Devotional June 15-June 21, 2018
“Put to the Test”
Read Genesis 22
God finally fulfilled his promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah after 25 long years and Isaac was born. It was an occasion of great joy as Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me and everyone who hears will laugh with me.” I am sure that Isaac was the apple of his parents’ eyes since he was their only son, having been born when Abraham was 100 years of age and Sarah was 99. He most assuredly was precious in their sight. God had made good on his promise and graciously provided that Old Testament couple with a son.
But in Genesis 22, we see another side of God as he encounters Abraham and makes a command that would wreck havoc upon Abraham’s family. “Abraham”, said God. “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering.”
God was putting Abraham to the test to see if this patriarch would obey in faith. And what a test it was! Can you imagine having to sacrifice your child, especially after having to wait your entire life for that child to be born? On top of this, God’s command did not seem to make sense. Here was God who had promised a birth, now commanding a death. Here was God who had promised Abraham numerous descendents, now asking Abraham to do something which would mean no descendents and no future. It would be barrenness all over again. “Go Abraham, to the land of Moriah and offer your son as a burnt offering.”
Testing is a prominent theme in the Bible. Job was put to the test to see if he would curse God. The Israelites were tested when Joshua stood before them and said, “Choose this day whom you will serve!” And Jesus was put to the ultimate test when he was asked by God to be obedient unto death.
And God still puts people to the test today. God tests us to identify who are his people, to discern who is serious about the faith and to know in whose lives he will be fully God. As one theologian has said, “The times of testing for Abraham and for us are those times when it is seductively attractive to find an easier, less demanding alternative to God; times when God asks us to sacrifice something precious to us for his sake.” And when we are tested in this way, we have to choose between acceptance or obedience, possessions or faithfulness and prominence or humble service.
Perhaps that is why we pray the petition in the Lord’s Prayer. “And lead us not into temptation or times of testing.” We pray this prayer because we are afraid that we will be found wanting; that we do not have the strength of faith to pass life’s tests.
I have known people, however, who have proven to be faithful in the time of testing. Drs. Leslie and Cindy Morgan are medical missionaries in Bangladesh. They both could have had successful medical practices in the U.S. But God called them to sacrifice a life of comfort to help the least of these. And they passed the test as they answered his call. Or a young black man growing up in the ghetto could have easily given into the temptations of drugs and violence in his neighborhood, but his mother kept insisting that God had a plan for his life. That black youth listened to his mom and now he is a prominent coach and an advisor in the local FCA.
And the one thing these individuals discovered in the course of their lives was that the God who tests us in his sovereignty is the same God who provides for us in his graciousness. Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac in the end. He said God would provide and God did, providing a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac.
And how might God be testing you? You might not be tested in any earth shaking way as was Abraham. But make no mistake. As each day arrives, we have to choose between God’s will or our own. As you face these tests, just remember that God the tester is also God the provider, and hopefully you will pass the tests that God sends our way with flying colors.
Devotional for June 9-15, 2018
I had a friend in Louisiana who did not believe in intercessory prayer. He had faith in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. But he did not think individuals could change God’s mind or his plans through the prayers that they offered. “God is going to do, what God is going to do and we can do nothing about it,” he would say. This fellow offered prayers of praise and thanksgiving. He prayed prayers of confession, but he would not engage in intercessory prayers for himself or others.
Indeed, if you read some of our Reformed confessions, you might get the impression that my friend is correct. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes God as immutable and says, “He is working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will.” In the Shorter Catechism, it is said of God that he is eternal and unchangeable. And the Larger Catechism states that “from all eternity, God hath for his own glory unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Thus, the impression we get from some of the confessions is that God is steadfast and immovable and he will not be affected by the intercessory prayers we might make.
But while some of the confessions might paint this picture of God, the Bible offers a different portrait of the Almighty. In our scripture from Genesis, God has resolved to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham intercedes on the city’s behalf and begins to bargain with God. “Suppose there are 50 righteous people within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it?” Or suppose there are 45 righteous people or 40 or 30 or 20 or 10? And each time Abraham reduces the number of righteous people found in Sodom and Gomorrah, God declares that he will not destroy the city if that number of righteous people exist.
This scripture makes it abundantly clear that intercessory prayer is effective. The prayers we make on behalf of people and situations can change God’s mind and plans.
In another Old Testament scripture, God is ready to eradicate the Israelites after they made the golden calf, but Moses pleads with God to spare the people and God once again changes what he had proposed to do. The mind of God can be changed by the prayers we make.
Remember the parable that Jesus told about the persistent widow who pleaded her case before a callous judge until the judge finally gives into her plea. The point is clear. If a judge who has no regard for people can be swayed by a lady’s petitions, how much more will a God who loves us respond to our prayers.
Prayer is not a mere ritual or a perfunctory exercise. It is a vital component in the life of every Christian. Intercessory prayer works, or better yet, intercessory prayer sometimes prompts God to work. It is very important that we make our requests known to the One who has our best interests at heart. I firmly believe that prayer can prompt God to move mountains. Much can be accomplished by believers who get on their knees, fold their hands and ask of the Lord.
Devotional for June 2-8, 2018
During the month of June, I will base my devotionals on passages from Genesis.
Read Genesis 12: 1-9
Our scripture from Genesis chronicles God’s covenant with Abraham. In this covenant, God promised Abraham 3 things; land, wealth and descendants. It appears that the first two promises came to pass rather quickly, for in the very next chapter of Genesis, we read that Abraham was rich in livestock, gold and silver. And we also read that Abraham divided the land he had been give with his nephew, Lot. God had made good on 2 of his 3 promises, but what about descendents? That was a promise that was still unfulfilled, and would be unfulfilled for quite a long period of time.
Abraham was 75 years old when God made covenant with him. And he was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born. It took God 25 years to make good on his promise of a son. During those 25 years of waiting, there were many occasions when the promise seemed to be in peril.
When Abraham and Sarah were in Egypt, the Pharaoh almost took Sarah as his wife. On another occasion, Abraham almost blew it when he slept with Hagar and Ishmael was born. And during those 25 years, Sarah’s womb proved to be as barren as the Sahara Desert. But at long last, after 8,906 days of waiting, the son of the promise was born.
Despite a few slipups along the way, Abraham and Sarah had something that is ordinarily missing from my life, and that is patience. I want God to act and to act quickly. Today we have instant mashed potatoes, instant coffee, instant cash from the ATM, instant information from our smart phones and fast food from McDonald’s, so I want God to work in the twinkling of an eye. And if God does not work on the schedule I think he should, my faith begins to waver. I begin to believe that either God is asleep at the switch or that he just doesn’t care.
But the Bible reminds me that God will fulfill his promises in God’s own time. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years before they were allowed to enter the Promise Land. Simeon waited his whole life to see the Christ Child. The disciples waited 50 long days before the Holy Spirit came to them. And Christians have waited over 2000 years now for God’s kingdom to be consummated. Sometimes, God pulls off a miracle in a flash, but more times than not, God works in a gradual pace in order to bring about what was promised.
As Christians then, we must develop a faithful patience; waiting and believing that God will make good on his promises and answer our prayers when the time is right, “in the fullness of time!”
So my prayer will be….”O Lord, give me patience, NOW! (Just Kidding)