Christians often perceive God dealing with sin in a binary fashion. He forgives sin, or he holds people accountable for sin and judgment. It’s difficult to argue with that equation because it is factually correct, but it doesn’t encourage much in the way of meditation. This new volume by Sam storms seeks to broaden our perception of what God does with our sin. He does so by enumerating 12 different facets of forgiveness that give us weeks and months of scripture and devotion to draw our souls deeper into the love and goodness of God’s grace.
As an example of the depth that the reader is encouraged to explore, Storms steps to either side of the key point: God forgives you of your sin. On one side of that truth lies the fact that the forgiveness that we enjoy came about because God laid our sin upon his son, Jesus. This draws our devotion from simple gratitude at being forgiven, to considering the cost of that grace. Bringing those two truths together deepens our gratitude and makes it less likely that we will take it for granted. On the other side of forgiveness is the truth that God has cleansed us of our sin. This draws us to an entirely other meditation and degree of gratitude. Not only have we been judicially redeemed, the Christian is washed clean and set apart. As with the previous thought, we are again drawn away from cheap grace.
After giving a dozen positive truths about what God has done with our sin, Dr. Storms adds an important chapter about three things that God does not, and will never do with our sin. I found this chapter to be very important in light of discussions I’ve had with people through the years. Lacking a firm hold on the concept of forgiveness, well-meaning Christians have looked at God’s grace in the same way that we might be tempted to look at human grace, as though it could be rescinded at anytime. Storms makes clear through scripture that this is definitely not the case.
This book is excellent reading for the individual Christian, but I can see this being the basis for a small group or a discipleship relationship study. Each of the topics he touches on can create an opening for a brother or sister to open up and share their concerns with the answer close at hand. Put this book on your reading list today.
The foundation of following Jesus is prayer. This deep personal communion, this spirit-to-spirit connection with God is at the same time a privilege unique to Christians and a part of any serious life of faith. The Bible encourages prayer by invitation (if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways…[2 Chronicles 7:14]) and imperative (Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened. [Matthew 7:7]). The centrality of prayer in Christ’s church is a settled matter and few Christians would stand up and say otherwise. We agree at each of these points in theory and by doctrine, but does your church show this commitment in action?
Prayer is said to be one of the most difficult ministries, and this challenge might be your experience. Meaningful prayer requires a compliant heart, repentant and believing that God will answer petitions. Prayer does not require eloquence of speech, but it does demand a heart guided by the Holy Spirit and fed by scripture. Distractions must be put aside; prayer cannot be engaged at the same time the television is on. Prayer is demanding, but the Christian who discovers the spiritual treasure that awaits them through this relationship can’t help but long for more.
If you want to ignite a revolution of prayer within your church, the first thing to remember is that it starts with you. You need to be fully committed to a life of prayer, with both a practice and an experience of regular, deep prayer with God. In fact, without this prayer life, it’s unlikely that you will have the desire to ignite a change in the prayer ministry of your spiritual family. The desire will come when your holy dissatisfaction peaks and you are moved by the Holy Spirit to do something about it. And when that happens, when you’re motivated by the Spirit, move immediately! Here are five ways to bring people into the movement with you.
One thing that keeps well-intentioned people from praying is the fear that they will somehow get it wrong. The fear is that they will use the wrong words or someone will not understand their prayer. You can address this by modeling simple prayer. Use the structure and words of the Lord’s prayer to show that eloquence doesn’t have to do with complex syntax and a lofty vocabulary. Show that passionate prayer comes from the heart. Show that prayer begins and ends with a clear recognition of our relationship with God – Our Father in heaven. The more we can emphasize this simplicity, the more people are invited to prayer.
Lead On and In Prayer
If the Holy Spirit has motivated you to take the lead in moving your spiritual body into a deeper prayer life, then every step that you take should be preceded by and sustained in public petition. Be up front that this motivation you are sharing with your brothers and sisters is not an idea of your own, but that it comes from your commitment to prayer and the prompting of God the Spirit. Show the perseverance power that you enjoy comes from continuing in prayer, publicly seeking the power of Christ for ministry, and showing your trust that He will deliver.
Publicly Share Answers to Prayer
This should be a regular part of the life of the Lord’s church, as it is one of the great encouragements to God’s people. Answers to prayer show those growing in their confidence that He is at work in countless ways, that He does answer our petitions. When we are public about giving God glory for the answers that we see to our prayer, it works in the hearts of those at the edges of the congregation who want to know this same power. Doing this also serves evangelistically, showing, without preaching, the inestimable power of our God and His love for His people.
Praying simply and directly invites others to join in as it knocks down the barriers to public, congregational prayer, but if we want others to grow with us in their maturity and the depth of their prayer life, we should also make it a point to pray deeply. This will mean different things in different situations, but a good place to start is to pray the scriptures back to God. Go beyond the well-known verses to the deeper well of the Bible, showing the importance of the full counsel of God. Trust the spirit and be open is sharing your concerns, your heartbreaks, your pleading for grace in the lives of the unsaved. Your transparency encourages others to pray in the same way.
We’ve heard the saying that habits and actions are “more caught than taught.” The first four points of this list have to do with leaders taking action, for example, praying in the presence of others. But, as much as we would like to teach by example only, we must not forgo supplementing our example with sound biblical teaching. The Bible is filled with lessons about prayer and its importance, and an entire library of books can be built on that topic alone, so use these resources to preach and teach on the importance of prayer and its benefits while you lead others to add their voices to the prayer chorus.
Building a prayer culture within the church is not an easy task. It takes teaching and practice and being intentional about giving God’s people opportunities to put their prayer into action. They will be encouraged by hearing about answers to prayer and further encouraged to hear of your own struggles in building your prayer muscles. One of the most important things we teach and show is perseverance. A revolution starts with a spark but rarely catches fire overnight. Start, take the first step, even if you find yourself alone. To borrow from Edward Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Be committed to seeing it through, because the rewards are eternal.
“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John 1:16 – 18
The Gospel is sometimes referred to as the gospel of grace. There is a tremendous amount of truth in that label, but it can also lead to a diminishing of the fullness of the gospel. Our elementary school grammar lessons taught us that a preposition connects a modifying word, an adjective or adverb, to a noun. The purpose of this construct is to give the reader or listener a more detailed definition of that down. This is why it is so important to be cautious in selecting those words that we attach to gospel. The Good News needs no modification. That God, in his great mercy, intervened in history to reconcile humankind to himself is the greatest news that one could ever receive. That this invitation to reconciliation is addressed to everyone takes your breath away.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” John 3:36
The Gospel is power; power to save, power to regenerate, power to make holy that which is unholy. (Rom 1:16-17). The Gospel is not just words or an idea or a theological concept, the Gospel is divine power. It is the incarnation of God’s grace, it is alive and growing. The apostle Paul writes to the church at Colosse, “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6)
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 6:45
The grace of God is made manifest in his benevolent care for his creation, despite the fact that it has rebelled against Him. The result of this common grace should be the universal recognition that God is present and active in the world. It should result in gratitude as God demonstrates his goodness to all but the rebellious mind is devoted to denying these truths by any means possible.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Our greatest need has been addressed in the Gospel. Salvation comes by grace; salvation comes by the power of the gospel. The Gospel is God’s merciful grace embodied. The Gospel IS grace.
But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test. (Ps 106:13-14)
To read the Old Testament is to thumb through a catalog of mankind’s many failures. As much a diary as it is a mirror, the pages are rife with grotesque and subtle reminders of our own tendencies. In the two psalms that conclude Book IV of the psalter, the psalmists rehearse Israel’s repeated incidents of glorifying and celebrating God for his mighty deeds, followed by a meteoric descent into the waters of the Lethe.
Psalms 105 and 106 must be read together to gain the full impact of the psalmist’s purpose. Where 105 catalogs God’s unending faithfulness to the people who are called by His name, 106 reminds hearers of the incessant unfaithfulness. The juxtaposition of the two is jarring, and we cannot help but marvel at His Love and Israel’s failure.
And the myriad failures in our own lives.
Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. (v43)
The Christian has little excuse for continued purposeful rebellion. The Spirit serves in His role as paraclete in countless ways, one being the early warning when our tendency toward corruption threatens to affect our behavior. We can avoid repeating the history of our family line by becoming more aware and responsive to His whispers, warning us off of unglorifying speech, thoughts and behaviors.
Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. (v47)
Save us, Lord our God, from ourselves and our bent toward failing you. Let us give thanks and praise for your redemption and your power to live out the new creation you’ve begun in us.
O Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. (Ps 99:8)
As the joy and awe of Easter remains fresh in our hearts, we do well to reflect on the reality of God’s demand for holiness. Psalm 99 is linked to 97 as an expression of the benefits of the Lord’s reign over His people. These benefits are not the product of a one-sided covenant however. As mercy is extended to us, we are commanded to pull our boots from the mire that has held us captive and ascend to higher ground. Our core calling is to make holiness the objective of our efforts.
The psalmist also expresses the parallel expressions of God’s reign, mercy and correction. Grace is not license, as some mistakenly interpret it. He corrects those he loves in order to reorient their path. To be abandoned to sin is to be without hope.
soadv 1. In the way or manner indicated. 2. to the extent or degree indicated or suggested. 3. very or extremely. 4. very greatly. 5. most certainly…
You may come to this passage indirectly, perhaps as your first memory verse or your initial introduction to the great truth of the Bible. As you read and absorb it, you cannot help feel the Spirit move as you encounter this simple but profound reminder of the sacrificial love of God for you.
When you read God’s story from the beginning, on the other hand, and arrive at the fourth gospel and this verse, your eyes read the words in a much different light. Where it was just you and the secrets of your heart before, now you have the entirety of history casting its lengthy shadow over God’s love. The rise and fall and rise and fall tempo of man’s relationship with his creator causes you to wonder why He loves us, and marvels that He does.
God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him. (v7)
A week has passed this year since the glorious rising of the sun (Son) on Easter morning yet the world does not fear God. The greatest blessing imaginable has been given in the resurrection of the Living Christ, the invitation of salvation and yet the earth does not fear God. Those around us do not fear God because they do not see the living Christ in us.
The psalmist concludes Psalm 67 with this affirmation but it is the early lines of the liturgical form that can have a greater affect on our lives. As we pray these words and absorb them into our souls they have the power to transform. To know God’s face shines upon us is one thing, to exhibit that reality to others is the affirmation that transforms the world. It shows in our trust and obedience, our love and extension of grace. Jesus lives. He lives in me.
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143:5-6)
It’s easy to become complacent in facing Easter. We look down the corridor of time back toward the Resurrection and want to know the power of seeing Jesus risen from the tomb. As the stores fill with Peeps and colored grasses for the baskets, we find it easy to satisfy our souls with trinkets and temporary fulfillments. Our often parched and dry souls are smothered by the cultural messages that bombard us with offers to fill us up with this or that. We drink the soda only to find ourselves thirsty again and hour later.
Many in the Church view Lent as ‘that time when we give stuff up’ at best and at worst, with a suspicious eye on the implied ascetic aesthetic. Sacrifice in emulation of our Saviors sacrifice is neither. Our purpose in observing the season of Lent is to put off the things that are controlling our souls and burying the dry, cracked surface of our hearts. Only when we reveal that surface can the grace penetrate deep within us.
Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.
O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. (vv 1-2)
When we reach the 65th psalm, the psalter takes a sudden turn to effusive praise and leaves behind the psalms of lament temporarily. God has been praised by the psalmist over and over without hesitation thus far, despite the threatening clouds that seemed to shadow each entry in the book. Here there is no lament; it is either cured or forgotten in favor of pure praise for the goodness of God toward those who love him.
When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! (vv 3-4)
Though we should worship God simply because He is who He is, we most often associate our relationship to Him via his remarkable grace toward us sinners. We who were separated from Him by the chasm of our unholiness are given the opportunity to rejoin the community of belief through His grace. Washing us clean, God provides the way for us to move closer and kneel in the courts of praise.
Our response to the grace we are extended is praise for His righteous acts:
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.
Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy. (vv 5-8)
Our Father is not content to merely forgive us for our transgressions, he installs us in paradise in a lesser, but still overwhelming, expression of His love for us:
You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. (v 9)
Look around you, find a reason and praise Him today.
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who call us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Before Peter could write these truths, he had to learn them for himself. Before the Lord called him away from the lake, Peter had developed a pair of traits that would undergo a transformation as he followed Jesus through the land. As a hard working fisherman he had no doubt developed a high level of self sufficiency. He knew how to fend for himself as a businessman and on the dangerous waters that he fished, especially in situations where he could rely on no one else to get him out of trouble. As a Jew, Peter had also been steeped in the legalistic practices of Judaism.
Jesus taught him something completely different as He sought to make the notion of grace clear. Peter could not nor should not bring anything to the party. God provided everything and any attempt to supplement that gift simply got in the way of the outworking of grace. Like Peter, we often find ourselves struggling with grace. We impose restrictions on ourselves that God has not in an attempt to infuse godliness into our lives but in doing so, we get in the way of the work of the Spirit. He was given to us so that the transformation of our souls could come from within, not from our own efforts. The extent of work should simply be reliance of the work of the Holy Ghost. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…”