March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

he-came-for-me

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

March 23, 2020 Healing the Land? Trust Jesus- 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, Luke 7:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Solomon

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV)

 

After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse we often see taken out of its context. The first rule of studying the Bible and learning from God’s Word is that it’s all about context. The second is that Scripture is informed by Scripture. What is the context that surrounds this verse?

On first glance, God’s pronouncement in 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 when Solomon had completed building the temple that God had commanded him to build, appears to be a sort of cosmic quid pro quo. It almost appears that God is telling the people, If you are good little children and do what I say, then I will reward you. 

On closer reading one sees that it is God who does the choosing- God chooses the site of the Temple.  God chooses the way in which people return to Him- not through their own efforts, but by realizing that God is the one in control and that God is the one doing the healing, restoring and returning people and nations to Him.

Human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (we learn that in Ephesians 2:1-10) and we can’t be good little children and do what God says apart from His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even then we fail miserably, pointing out our desperate need for God’s grace in Christ. The history of the nation of Israel bears that out, documented in Scripture for all of us to learn. The history of humanity as a whole bears that out.

God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system, thankfully for us, so what does this mean for us, and why is it errant theology to simply proclaim, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” without telling the rest of the story?

Yes, God hears our prayers, as imperfect and selfish as they can be at times. He answers our prayers, but not just with our short-term interests in mind. Sometimes the answer is no because He has a better plan for us, or because there are lessons He needs for us to learn.

The First Commandment teaches us that we should have no other gods beside God. Because we are by nature sinful and weak, we can’t will ourselves to follow God’s Law. We can’t even be aware of what God’s Law is -or the fact that we break it- apart from His grace.

We can’t humble ourselves and repent of our sinfulness without God in His grace and mercy, making us aware of our need to repent (to turn back to Him.) Anything that we do that could be considered a “good work” is only made good because of Jesus- because faith and trust in Him is the only good thing about any of us.

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator and Master of everything.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (ESV)

Because creation is fallen, until Jesus returns, we will have famines, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. If anything, in this world, crisis is the status quo. It’s only in the end that by the grace of God in Christ that His people who have been baptized and crucified with Him (who trust in Him by the gift of faith) will come in to the fullness of His resurrection, to a world that will be completely healed and remade. God does this for us, not because we are good, but because God is good and keeps His word even when we don’t and can’t.

The centurion from Luke 7:1-10 understood that there was nothing good about him that would heal his servant. He did (by the grace of God) believe that Jesus could heal his servant. The servant wasn’t healed because the centurion built the synagogue and had a love for the Jewish people. The centurion’s good works were the result of his faith in the God of Israel. He was no more or no less deserving of God’s favor and healing than anyone else.

There will be a day when God does heal and remake every land and nation, but that day has not arrived yet. On this side of eternity, until Jesus returns we can count on what He warns us of in Matthew 24. Human governments cannot and will not ever create a utopia on earth.  We do, however, realize that God made good on His promise of keeping a man on David’s throne.  Jesus came to earth to break the curse of the Garden by dying our death in our place, to be our King forever.

We can and should pray for the healing of our nation and for relief for those who are hurting. We should work toward healing, and do what we are able to help those in need. Even as we do what we can by the grace of God, we remember that God is the One in control even when everything is out of control. He gives us the gift of faith so that we will take comfort in Him and trust Him.

We can trust that God does hear our prayers and that in His way and time, He will heal our land. It’s not our prayers that effect these changes, (though we are told and taught to pray) but the faithfulness of God. God is the “motive engine,” not us. Solomon understood that human beings are going to screw up and that we need to repent of our sins. Only God gives us the grace to realize our need for Him. The centurion had faith that was firmly placed on Jesus, yet it was Jesus who gave him the gift of that faith.
Lord, in these uncertain times, turn our hearts toward You. Give us saving faith and grant us Your peace. Teach us to love as You first loved us.