Do You Pray with Persistence?

11_persistent_widow_jpeg_1024“However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Jesus is the person speaking in the passage above. His words are about a time just before He returns to earth, that the kind of faith and prayer that prevails will be a rare thing. His words are taken from the parable of the persistent widow, found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 18. The widow sought for justice from an unjust judge, and prevailed by not giving up. Jesus used the story to say that if an unjust judge gives in to a persistent widow, then how much more will the Holy God, who watches over the affairs of men, grant the prayers of prevailing people of prayer!

It is my opinion that we are living in the time in which the Lord’s return is near, although how near, I would not like to predict. Many have made such claims in the past and have been proven to be wrong, to their embarrassment. However, there are some signs of the times which are obvious to any wise seeker of truth. The question is raised; “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth?” We are living in a day when faith in Christ is under attack. In fact, people of faith in our Western culture are now being accused of being “politically incorrect.” Spirituality in our western worldview does not fit neatly, unless it is seen in an abstract way, or as a way of “self enlightenment or self improvement.”

We are so consumed with our jobs and making a living, having so little time for anything else that we often do not have time for the really important things in life. We do not take the time to pray persistently as the widow did. The vast majority of the Church gets weary and gives up before God can reward their faith and prayer with the answer.

When Edmund Gravely died at the controls of his small plane while on the way to Statesboro, Georgia, from the Rocky Mount-Wilson Airport in North Carolina, his wife, Janice, kept the plane aloft for two hours. As the plane crossed the South Carolina/North Carolina border, she radioed for help: “Help, help, won’t someone help me? My pilot is unconscious.” Authorities who picked up her distress signal were not able to reach her by radio during the flight because she kept changing channels. Eventually, Mrs Gravely made a rough landing and had to crawl for forty-five minutes to a farm house for help. How often God’s people cry out to him for help but switch channels before His message comes through! They turn to other sources for help, looking for human guidance. When you cry out to God for His intervention, don’t switch channels! [1] Await His answer and keep looking to Him.

[1] 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Page 279, Edited by Michael Green, Baker Book House.

Keith Thomas

One Thing is Needed

mm13detail_38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Mary comes across to me as a person who is passionate about the things that really count. She knows that she is expected to be helping Martha with the food and drinks, but how often does one have the God of the universe over for tea and crumpets (or whatever they had for tea in that day)!  She sees the eagerness on the face of Jesus as He begins to answer questions and discuss the Scriptures. Wild horses could not drag her from the room! She made a conscious decision to ignore the unwritten rules, obligations, and expectations to help Martha in the kitchen. There are higher priorities than laying the table and pouring drinks. I am sure that Mary had a number of questions stored up in her heart. She was just waiting for the words of Jesus to feed her soul.

Mary was right in putting the word of God as her highest priority. We would all benefit from following her example here. All of our labor in this life should be subservient to the words of eternal life: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Mary was so hungry for truth, and Jesus was eager to feed her the Bread of Life.

Martha strikes me as a person whose self-esteem was bound up in what she does for Jesus more than who she is in Christ. She was a task-oriented person, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need task-oriented people. God has gifted them in their inner DNA to be like that. It was her home, so she felt that the responsibility was on her to treat the Master right. After all, if the Lord Jesus was coming to your house, wouldn’t you try to prepare a nice spread of food in hospitality to the visiting Rabbi? By the time Martha makes her final outburst to Jesus, we can imagine that she was getting as steamed up as her kitchen was! I can picture Martha banging the pots around, making plenty of noise to remind Mary of her duties in the kitchen. Martha’s focus shifts from trying to get Mary’s attention to blaming Jesus. “Why doesn’t He say anything to her?” she thinks to herself as she bangs a few pots in the hope of drawing Mary’s attention. There is no indication that Martha was directing her anger toward her sister. She can’t get her attention; instead, Martha accuses Jesus of not caring: “She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (v. 40).

Martha wanted Jesus to redirect Mary; however, Jesus wanted to redirect Martha! Martha attempted to get Mary to serve Jesus in the same way that Martha did. Martha’s irritability had grown to the point where she was literally commanding Jesus as to what He should do. We must give room to let people be different to ourselves. We are given different temperaments for a reason, i.e. to learn to live with one another’s temperaments. It wasn’t that Martha was wrong and Mary right, but that we should imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. To achieve a balance in both, we must put first things first.

Martha felt like she had to do everything and felt let down because Mary was not pulling her share of the load. She felt that this was unfair. Have you felt like that before? Some of us have heard these words from our parents: “Life is unfair! Get used to it!” Jesus does not respond this way, however. He gets straight to the heart with Martha. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (vs. 41-42). How tenderly He responds to her. These are not words of anger or disappointment leveled at Martha, and the doubling of her name reflects deep emotion on His part.

Some would say that Jesus was only after one thing on Martha’s menu instead of an elaborate meal. Bread and water would have been quite sufficient. It is more logical, though, to interpret the “one thing” to be Mary’s attitude of hungering after Christ’s presence. Time was short. Jesus was headed to the cross, and food was not on Jesus’ priority list, but Martha and Mary were! They were His priority! Jesus did not stop by Martha’s house for the food but primarily to spend time with them. What if Jesus were coming by your house today, would you be too busy for Him, or are you a Mary and love to sit at His feet?

Taken from the more complete study 26 in Luke entitled “Jesus Martha and Mary.” Found in the middle column under the heading Luke, A Walk Through the Life of Jesus. Click on the link to all the studies in Luke and find study 26

Keith Thomas

The Prodigal Father

anak-yang-hilang-pulangIn Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a story about two sons who really knew little about their father’s love for them. One just wants to give vent to his lower nature and sin to whatever depths he can, the other elder son is also a stranger to his father’s love and thinks that he can please his father by keeping rules. The story is more about the father of the two than about the boys themselves. The father is a picture of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all who call upon Him. He is the prodigal Father. Now before you throw me an electronic stone, let me explain by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text and actually means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant:” as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.” [1]

Yes, the younger son was wastefully extravagant, but the father was even more so with his grace, mercy and acceptance of his son back from the distant country. Let’s look at the parable with that view in our mind, the father’s lavish kindness toward his lost son. When the younger son comes to himself and decides to return to his father, he makes up his speech and turns in the direction of home:

20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).

We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13). Certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we can figure out that he was several miles from home. The father in this story is a picture of the Father who loves each of us. He also was a long way from home, waiting, looking for his son. We are told that as soon as the son turned for home, there was the father, a long way from home (v.20). There was no anger within the father; the immediate emotion within the father even before he got up to his son, was compassion. Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. The father has been in pain for his son while he has been away from home.

Upon the son’s turning toward home, this father is so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. This is a father in great love with his son. He runs to him. No self-respecting aged father runs in the Middle East. But here we see the father is unrestrained in kissing his son.  The English King James Version says, “he fell on his neck, and kissed him.” There is no thought about the stench of the pigs that still hangs on the boy. He is just so pleased to see him! The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and His readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text, the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents.  Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharoah gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave.  Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to be restored to sonship.

Keith Thomas

[1] Dictionary.com

The God Who Graciously Stoops

5da0d8f2262b553cb19f33a20683e82eThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The Great Creator God, who made all things, is a God of grace. It was His plan from the very beginning of the ages to bring forth a bride for His Son, the Lord Jesus. This bride is composed of all who are born-again of the Spirit, and who bow the knee to receive God’s gift of a complete pardon for rebellion and a life of sin. When one considers our rebellious and sinful nature and our corrupt hearts before God, this is wonderful grace. To understand the full meaning of grace, we need to turn to its usage in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word chen means “to bend or stoop.” It has the idea of “condescending favor,” the kind of favor that a King has for one of his people.

Queen Victoria of England, when she was a girl and had just become queen, was asked to sign a death warrant for a person who, by court martial, had been condemned to death. It is said that she said to the Duke who brought her the warrant, “Cannot you find any reason why this man should be pardoned?” The Duke said, “No, it was a very great offense; he ought to be punished.” “But was he a good soldier?” The Duke said he was a shamefully bad soldier, and had always been noted as a bad soldier. “Well, cannot you invent for me any reason?” “Well,” he said, “I have every reason to believe from testimony that he was a good man, although a bad soldier.” “That will do,” she said, and she wrote across the warrant, “pardoned”—not because the man deserved it—but because she wanted a reason for having mercy.[1]

God has stooped down to you and me in grace and mercy bestowing His wonderful favor upon us, writing across our warrant, “pardoned.” This He did not do grudgingly, but lavishly and joyfully. It was what He purposed in His heart to do! That which we couldn’t do, that which was impossible for us, He has accomplished in Christ. This is self-sacrificing love, agape love. Justice demanded that the soul that sins must die, but God in His love for us came in the person of His Son, Jesus, to take our place, to die our death instead of us, to taste death for every man. “Jesus…by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Allow me to say something very important and let it sink into your soul: there is not one thing that you could do to make God love you more, and there is not one thing that you could do that could make Him love you less. Read that again and let it sink in. Paul the apostle, before he was converted, was complicit in the murder of Stephen. Also, he attacked Christians and thought He was doing God a favor. Do you think that offended the Holy Spirit? I cannot think of anything worse. Yet, while he was self-righteous and persecuting God’s saints, God the Father had mercy and extended grace to him while he was a murderer. He did not wait for Paul to clean himself up before He had mercy on him. God gave him a new heart! Don’t think that there is anything too terrible for God to look at or to forgive. Don’t think for a moment that there is any sin that could possibly hold you back from experiencing the grace of God. Let His grace break through to you, wherever you are, be aware of His favor upon you right now!

Keith Thomas

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Human Depravity and Divine Mercy, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs615.pdf

“Do Whatever He Tells You!”

filling-it-to-the-brimHis mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

God spoke to sister Chang of Henan Province, China, to do something that made no earthly sense at all. He told her to go and preach the gospel on the steps outside of the local police station. Such an action may lead to arrest even in Western nations, and in communist China it is a sure way to invite severe punishment. But the more sister Chang prayed about it, the more clearly the inner voice of God continued to tell her to do it. Finally, she saw no option but to obey God. Standing on the top step outside the police station, she boldly proclaimed the gospel to astonished onlookers.

Within a few minutes several officers dragged her inside and placed her under arrest. To the human eye her obedience looked foolish, but God can see things that we can’t. Sister Chang was sentenced without a trial and sent to the local women’s prison, where she was placed alongside thousands of spiritually lost souls. She boldly and lovingly proclaimed the gospel to her fellow prisoners. The light of the gospel spread like wildfire. Within just three months, 800 women believed in Jesus! The entire atmosphere of the prison changed, and new sounds of praise and worship were heard echoing down the prison hallways and in the courtyard. The prison director was greatly impressed at the change in the atmosphere and was able to trace it to the preaching of sister Chang.

He brought her into his office and said, “You have made my job easy! There is no more fighting between the prisoners and the women have become gentle and obedient. We need more people like you working here. From today, we have decided to let you go free. We want to give you a full-time job here in the prison, and we will pay you 3,000 yuan per month” (about US$ 375, a fortune in rural Henan province). He continued, “we will also give you a car and your own driver, and will find you comfortable housing.”  Sister Chang briefly considered the offer, and then replied, “Twenty years ago I became a disciple of Jesus Christ and he has been wonderful to me. I don’t believe your offer of a car, driver and salary is in line with what Jesus wants to do with my life, and I belong to Him. All I want to do is to preach the good news.” Despite her rejection of his offer, the director released her from prison that day, and she continued her ministry for the Lord. It always pays to do what the Lord tells you to do. Don’t argue, don’t fight about it, and don’t try to work out all the details with your mind. Just do it. That is the one mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

From the book, Back to Jerusalem, by Paul Hattaway, published by Piquant, Carlisle, UK.