in my heart… not two. If Gideon… or anyone… begins to draw near Him, the other gods of the heart must be decisively evicted. Why? If He is who He says He is… the one true God and Creator and Sovereign Lord of all creation (including me)… then He alone can be trusted to tell me the truth about my life.
All the other “gods” are nothing more than powerless pretenders and silver-tongued liars to the human race. Fake gods are not worthy of my faith. All they can do is promote a self-actualized distortion of my humanity, pushing an illusion of happiness to dispel the deep foreboding undertow of hopelessness… calming me with a few fairy tales on the road to hell.
Yes, every other altar must be torn down until only one remains.
“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Does the Bible really say that? I was stunned sitting in that pew on a Sunday night… and deeply moved.
A few months earlier I had been sitting in my dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, when someone knocked on my door. David Procter, a staff member from Hyde Park Baptist Church, had dropped by to invite me to their college ministry. He later introduced me to a deacon, Alphonce Brown, who soon started picking me up for church on Sundays. As a year-old Christian, I had nothing to offer the church, but they invested time in me. Their love for Jesus was infectious… and their influence on me would last for decades.
So that’s how I came to be sitting in that pew on a Sunday night. That was the moment when I heard our pastor, Ralph Smith, mention a verse of scripture I had not heard before. I don’t recall anything else about the sermon, except I couldn’t wait to figure out where that verse was located in the Bible. After the service, I moved down to the front, surprised that no one else was lined up to speak to Dr. Smith (usually there was).
“Pastor,” I asked, “you quoted a verse… something about God completing a work that He begins.” He smiled. I was one of those who regularly queried him after his sermons. With a notebook in hand, I wasn’t challenging anything he said, but I always had questions. He told me where to find Philippians 1:6 and then, as we briefly discussed what it means, a truth formed in my heart that has never left: what God starts, God finishes! I really needed to hear that.
As a young believer, all I could see were my ongoing struggles with sin and my failed attempts to live for Him. I wanted to get it right, but it seemed like I was always getting it wrong. I was focusing on what I wanted to do for God, instead of what God was already doing in me. I needed to understand that when I first trusted Jesus, God began a work in me that is unstoppable. What God starts, God finishes!
In me — just me — nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18). On my own, I will always stumble and fall.
Every failure reminds me that I cannot live without Him. Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Today, I am thankful that He never fails to finish what He starts, and that He long ago started to work in me. Steadily, unfailingly, and relentlessly…
He is finishing what He started.
“Things are not as bad as they seem, things could get worse, but they will get better.” ~ Ralph Smith (1931-2017)
Dr. Smith was the pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas for 36 years. Click here for a brief account of his life from the Austin-American Statesman newspaper.
Your name… let it be deeply revered by all
Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence
Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed
Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me
As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me
You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!
(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3
The people of God had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, sustained by a daily provision of manna that fell from the sky. The promised land was waiting. They crossed the Jordan River into the land. And then… no more manna.
Living by the Word of God is a journey of faith. We can trust Him for the most basic of needs. The manna is the bread of heaven, a gift from God, and a life-giving resource in the believer’s life. But there’s more… He wants to grow your faith.
A life of faith is always in motion. The faith I exercised in Him yesterday must be renewed today. My faith delights Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is to be a continual, heartfelt response to what He is doing… now… and in every moment.
A life of faith is always in response to what God has said. I can’t control Him, guide Him, or make Him do my will. I can’t decide what God needs to be doing today in my life or the lives of those I pray for… but I can seek Him. I can wait on Him for direction in how to pray. Once He speaks and His desire is clear to me… then I know what to ask for and what to expect (1 John 5:14). My faith can only rest in His Word (Romans 10:17).
So the manna fell for forty years… and then it stopped. It was a training tool to grow and deepen faith in the hearts of His people. Can I trust Him? Must I take care of me? Or will He take care of me? The daily manna for your life is a reminder that you are always cared for and that He is always reliable.
However, there are rivers to be parted and crossed. There are walls that need to come down, captives to be set free, and battles to be won. He is calling you to trust Him for more than your daily bread… He wants to enter into your circumstances, as well as into the life situations of people you know. He taught us to ask for His rule in heaven [where there is no Satan, no sickness, no sin] to be expressed on earth (Matthew 6:10). He wants to show Himself as a living God (2 Chronicles 16:9).
In a journey of faith, don’t be alarmed when the manna ceases… He always has an abundance for you (Philippians 4:11-13)… but get ready for the larger work of God.
He wants to come!