Counting Hairs (Jan 15)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 15

Counting Hairs

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 9:13-20 | Genesis 31:17 – 32:12 | Matthew 10:26 – 11:6 | Proverbs 3:16-18

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 10:26-11:6

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

Jesus call to his disciples is not an easy one.  He asks them to leave everything behind–even their families (35-37)–to take the good news from town to town. He is clearly calling for sacrifice–for wholehearted commitment whatever the cost. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To follow him wholeheartedly will likely bring persecution and hardship; for some, it will mean losing their very lives.

Yet, Jesus tells them that there is no reason for fear. God knows every detail of their lives, right down to the number of hairs on their heads.  God not only knows every detail, he loves and cares for his people. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

The road ahead may have uncertainties and challenges. It may be filled with sacrifice and hardship. But whatever it brings, we know that the heavenly Father knows–and he will care for us in every step, right down to the last detail. This is what gives us confidence to surrender all to him. His loving care gives us every reason to trust and follow him wherever he takes us and whatever the consequences.

God knows your needs. He knows what you are going through. He knows it right down to the last detail. He cares and he will see you through it. Open up your heart and share your needs. Don’t be afraid to trust him.

Loving God, I surrender myself completely to your will. I am willing to follow you whatever it may cost me. I entrust myself completely to your care. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Praying and Going (Jan 14)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 14

Praying and Going

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 9:7-12 | Genesis 30:1 – 31:16 | Matthew 10:1-25 |  Proverbs 3:13-15

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 10:1-25

“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8, NIV).

Confronted by the immense need, Jesus called the disciples to pray.  He told them, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (9:37).

The situation is no different today than it was in Jesus day. The needs are enormous. The number of people needing ministry is overwhelming. What can we do? Jesus calls us to pray.

Pray for open doors for the gospel. Pray for workers for the harvest field. Pray for a great harvest. Pray! Pray! Pray!

But Jesus is doing something subtle but profound in asking his disciples to pray. He is opening their eyes, their minds and their hearts to the need. He is opening their hearts so that they will hear and respond to the call to go.

Isn’t it interesting that the same people he called to pray in chapter 9, Jesus called to go in chapter 10? The disciples were the first fruits of the answer to their own prayers. They prayed for laborers, and in so doing they were called to be workers.

Jesus calls us to pray and then he calls us to be part of the answer to our own prayers.  He asks us to take the need to the Father, and then to go and become part of the solution. 

When we pray the prayer for laborers, God may raise up someone else–he often does, we can’t be everywhere. Yet most of the time, he also calls us to do something about meeting the need. Bringing it to him ensures that we get his heart for those we minister to, and that we go in his strength.

See a need? Pray about it. And as you do, don’t be surprised if you are called by God to be a part of the solution.

Lord of the Harvest, give me eyes to see the harvest field as you do. Give me a willing heart to be a part of the answer to my prayers for workers. Lord, bring a fruitful harvest for the sake of your glory. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Risk of Faith (Jan 13)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 13

A Risk of Faith

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 9:1-6 | Genesis 28:1 – 29:35 | Matthew 9:18-38 | Proverbs 3:11-12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 9:18-38

“If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.”

“Courage, daughter, You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well” (Matthew 9:21-22, The Message). 

Scripture tells us that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Note how pleased Jesus was to find faith in each of these people. Also note the incredible things accomplished through that faith.

There are always doubters. The Pharisees play that role in our text. As Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases it: “Hocus pocus. It’s nothing but hocus pocus. He’s probably made a pact with the devil.”  The Pharisees continually miss out on the blessings of God because they refused to believe.

The woman, who had hemorrhaged for 12 years, took a creative risk of faith. She thought that if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be made well. Jesus saw her faith and rewarded her with an instant healing that changed her life forever.

Two blind men cried out in faith, asking for mercy. When asked if they believed he could heal them, they responded, “yes Lord.” Touching their eyes with healing power, he said, “according to your faith it will be done to you.”

Then there is the girl who is raised from the dead, and a demon possessed mute man who was freed to speak. Indeed, “nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Yet the Pharisees doubted, they refused to believe. And they missed out on the blessing. 

What is your need? Come, like the woman, take a risk of faith. Cry out, like the blind men, for the grace and mercy of Jesus. It is amazing to see what blessings are brought about as we believe. May it be done according to your faith!

Faithful God, give me the strength to reach out and touch the hem of your garment. Give me the faith to see your healing power. Help me never miss out on the blessing because of unbelief. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bring Them to Jesus (Jan 12)

January 12

Bring Them to Jesus

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 8:1-9 | Genesis 26:17-27:46 | Matthew 9:1-17 | Proverbs 3:9-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 9:1-17

“They were hardly out of the boat when some men carried a paraplegic on a stretcher and set him down in front of them. Jesus impressed by their bold belief, said to the paraplegic, “Cheer up son. I forgive your sins” (Matthew 9:2, The Message). 

All around us are friends in desperate need of an encounter with Jesus. Two stories in Matthew 9 remind us that we can be used by God to bring people to Jesus.

First notice the friends of the paraplegic.  Did you notice the word, “their” in verse 2?  Jesus was impressed by “their” faith.  Whose faith?  The Paraplegic? No, the text implies that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the men who brought the paraplegic to Jesus.  

We don’t know about the paraplegic’s faith, we only know that Jesus commends his friends for having faith enough to bring the man to Jesus for healing.  

It seems to me that this says something very important to us. We, through our prayers and faith, can bring people to Jesus. Our prayers do matter. Our faith does make a difference.

Nothing is too difficult for God; no need too big. We all know friends who need the miraculous intervention of God. Will we bring them to Jesus? Will we take their needs to Him in bold belief through intercession?

Notice also the story of Matthew. After he becomes a follower of Christ, Matthew has a party for all his old friends. Jesus and the disciples show up too. What is Matthew doing? He’s bringing his friends to Jesus so that they might have opportunity to experience the new life he himself has just received.

Whether through prayer or witness, we can play an important part in the lives of our friends as we bring them to Jesus. As we bring people into his presence, miracles happen and lives are transformed.

Loving Heavenly Father, Give me the faith to pray for my friends who need an encounter with Jesus. Help me to step out in faith and invite my friends to meet Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Calming the Storm (Jan 11)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 11

Calming the Storm

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 7:10-17 | Genesis 24:52 – 26:16 | Matthew 8:18-34 | Proverbs 3:7-8

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 8:18-34

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matt 8:26-27 NIV).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows again and again his authority to heal, to cast out demons, and to do all sorts of miracles. In this text, he demonstrates authority over the wind and sea.

I’m always struck with the fact that Jesus’ miracles were nearly always focused on meeting someone’s need: Bread for hungry people, healing for the sick, freedom for the demon possessed. Jesus knows our need and in his compassion he reaches out to us to meet that need.

The disciples were afraid as they were tossed by the wind and the wave.  Jesus saw their need and brought peace to the storm.

What is your storm? Not all storms are weather related. Some of the strongest are those that rage in the human heart: turmoil because of relationships; frustration at work; difficult circumstances you are facing. Whatever the source of the storm, Jesus knows about it.  He sees it. He is able to calm your storm too. Just as he brings peace to the storm, he is able to bring peace to your troubled soul.

Of course it also true that this storm is a test of your faith. As your faith is stretched, there is an opportunity for growth. Even when Jesus does not put an immediate end to the storm, he is in the midst of the storm with you speaking words of encouragement; reminding you that there is no need for you to be afraid.

Cast your cares on him.  He really does care about you.

Miracle Working God, I feel the wind and see the waves all around me. Calm the wind and the wave. Calm my anxious heart. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Straight Paths (January 10)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 10

Straight Paths

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 7:1-9  | Genesis 23:1 – 24:51 | Matthew 8:1-17 |  Proverbs 3:1-6

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 3:1-6

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; Don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who’ll keep you on track.” Prov. 3:5-6 (The Message).

Life is a journey with many twists and turns. To us, the path ahead is uncharted and often unpredictable. Yet to God, the path is seen clearly. He sees the implications of every fork in the road. He knows what is ahead and how the path ahead fits in with his purposes and plans. Like a good shepherd, he desires to lead and guide us.

Therefore we are asked to trust him with all of our hearts. The wisdom for living life to the full is not found in our limited human understanding, therefore we must ask Him for wisdom and discernment as we journey ahead step by step.

But as we seek God, trusting him and acknowledging him in all we do; as we allow him to guide us by his word and the gentle whisper of his Spirit, he goes before us and prepares the path. Indeed, he makes it straight.

Yes, he directs our paths. But more literally, he straightens our paths. This suggests that God is actively engaged in preparing the paths ahead of us. Not only telling us which fork in the road to take, but also preparing the path for our journey.

The story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24 is a prime example. God will not always follow the exact blueprint in bringing two people together, but notice how God has prepared the path of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac. Angels are sent ahead to prepare the path. Each detail is worked out to precision to accomplish the Lord’s will. God’s hand not only guides, but also prepares the way. The paths are straightened and God’s will is done in a most wonderful way.

Confused about where God might be leading? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Or as Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase says it, “He’s the one who’ll keep you on track.”

All-wise God, straighten the path before me. Direct me as I trust your wisdom rather than my own. I am trusting you now to keep me on track. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God Will Provide (Jan 9)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 9

God Will Provide

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 6:4-10 | Genesis 20:1 – 22:24 | Matthew 7:15-29 | Proverbs 2:16-22

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 20:1 – 22:24

“So Abraham called the place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided” (Gen. 22:14, NIV).

How do you respond when God’s command to you is absolutely unthinkable?  That is the dilemma Abraham faces. God had promised him a son. Later, God provided the son, Isaac, in his old age in the most miraculous way. He was the son of the promise.

Now God seems to be telling him something that flies in the face of everything he had previously said and done. He tells him to take his son to the mountain to sacrifice him. It made no sense at all.

Abraham’s walk with God was intimate enough that he knew this was the voice of God. We don’t know what questions might have gone through his head, but the text tells us that he obeyed and went. Would we have had that much trust? Do we know him well enough to know his voice, when the voice calls us to do something unthinkable?

When confronted by the obvious question of his son, “Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham voiced the hopeful trust of a man who walked in obedience and faith, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  

When it was obvious that Abraham was willing to go through with the unthinkable act, the Angel of the Lord stopped Him. He was then told the purpose of this trial of faith. Isn’t it interesting how often God withholds the purpose of a thing until after we have gone through it?

And indeed, Abraham’s words of faith, turned out to be true. God did provide a ram and a blessing.

Abraham’s test of faith was extreme, yet we are all called to trials of faith. Abraham points the necessity of persevering faith even when the command doesn’t make sense; the necessity of instant obedience even when the way ahead is unclear.

God of Mysterious Ways, help me to hear your voice and obey even when the way ahead is unclear. Give me the ability to discern your will and obey, even when the path ahead is difficult. Teach me to trust you when your path takes me places that seem to make no sense to me. Give me the faith to trust you to provide. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Worry or Trust? (Jan 8)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 8

Worry or Trust?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 6:1-3 | Genesis 18:20-19:38 | Matthew 6:25-7:14 | Proverbs 2:6-15

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 6:25-7:14

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. [33] But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [34] Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:31-34, NIV). 

We all have needs, the most basic of which are described in this passage: “what shall we eat?” “what shall we drink?” “What shall we wear?” and “where will I live?” So, what do we do when we find ourselves in need?  

Recognize that God knows that you need these things (32). There is no need to get worried or anxious about it. God knows that you need these things. Most of our worry and anxiety is over things that will never happen, or over things that have already happened and which cannot be changed. Don’t worry about tomorrow, “each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. He doesn’t mean we should be irresponsible.  Bills need to be paid, matters need to be dealt with. Yet, we can get so busy worrying about things that we lose all energy for the things that really matter: kingdom things—God’s priorities. We can get so busy worrying that we neglect the steps of obedience that are before us.

Worry saps our energy and keeps us from accomplishing much anything. It is counterproductive. Instead of worry, there is one more thing we must do: we should pray. Jesus tells us to “ask, seek and knock.” Powerful promises are given to us if we will seek the Lord in prayer. Instead of becoming depressed and worried, take it to the Lord in prayer. Trust him to give you peace and joy despite your circumstances. Walk in obedience to his commands and look expectantly for his provision.

You can worry or you can trust God. You can’t do both. He is asking you to trust Him. That means putting behind your worries and calling to him in prayer; continuing to press on with his work and will whatever circumstances you may find yourselves in at the moment. He knows your needs, but he wants you to come in faith, expectantly and persistently (asking, seeking knocking) for His provision.

Open your heart: ask, seek, knock. Wait expectantly for his provision: he does care for you!

Loving, Caring, Heavenly Father, help me to hand over my concerns to you. Enable me to turn my anxious thoughts into hope-filled prayers. Help me trust you even when the circumstances seem overwhelming. I look to you to provide, as you have promised. Amen.

“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”

Charles Spurgeon
Posted in Devotional Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Too Good to be True (Jan 7)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 7

Too Good to be True

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 5:4-12 | Genesis 16:1 – 18:19 | Matthew 6:1-24 | Proverbs 2:1-5

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 16:1 – 18:19

Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14 NIV).

How could she help but laugh?  It seemed too good to be true.  “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘after I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?'”  She had longed for a child for many years. Now, well after her childbearing years were over, God promised that she would bear a son.

The promise had come earlier, of course (but it was impossible then too).  She had given up hope and had even come up with an alternative scenario (remember Hagar and Ishmael?). Abraham bargained with God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” But Ishmael was not God’s answer to the promise. 

Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, Isaac (meaning Laughter).  Indeed he would be the laughter of an old couple that had no hope of their own—a source of joy that only the God of the impossible could bring.

God said it best: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” How true. When confronted by the improbable, even the impossible, we too may laugh.  Often God’s promises seem too good to be true. But we serve a God who is able to do the improbable, even the impossible. Therefore the laughter should not come from doubt, but from the joy that flows from hope (Rom. 15:13).

Open your heart to the amazing possibilities that God has in mind for you. Find joy in your relationship with the God who promises you the improbable and does the impossible.

Almighty God, I stand amazed at your ability to do the impossible and your desire to use the improbable. May I always find laughter and joy in the process of seeing your will worked out in my life. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting Expectantly (Jan 6)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 6

Waiting Expectantly

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 5:1-3 | Genesis 13:6 – 15:21 | Matthew 5:27-48 | Proverbs 1:29 – 33

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalms 5:1-3

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (Psalms 5:3 NIV).

We all know the struggle the Psalmist describes. We pray and pray and wonder if God is listening. We lay our requests before the Lord and wait eagerly for the answer.

Waiting with expectation is the difficult but necessary condition of the heart that would get the ear of God. It demonstrates our faith in the unseen promises despite the circumstances we see. It reveals the kind of faith God delights in and rewards: persevering faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God. Because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

We don’t like to wait. And the waiting is made even more difficult when our expectations are not being met (at least not on our time table). Sometimes God makes us wait expectantly for a long time. It is easy to become disappointed in the process. It often seems easiest to just give up. The Psalmist refuses to give up. He continues to look up with eager expectation.

God will not always meet our expectations. Sometimes he has other plans, and in those times disappointment can seem overwhelming. We can become angry and bitter. Sometimes we lash out at God. We sometimes try to run away.

But when God does not meet our expectations, it is because he has other plans—better plans. That does not mean they will be the plans we desire—and some of the best roads are the most difficult roads—but they will be best. The things that can cause us to become angry and bitter are meant to make us grow and become better. The greatest opportunity for growth comes in the times when we “walk in the dark” and the only hand we can hold on to is God’s. Sometimes, even his hand is hard to find. But he is there even in the long, lonely dark night of the soul.

Wait expectantly. Wait eagerly. Don’t become discouraged by the wait.  Don’t become disappointed when your hopes are not met. God often has eternal purposes for things that we cannot see. He is good and he loves you—and whatever plans he has for you are bound to be better than anything you could ever hope for.

Patient Heavenly Father, remind me that my waiting is not in vain. Fill me with patient expectation and help me not to give up hope. Hear me as I wait upon you. Amen.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment