Search Me, O God

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

June 26

Search Me, O God

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 139:13-24 | 2 Kings 9:14-10:31 | Acts 17:1-34 | Proverbs 17:27-28

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Psalm 139:13-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. [24] See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

God knows us completely. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the motives behind our words and actions.  

We think we know ourselves, but as Jeremiah reminds us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV). Our minds and heart play many games to justify our behavior. Other times morbid introspection leaves us in a hopeless pit of false guilt and despair. But God sees through it all.

It is wise to pray the prayer of the psalmist daily. “God, you know me thoroughly. So search my heart. Test me and know my thoughts and cares. Show me the areas where I am causing offense.”  As God searches our hearts, truth is revealed so we can deal with it.

Armin Gesswein often reminded us at the College of Prayer that, “what God wants is not morbid introspection, but Holy Spirit inspection.” As he searches our hearts, we can repent and be set free. God’s searchlight brings repentance and transformation and leads to freedom.

God search our hearts so we can be set free from sin and its effects and find the life that is full, free, and everlasting. Amen.

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Singing at Midnight

June 25

Singing at Midnight 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 139:1-12 | 2 Kings 8:1-9:13 | Acts 16:16-40 | Proverbs 17:26

Today’s Scripture Focus: Acts 16:16-40

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose (Acts 16:25-26 NIV).

Sometimes going to a prayer meeting can get you in trouble. At least that was the case for Paul and Silas when they were in Philippi.  On the way to pray, their paths crossed a demon-possessed fortune teller. She started following them and would shout: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 

After many days of the woman shouting, Paul had finally had enough of it, he commanded the demon to leave her and she was immediately delivered and set free. This would seem a positive end to the story, but there is more.

Others were making money off of the fortune teller. Now that she had been delivered of the demon, their source of income had been taken away. This led to confrontation, a beating and finally, imprisonment for Paul and Silas.

How would Paul and Silas react to these unexpected circumstances? They prayed and praised God, at the top of their lungs, into the night. About midnight, they were still praying and praising, and doing so loud enough that the other prisoners couldn’t help but listen.

Finally, about midnight, an earthquake interrupted the prayer and praise. The prison was demolished. The chains were broken. Paul and Silas were set free. Prayer and praise led to God breaking chains and setting captives free.

The jailer too was set free—spiritually. Though his initial reaction was to take his own life, Paul reassured him and led him to faith. He and his household were set free from their chains to serve the living God. 

When confronted with impossible circumstances, remember that prayer and praise can powerfully deliver and set us free.  As you approach midnight, do not fear. Do not give up. Keep singing. Keep praying. Keep looking for the intervention of God.

Almighty God, fill our hearts with prayer and praise. Break the chains that bind us. May our joyful praise fill the air day and night—and especially when things seem darkest. Amen.

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Messy Growth

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

June 24

Messy Growth

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 138:1-8 | 2 Kings 6:1-7:20 | Acts 15:36-16:15 | Proverbs 17:24-25

Today’s Scripture Focus: Acts 15-16

“So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5 NIV).

The church in the book of Acts was growing in numbers, in faith, and in problems. Sometimes when we think of the church in Acts we forget that growth is often a difficult and messy process. It is wonderful to see the growth in faith and growth in numbers. Yet with all the excitement of growth there inevitably comes struggle, conflict and problems. All these require creativity and flexibility.

As a ministry team Paul and Barnabas had a great run. Barnabas was there at the beginning of Paul’s ministry encouraging everyone to give Paul a chance. He had been there to travel and minister with Paul. Issues developed and there came a day when these two godly men had to part ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. Paul partnered with Silas. Despite the disagreement, the church continued to grow. Growth is messy sometimes.

Paul showed flexibility in handling his young disciple Timothy. While at other times and in other places Paul would stand strong against the need for circumcision, here he shows some flexibility as Timothy is circumcised. Growth sometimes requires creative flexibility. The ministry goes on without a hitch and the Church continued to grow.

Paul had ministry plans, but God had a better idea. Confronted by a vision, Paul shows creative flexibility and sets aim to bring the gospel to Macedonia. The church, now entering the European continent, grows more than geographically: it continues to grow in numbers and the believers continue to be strengthened in faith.

Growth is often messy. It can lead to conflict, to struggle and all sorts of problems. Remain flexible, follow God’s leading and trust him to give you wisdom and creativity. As you do, God works and the church continues to grow in numbers and to be strengthened in faith. What appears to us to be merely a problem is often a path to growth.

Father, thanks for reminding me that growth can be messy. Help me to not be discouraged by the problems I face, but instead to view them as opportunities for further growth. In Jesus name, Amen.

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I’ve Got a Better Idea

June 23

I’ve Got a Better Idea 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 137:1-8 | 2 Kings 4:18-5:27 | Acts 15:1-35 | Proverbs 17:22

Today’s Scripture Focus:  2 Kings 4:18-5:27

Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (2 Kings 5:10-11 NIV). 

Naaman was a valiant warrior, but he was also a leper. Urged by his wife’s helper, he set off to find healing from the healing prophet whose reputation for doing extraordinary miracles was already becoming well established: Elisha.

Journeying to Elisha’s door, he is directed by Elisha’s servant:“Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” Naaman was hoping for something different—something that seemed more “prophet-like.” 

Angered by the suggestion of Elisha’s servant, he sketches out a scenario more to his liking: “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (5:11).

And more than that, if he needed to wash in a river, why not one more to his liking? He continues: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” (5:12). Naaman’s healing required humble submission to the simple acts of obedience prescribed by God through his prophet Elisha. When he stopped negotiating and started obeying, God answered and brought the miracle he desired.

Often the answer to our prayers requires an act of obedience. The miracle we seek depends on following through on the revealed will of God. We suggest alternate scenarios. We try to set the conditions for obedience. We want the miracle—the answer—but we want to dictate the steps it takes to get there.

The answer comes as we humbly submit to the acts of obedience that the Lord sets out in front of us. Often the path we have been seeking opens when we follow through on that one thing God has asked us to do but that we are resisting. Do it—stop resisting, complaining, or trying to dictate alternate scenarios—follow through and see the miracle God brings.

Lord, help me follow. I am reminded that my attempts to dictate the conditions of my miracle and resist your clear instructions only lead to trouble and failure. Help me to follow without question. As I take steps of obedience, open the way before me. Amen.

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God’s Abundant Supply

June 22

God’s Abundant Supply

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 136:23-26 | 2 Kings 3:1-4:17 | Acts 14:8-28 | Proverbs 17:22

Today’s Scripture Focus:  2 Kings 3:1 -4:17

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. [4] Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side” (2 Kings 4:3-4 NIV).  

The widow found herself in a desperate place.  Unable to pay her debts, her children were about to be taken into slavery. God saw the need and sent his prophet Elisha. God intended to work in such a way that His power and provision would magnify his goodness (as he so often does).

Elisha told her to gather jars from her neighbors—as many as she could. Then she began to pour the little bit of oil she had left into the jars. God began to multiply the oil and it continued to pour until she had filled all the jars she could gather. Then she was able to sell the oil and pay off the debt and have some left over to live on.

Elisha’s word to the woman demanded two things: obedience to God and expectant faith. As she obeyed the word of the Lord (gathering jars) and as she acted in expectant faith (pouring the oil in the jars), God provided.

God sees your need.  He is more than able to meet it. His ability to provide is unlimited. Walk in obedience to God’s leading step by step, expecting his provision.

God, My Provider, I look to you to fill the empty jars I’ve gathered. I stand in need of your provision today and everyday. I am watching and waiting for you. Amen.

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Bumps in the Road

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

June 21

Bumps in the Road

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 136:10-22 | 2 Kings 1:1-2:25 | Acts 13:42-14:7 | Proverbs 17:19-21

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Acts 13:42-14:7

“Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave. Paul and Barnabas shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next town, Iconium, brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples” (Acts 13:50-52 The Message).

The narrow road of life in Christ can be a bumpy road sometimes. But even then, we can find joy in Christ.

Paul and Barnabas got a mixed reaction as they preached. The crowds showed up, but so did the persecution. Jealous religious leaders stirred up the crowds against Paul and Barnabas.

Gentiles seemed to be the ones most responsive to the good news, clarifying Paul’s primary calling of taking the message to the Gentiles. “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47, ESV).

But things got rough.  Jewish leaders incited riots and persecution. Eventually all they could do was shake the dust off their feet and move on to the next city.

But the mixed reaction, the opposition, and even the persecution could not steal their joy. The gladness found in our relationship with Christ and bubbling up from within by the Holy Spirit can not be taken away by mere circumstances. They went on their way “brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

The road can get bumpy sometimes, but Jesus is always there with you. Depend on him to bring you joy by the Holy Spirit. Depend on him to give you strength to press on in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, as we journey this bumpy road fill us with the joy of the Holy Spirit. When we are received well by others, let us rejoice. When we are rejected give us the strength to shake off the dust and move on. In it all, may we brim with joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Inquire of the Lord

June 20

Inquire of the Lord

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 136:1-9 | 1 Kings 22:1-53 | Acts 13:16-41 | Proverbs 17:17-18

Today’s Scripture Focus:  1 Kings 22

“Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses. But Jehoshaphat also said to the King of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the LORD”(1 Kings 22:4-5 TNIV).

Ahab and Jehoshaphat were ready to join forces to recapture Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat made one wise request before pledging full support, Let’s seek the counsel of the LORD. He knew that to make a decision with out inquiring of the LORD was to make a decision too quickly.

The LORD’s wisdom includes information about the seen and the unseen. We see only part of the picture. God knows what will happen. He knows the hidden purposes he will accomplish. His ways are higher than ours—but he has promised to reveal his wisdom if we ask for it.

The LORD’s wisdom is not always what we want to hear, either. Ahab was hesitant to call on the prophet Micaiah since he always prophesied what Ahab didn’t want to hear.  We sometimes surround ourselves with counselors who will only tell us what we want to hear.  But there is wisdom in seeking the LORD’s counsel from one who has the integrity to tell us the truth—even when the truth hurts.

The messenger sought out Micaiah and asked him to speak the same words as the other prophets. His response was filled with wisdom, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me.” To speak in any other way is to become a false prophet.

Seek the LORD and his counsel. When he speaks, listen, even if it is not what you want to hear.

When you are asked for counsel, seek the LORD and his wisdom first.  Do not presume to know his will without seeking his counsel.  Do not just tell people what they want to hear. Hear from the LORD and speak the truth even when it isn’t popular.

Lord, fill me with wisdom and understanding. Surround me with people who hear from you and speak truth. Help me to listen even when the truth is not easy to hear. Amen.

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Becoming Like the One You Worship

June 19

Becoming Like the One You Worship

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 135:15-21 | 1 Kings 20:1-21:29 | Acts 12:24-13:15| Proverbs 17:16

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.  They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.  Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them (Psalm 135:15-18).

The Psalmist suggests that we become like the one we worship. The idols of the nations were sometimes beautifully crafted in precious metals, but they remained the lifeless works of human hands: having mouths but not able to speak; having ears but being unable to hear; having mouths but being unable to breathe. They were often beautiful, but always lifeless.

He is suggesting that these gods made by human hands have no life in themselves. They don’t bring any life to those who make them. They don’t bring any life to those who trust in them. In fact they leave their worshipers just as lifeless as they are.

Few in the western world worship such idols. We are more sophisticated (or so we think). I believe it was Calvin that called our hearts an “idol making factory”—on that point I would firmly agree. The gods we dream up—greed, materialism, hedonism and the like—have neither eyes nor ears. They are just as lifeless—and bring us no more life than the more traditional idols. As we trust in them, we become more like them.

There is another alternative, of course. We can worship and serve Jesus Christ. To trust in him, to worship, is to become more and more like him. The one who trusts him finds life abundant and eternal.

Who do you trust?

Lord Jesus, I want to be like you. Uproot the idols of my heart and rule as Lord and King. Transform me into your image. Amen.

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Surprise!

June 18

Surprise!

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 135:8-14 | 1 Kings 19:1-21 | Acts 12:1-23 Proverbs 17:14-15

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Acts 12

“Peter is standing at the door!””You’re out of your mind,” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” “Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally went out and opened the door, they were amazed (Acts 12:14b-16 NLT).

James had already been killed. Now Peter was in prison and a similar fate was expected. The church called a special prayer meeting.

They gathered and prayed at Mary’s house (mother of John Mark): “the church prayed very earnestly for him” (5).

Despite their earnest praying, they all stood completely amazed when Peter showed up at the door, alive! Let’s be honest, we too are sometimes amazed when God answers our prayers.

Often we pray more out of desperation than in expectation. We pray more because we feel overwhelmed than because we are overflowing with hope. Their disappointment at the death of James, perhaps also weighed in—when we feel confused and overwhelmed by that which we do not understand it is sometimes hard to hold on to hope.

Still, whatever deficiency there may have been regarding their expectation, God did answer their prayer. An angel of the Lord awakened Peter. His chains fell off and he was led to safety.  Peter went to tell the others.

He knocked on the door and the servant girl answered. She was so amazed and overjoyed that she left Peter at the door knocking while she told the news to the others. Despite their fervent praying, they couldn’t believe their ears.  

Finally they had to see for themselves. Opening the door, they were completely amazed to find Peter without a scratch.

God answers prayer. Pray fervently and expectantly. And don’t be too surprised when the answer you are seeking comes knocking at the door.

Lord, help us to pray with expectation. May we never lose hope or give up. And when the answer comes knocking on our door, fill our hearts with gratitude and praise. Amen.

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The God Who Answers

June 17

The God Who Answers

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 135:1-7 | 1 Kings 18:1-46 | Acts 11:1-30 | Proverbs 17:12-13

Today’s Scripture Focus:  1 Kings 18:1-46

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 TNIV).

“LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (36-37 TNIV).

His bold faith brought him to a dangerous place.  Elijah took on King Ahab and the prophets of Baal. He called them to reject Baal worship for the living God. He challenged them to a “duel” where the true God would answer by sending fire.

The prophets of Baal did everything they could to get their god’s attention. Louder, even louder, they cried. Then they took desperate measures, even cutting themselves to try to gain Baal’s attention. But there was only silence. “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.” (29)

Elijah rebuilt the altar of the LORD. He placed the sacrifice on the altar and then to make it harder, he had them pour water–lots of water–on the sacrifice. Then he prayed.

This time, there was an answer. The living God showed himself to be a God who hears and answers prayer. He answered by fire, consuming the sacrifice.

We often find it convenient to worship other gods—often gods of our own making or imaginations.  These gods bring us some pleasure or satisfaction, but in the end they cannot save—they bring no real hope.  When we really need someone to be there, someone to answer, we are left with silence.

How good it is to know that there is a God we can always turn to, one who always listens.  He is able to save us no matter where we find ourselves. It is time to stop wavering between false gods and the living God.  It is time to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the one who loves us and hears and answers our prayers.

God, give us the faith of Elijah. Help us to stand bold and strong for you. May our prayers be as powerful and effective as Elijah’s. Amen.

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