A Widow's Heart

Part 1

Monday, January 18, 2021

A while back, I read something that I thought was great. It was talking about churches that are not growing, churches that have not won anyone to the Lord for the past several years. The article asked, “Why do churches that have not had any significant growth in terms of salvations for the last several years continue to do things exactly the way they have always done it?” 

 

That is the problem with change. We tend to believe the past is sacred and that it should not be tampered with. That is why we tend to want to stay (or even go back to) the way it was years ago.  

The question is: How shall we change? Here is my answer: we shall do according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to the need(s) of the people. Let me explain: I just read about a church that had been running around 400 people. Then they decided to become a “Praise and Worship” church and started spending an hour and a half to two hours in singing each service. If there was time after the singing portion of worship, and the Holy Spirit led him, then the preacher would preach. The result? People started leaving the church, finding other church homes in which to worship.

An acquaintance of mine ministered at the church as a guest speaker. By then, the church had lost more than 300 people. After about an hour and a half of worship, the pastor said to the speaker, “We decided to become a praise and worship church and 300 people have left. We need to get rid of about 40 more people. When they’ve left, then the church will really grow.” 

The honest truth is this: Worship was never meant to be more important than a love for people. You might react and say, “But worship is adoration to God. Isn’t that important?” And I would say, “Yes, yes it is.” But just try to get close to God while you ignore the needs to those around you. There are plenty of “trainwrecks” of people and churches that have been unnecessarily wounded by change. Spirit-filled change does not treat people like commodities. God’s people are not disposable assets.  

Just think of what that pastor is saying: he wants to get his church down to about 60 people and then they will really grow. Suppose they grew from 60 to 400 in a short amount of time. That would be terrific growth - but they would only get back to the place they were before they decided to change for change sake. That would be doing exactly what 1 Corinthians 13:2 warns against: “…and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  Or, to paraphrase, “Faith without love does not impress God at all.”   

Back in the 1980’s there was an Assemblies of God family that made international headlines when their 10-year-old son died due to their withholding his insulin. The parents had embraced the extreme faith teaching, “confessing” that he was healed. After the father was released from several years in prison, he and his wife wrote a book about their experience. The lesson they learned was incredible. They said they came to realize that they had put faith above love. He said. “We could hear the cry of our son and we knew that insulin would have given him relief, but we had so convinced ourselves that that would have been a lack of faith that we denied him of it.” 

 

When you have faith without love, you have nothing and you are nothing. It all comes down to love. Change for the sake of change is never the Spirit’s direction. Change for the sake of love is an entirely  different story. 

 

Continued tomorrow

The Widow's Heart

Part 2

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mark 12:38-40 “And in His (Jesus) teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”

Jesus was an agent for change (truthfully that is what we are to be as well). That is what made Him so controversial. Just think of what He was doing in this setting. He is criticizing a group of people that had never been criticized before. The Scribes and Pharisees were basically free to do whatever they wanted to do. They had established a religious system that basically put them above criticism, making those “under” them too inferior to say anything.

Mark 12:37 “David himself calls Him ‘Lord'; and so in what sense is He his son?’ And the great crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” They had never had anybody really stand up to the religious standard of the day before. His comments were quite refreshing to them – until He turned the spotlight on them. It’s always easier to rejoice when others are being corrected than it is when we are the ones being corrected.

However, Jesus did not simply criticize for the sake of pointing out their error. He was attempting to provoke them to examine themselves. He starts off by saying, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes.” The long robes had religious significance to them. 

Numbers 15:38-40 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God.”

The Lord commanded the people of Israel to add blue tassels to the corners of their outer garments (robes), as reminders to obey His commandments. Eventually this custom degenerated into a mere outward show of piety, some of them even lengthened the tassels so that they would be more obvious, and here in Mark 12 we find this practice being condemned by Jesus.  

The robe itself, with its bright colors and tassels, was meant to be a reminder of their dependency upon God. It was meant to humble them. As they looked upon it, they were to be reminded not to go after their own heart but to remain holy unto God. Instead, it became a symbol of prestige and power. The robe was worn as a badge. It became an outward statement of something that was meant to be an inward reminder of their need.

 

Continued tomorrow

The Spirit of Prayer

Part 1

Monday, January 11, 2021

Last week was our annual Week of Prayer and Fasting, kicking off the new year. In light of that, I felt it would be good to take some time this week to follow up on the subject of prayer.

 

This week, we are going to look at why prayers can be delayed and then answered at a later time.

1 Samuel 1:1-3 “There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD.”

This was a time in the history of Israel when leadership was hard to find. The giant lawgiver, Moses, is long gone. His successor, Joshua, is gone also. That whole generation and more have left the scene. The giants gave way to smaller-sized leaders and now they are gone too. For the most part they are a leaderless people.   

It was a time when the people had no ideals. The nation was rapidly drifting down to a very low moral level. In Shiloh the formal worship was kept up, but its own priests were tainted with the worst impurity. Eli was the priest but not a good priest in that he did nothing about his rebellious priest sons Hophni and Phinehas. He was the senior priest and could have stopped their practices but didn’t

I want to paint a picture of the failed leadership of the day. Eli was the high priest, but his sons, who were also priests, were wicked. Look at this passage in 1 Samuel 2:12: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD.” 1 Samuel 2:17 “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt. 1 Samuel 2:22 “Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” 1 Samuel 2:23 “So he said to them, “Why do you do such things?” 1 Samuel 2:25 “His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.  1 Samuel 2:30 “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares…”

God begins to speak to Eli, rebuking him for not doing what he should have with his sons: 1 Samuel 2:34 “And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you-they will both die on the same day.”

 

Continued tomorrow   

 

The Spirit of Prayer

Part 2

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I want us to understand the seriousness of godly leaders in the land. Eventually, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant because of the waywardness of Eli’s sons. 

1 Samuel 4:11-18 “The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died. 12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry. 14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?” The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes were set so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.” Eli asked, “What happened, my son?” 17 The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy.” 

Because the leadership of the day showed no restraint, every man did that which was right in his own eyes, which eventually led to the desecration of the Ark of the Covenant. In one day, Eli and his two sons were removed from their positions of leadership.

 

And that is not all: 1 Samuel 4:19 “His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains.” Eli’s daughter in law dies while giving birth. And if that were not enough, the son that is born to her is named, Ichabod! 1 Samuel 4:21 “She named the boy Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel.’” How would you like to have the name Ichabod? He forever carried the reminder that his grandfather and father disgraced God by failing to properly lead God’s people.

There were no leaders in the land possessing the power of restraint so that others could be put to shame.
 

The Power of Restraint

True leadership is the power of restraint. When the leaders no longer restrain themselves and do what everyone else does, then there is no longer a dominant spirit in the land. True leadership creates a particular spirit.  

This was the setting while Hophni and Phinehas were the priests at Shiloh. Not too far away up in the hill country of Ephraim there lived a religious man, a farmer named Elkanah. Elkanah was an earnest man but not the type of man that could rise above the habit of his time. His farm was not far from Shiloh, the national place of worship, and he made yearly trips there with the family, but he never raised a standard higher than the excepted standard of “no standards.”

This, to me, describes the dilemma that I believe the church (worldwide) is facing today.

 

Continued tomorrow

The Spirit of Prayer

Part 3

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Nationally, the evangelical church lacks strong leadership. Billy Graham had been looked at as one of the great leaders - but his ministry is over; he is with Jesus now. Most of today’s TV preachers are much like Hophni and Phinehas, men and women who gravitate towards the worldly spirit of the day, rather than raising a standard against it. It’s becoming difficult to see any real leadership being brought to forefront. Christian men, husbands, and fathers tend to be like their examples, which, in this case, are their pastors. If their examples are wimpy, then they are too.  

Not long ago, I was talking to someone in leadership within our section. He said, “I told God that I am tired of being a weak Christian. I want to stand up for what I believe in.” That is a spirit of true leadership. That comes from character, and character comes from the presence of God.    

Elkanah was an earnest man but not the type of man that could rise above the habit of his time. How many men in the church today are like Elkanah? They have settled into the spirit of the day. I like football, but I would never put it before my worship of God. Today it is very common to find men that prioritize football, and even fail to lead their families to worship because the game is on.

 

I don’t mean to just pick on football: I am merely using it as an example of men’s and women’s inability to rise above the spirit of the day. There is a spirit in the church today that allows us to worship football, there is a similar spirit that allows us to worship Hollywood, a spirit that allows us to worship materialism, and all sorts of sensuality because we don’t have restraints. When there are no restraints, we cannot rise above the habits of the day.   

Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” The word “revelation” in the Hebrew is chazown (khaw-zone') which means, a sight, a dream, a revelation, or an oracle. It addresses the issue of leadership. Where there is no leadership, there is no revelation or vision. And where there is no revelation, there are no restraints. The Proverb ends, “Blessed is he who keeps the law.” Or you could say, blessed is he who maintains restraint.  

The reason the church today is weak is because its leadership is weak. Its leadership has no restraints, no vision, so subsequently, church members today have cast off all restraints. We have too many ministers that love the spirit of the day, they love the carnality, they love the materialism and the worldliness, and subsequently the men and women of the church love it too. Without restraint there is no leadership. 

God looks for a leader

God wanted a leader for the nation - but there were no leaders. Worse yet, there were no women of the caliber God looks for in order to train and shape a man for leadership. God had to get a woman to help Him before He could get a man. (This was true also with the birth of His Son. He had to find a pure woman, a virgin, before the Son of God could come to earth.)

 

Continued tomorrow

The Spirit of Prayer

Part 4

Thursday, January 14, 2021

This brings us back to leadership. Restraint is leadership. Most men learn restraint from their wives. If a man had his way in the marriage, he’d have his way whenever he wanted his way. A wife is to be a restraint. If she isn’t, then the man will run uncontrolled into carnal pursuits. I can’t tell you how many times Gayle stopped me from doing something that had terrible ulterior motives (even though it would have been successful). People are gullible. The fact that you believe that proves your own gullibility.

 

There are many of ministers and evangelists who don’t have that type of wife. And when the wife is just as desirous of worldly success as her husband, soon they cast off all restraints and the ministry gets tarnished. They involved themselves in questionable practices.  

 

I believe that describes the dilemma God had as He looked for a leader among the men of Israel during this period. When He couldn’t find one, He looked for a woman, and He eventually finds Hannah, one of the wives of Elkanah. The initial problem with Hannah is that she does not get her prayers answered. She had been praying for some time to have a child but that request has gone unanswered. However, Hannah obviously had in her the making of the woman He needed. God honors Hannah by choosing her. But she must be changed before she could be used.  

 

This begins to explain all those years of unanswered prayer in her life. Those were years of pruning, sifting and discipline. Out of those years and experiences there came a new woman: a woman with her vision broadened, her spirit mellowed, and a strength that could come no other way. God brought her to the place of sacrifice. She gave up her dearest personal pleasure for the world-wide purposes of God. She gave her son to God. That’s leadership, that’s restraint.  

 

Not only did she pray for a child, she poured out her heart to God. She prayed so passionately that when Eli observed her praying, he thought she was drunk! 1 Samuel 1:12-16 “As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” 15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” This is true travail. This is the type of praying we need to come to if we are going to prevail in prayer.

 

This is also the type of praying that develops the character of God within us. God could not find a man, so He used a woman who was willing to pay the price of restraint. Prayer is restraint. Prayer is dying to self. It’s giving up your will for the Will of God.

 

Once she became pregnant, then came all those months of prayer during the shaping and forming of this child and future leader. Think of it: Samuel was conceived in the atmosphere of prayer and devotion of God. It seems that the prenatal influences for those months developed the sort of man God wanted, and a nation and the world-wide plan of God was saved.

 

Samuel became a living answer to prayer. The romantic story of the little boy growing up in the Shiloh tabernacle quickly spread throughout the nation. His very name, Samuel, means “God hears.” That name sifted into the people’s ears. The very thought that this man born of the power of prayer was among them began to give them hope in the midst of the terrible leaderless day they lived in.

 

Twenty years later Samuel was ruling Israel. He was a leader after the model of Moses and Joshua. He was a godly man who understood restraint because of the price his mother was willing to pay.

 

Continued tomorrow

The Spirit of Prayer

Part 5

Friday, January 15, 2021

Joshua

Zechariah 3:1-2 “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at His right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” In Joshua the high priest we see a picture of what each and every child of God should be. Jesus has made us priests and kings unto God, and even here upon earth we exercise the priesthood of consecrated living and hallowed service. 

But Joshua is said to be “standing before the angel of the Lord,” that is, standing to minister. This should be the perpetual position of every true believer and leader. Every place is now God’s temple because we carry His Spirit within us. And His people can serve Him in their daily employments just as effectively as in His house. We are to be always “ministering,” offering the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and praise, and presenting ourselves a “living sacrifice.”   

Notice where it is that Joshua stands to minister: it is before the angel of the Lord, Jehovah. Joshua sets the standard for true spiritual leadership by standing in prayer before the angel of the Lord. This is the place of battle. This is the place of restraint. This is where all spiritual leadership gets its direction from. This is where Hannah was heard by God and was eventually heard.  

 

“… and Satan standing at His right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Here is a tremendous picture of spiritual conflict. Here you have the priest of the Lord standing in the presence of the Lord with the enemy at His side accusing him. However, look at what the Lord says to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan!”  

In spite of all our weaknesses, our appalling failures, and indefensible shortcomings, prayer is still a very powerful tool. Prayer is the only force contesting Satan’s total rule in the affairs of men. If Satan were unopposed, if he were under no restraints generated by the Spirit-filled prayers of the saints, our world would be total havoc. Our own restraints restrain the enemy. When we no longer practice restraints we can no longer restrain the enemy. The church, by virtue of her faithful use of prayer, wields the balance of power not only in world affairs but also in the salvation of individual souls.

 

And it’s not just that the power of prayer is pitted against the power of the enemy, it’s that the practice of prayer is what develops restraint within the heart of the pray-er. It develops His character within us. Much of the power of prayer comes from the transformation it makes in the life of the pray-er.

 

That is what Hannah experienced. God wanted a leader but could find none. Therefore He goes to the one willing to become what God wants her to be: Hannah. Hannah was a pray-er, a powerful pray-er. The type of pray-er that could handle the overwhelming presence of God that comes when the Spirit of prayer comes down upon you.   

Our prayers are what stand in opposition to what Satan would like to do in our midst. We must put restraints on him through our own restraints. Then we can stand before God as He wants us to. It is then that we stand before Him as His priests. He wants us to stand before Him as He pours out His Spirit upon us. When the Spirit of prayer comes upon a person in this manner, their soul becomes too full to express itself; all they can do is groan out their prayer before their God, unutterable groans – and this is where the Spirit of God begins to pray through you. You have come to the full revelation that you are nothing more than a burning stick that God has rescued from the fire. And with that revelation you say, “God, I will do whatever you want me to do.” Finally Hannah came to that point and said, “God, if you will give me a child, I will give him to you.” I’ll do whatever you want me to do – that’s leadership. END