Keep Praying! Keep Teaching! Keep Doing Good!

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I have been on a mission for the last 15 months to improve my prayer life.  I do not think I have it all figured out.  For several weeks during the spring (2017), I went to a prayer time for the missionaries our church supports.  I enjoyed my time with those that were there praying with me immensely.  They were retired missionaries and other senior saints that blessed me and taught me.  As we sat talking about prayer before our actual prayer time one of these gentleman said, “I keep changing my prayer method trying to improve on what I had done previously.”  What a blessing to me to hear others that are far wiser than I struggle with the same things I do.

I Samuel 12:23 reminds me how important and integral prayer is to our lives.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (I Samuel 12:23).

I have been writing about this section of Scripture for a few weeks now.  Just a little reminder of what we have learned. This is the conclusion of Samuel’s farewell address to the children of Israel.  They had asked for a king and God gave them a king.  Samuel reminded them that asking for a king was evil.  He reminded them, though, that now that they had a king they needed to remember a few things:

  1. Do not turn aside from following the Lord
  2. Serve the Lord with your whole heart
  3. Empty things do not profit
  4. Fear the Lord

As Samuel was reminding them of these key things, he told them that he also had a responsibility.  It was not just for them to follow God, he also had a responsibility: PRAY AND TEACH.  Samuel did not just instruct others.  He also informed the Israelites of his responsibility and if he did not fulfill his responsibilities, it was a sin against the Lord.  What was this sin against the Lord:  ceasing to pray for the Israelites.

The Israelites were a tough crowd.  They continued to follow after sinful things.  Even when instructed to do what is right and committing to do what is right, they still sinned.  They worshipped false gods.  They married foreigners.  They adopted pagan ways.  They forgot God who had brought them into the Promised Land.  They repeatedly were in a cycle of apostasy, judgment, servitude, crying out to the Lord for relief from their servitude, repentance, and rescue.  Then they would forget what God had done for them and start the cycle again.

I am sure Samuel would get discouraged with these people he was attempting to shepherd.  They had ears but did not listen.  Yet, he had a responsibility: pray and teach.  Samuel was challenging himself not to give up.  The way seemed uphill every day.  Easy to want to quit.  Since we know the rest of the Old Testament story of the Israelites, the other prophets continued to pray and teach the Israelites and they continued to have ears that did not hear.  God knew this, yet he kept sending prophets to teach them.

Do you feel like giving up on a good deed?  The Bible is full of stories of those who had insurmountable tasks.  Paul being one of those and yet he reminded the Thessalonians and he also reminds us

“Do not grow weary in doing good.” (I Thessalonians 3:13).

Let me challenge you along with challenging myself: Keep praying! Keep teaching!  Keep doing good!

“For in due season, we will reap if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).

 

 

 

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Suggestions or Rules to Live By

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I must be honest, I don’t like to read instructions.  I would rather try to figure things out.  Recipes for me are guidelines or suggestions but not necessarily something that must be followed exactly…unless I am baking and then I follow the directions pretty closely.  Of course, the time in the oven is negotiable. Every oven is different so when I bake I have to get to know my oven.  I have figured out that chocolate chip cookies need 8 minutes and 20 seconds.  They are done perfectly with this amount of time…just a bit of crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.  Many times when I make something new and it tastes really good my family will ask, “Will it ever taste like this again?” since I don’t always follow a recipe exactly and I don’t write down my modifications the taste is not usually quite the same.  I guess it keeps them guessing.

God did not leave instructions in His word as suggestions to be taken in whatever way we want or pieced together in our own way.

He left exact instructions for us to follow.  As seen throughout the many pages and stories of peoples’ lives, when God’s instructions are not followed life does not go well.  Not following God’s directives results in punishment, broken relationships, hardships, and broken hearts.

Unlike my cooking and baking, we cannot play around with God’s directives and pick and choose how or when we want to implement them.  They were meant to be followed just as they were written.

…but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make a name for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (I Samuel 12:20-24).

These verses were written\spoken by Samuel to the Israelites but have great application for our lives today.  Samuel gives directions to the people and to himself from God.

  1. Serve the Lord with all your heart
  2. Empty things are empty for they do not profit or deliver
  3. Pray
  4. Instruct what is good and right
  5. Fear the Lord
  6. Serve Him faithfully with your whole heart

Results:  The Lord will not forsake His people

Why:     Consider/Remember the great things God has done for you

It seems pretty straightforward.  Jesus when He was on earth simplified the directives given in the Old Testament to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).  We see throughout the pages of Scripture examples of how individuals lived out these directives and others who did not.  As we read through Scripture, we see an elaboration of these commands so we have a better understanding of how loving God and loving others looks like.

The six instructions listed above help us better understand how to love God and love others.  As most of us know, the more we love God the easier it is to love others.

God’s recipe for life is tried and true.  Look at the examples in Scripture.  We don’t have to guess what pleases God; He told us exactly what pleases Him.

Follow the recipe exactly so you don’t have to guess at the outcome.

Do as I say…

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We are all familiar with the saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”  We tend to call these people hypocrites.  Not too many people will readily take advice from a hypocrite.  Actually, not too many truly like to take advice from anyone.  None of us like to be told what to do, rather we think we have the answers and want to execute life according to what we think not what anyone else thinks.

In the Old Testament book of I Samuel, Samuel lays out some instructions for the Israelites and amongst those instructions to the people he lays out his own personal responsibilities.  Let’s take a look and see how it applies to our lives today.

 

Serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (I Samuel 12:21-25)

 

These verses can be broken down into three parts:

The Israelites responsibility:        Serve the Lord with their whole heart

God’s response:                                The Lord will not forsake His people

Samuel’s Responsibility:                Pray for the Israelites and instruct them in the                                                                               right way

 

The people were not the only ones who had a responsibility.  Israel was to serve the Lord with their whole hearts.  God’s response to Israel’s obedience was that He would not forsake them.  Samuel was not only supposed to pray for the people but also to teach them the good and right way.

I think we would all agree that those we respect are those who lead by example.  A servant leader is much easier to follow than a boss or a dictator.  It is much easier to follow the example of Jesus because He showed us how to live out the instructions He taught in the New Testament rather than someone whose life does not back up their words.

Samuel lived his life serving and fearing the Lord.  The Israelites had an example to follow.  Samuel walked with the Lord and modeled the behavior he expected from the Israelites.  There was no hypocrisy or discrepancies in his life.

Hypocrisy will ruin relationships.  Hypocrisy will ruin our character.  Hypocrisy will ruin our integrity.  Hypocrisy will ruin our reputation.  Hypocrisy will ruin our testimony.

Avoiding hypocrisy comes through humility.

Humility comes through authenticity and fearing the Lord.

Authenticity comes with self-examination through a transparent relationship with the Lord and a humility with others.  Do others feel comfortable pointing out your faults?  When others do point out your faults what is your response?  Proverbs gives us clarity.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20)

Avoid hypocrisy.  Embrace humility.  Seek Authenticity.

A Humble Prayer

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In the deep recesses of our hearts there is something we all want.  That thing that we want, that we yearn for, that we are fixated on shows who we really are.  When we are by ourselves and our minds and our hearts have a minute to dream or wish for “something,” our true character is revealed.  That dream for a new car, a new house, or a whole new wardrobe shows our materialistic side. Is that what we dream about in those solitary moments of thought?  Maybe it is a better relationship with our kids, our husband, or a friend?  It could be a more influential position at work or in the church that we fixate on that will bring about a level of happiness we cannot seem to find in the current position we hold. It seems no matter the walk of life we are in, we always want what we do not have.  What happens when we get “it?”  The promotion, the new house, or that dream vacation…what happens?  We are not satisfied and we want something else.

 

Hannah (I Samuel 1) wanted a child.  She was the favorite wife of Elkanah, and he lavished her with gifts “and he loved her.” (I Samuel 1:5).  Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had children and she made sure she reminded Hannah of this fact. Peninnah would “provoke Hannah grievously to irritate her” (I Samuel 1:6).  This situation would not have made for a very peaceful domesticate life.  Scripture does not indicate that Hannah retaliated back to Peninnah by telling her that Elkanah loved her more.  Hannah could have done this.

 

Rather than complain or mock Peninnah in retaliation, Hannah prayed.  She went to the only One who could remedy the situation.  Hannah’s prayer to the Lord is a testament of her character, her wisdom, and her relationship with God.  “And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.’” (I Samuel 1:11).  Hannah was willing to give back to God what He gave to her.   She realized she was completely dependent on God for this answer to her prayer.

 

God blessed Hannah with a son, Samuel.  Hannah, true to her word gave Samuel back to God and the Lord blessed Hannah with more children.  There is a contrast in character between Hannah and Peninnah.  Peninnah mocked Hannah, and Hannah offered up no retaliation.  Hannah realized her dependence on God and went to Him humbly.  Her interaction with Eli also showed her humility despite the fact that he falsely accused her of being drunk.  She did not retaliate, but out of her humility she responded to Eli.

 

What do we see in Hannah’s character?  She was humble.  She took her request to God.  She was willing to use that answer to prayer as a testament to God.  She willingly gave back to God what He had given to her. When we pray, what is our motivation?  Is the answer to the prayer selfish or can we use the answer to the prayer as a testament to what God has done?  When we pray and God gives us what we asked, do we glorify Him and tell others what He has done? Or do we selfishly hold onto the answer not willing to be a spokesman for God?

 

We must be like Hannah and bring our requests to God, and be willing to give the answer back to God.  We must do this with an attitude of humility.