Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Lesson on Perseverance

““And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.”
(Luke 11:9–10 NLT)

The NLT captures the sense of Jesus' teaching on perseverance here. "Keep on". Now this teaching is balanced with Jesus' teaching elsewhere on prayer that a person should not think that their many words will have an impact on God. So it's not repeating a mantra or a well-rehearsed prayer that Jesus is talking about here. No, he is talking about a desperate person who refuses to give up. One who continues to knock on the door even though it's late at night and the noise is waking up the neighbors.

"One day George Mueller began praying for five of his friends. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller persevered in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, and throughout those 52 years he never gave up hoping that he would accept Christ! His faith was rewarded, for soon after Mueller’s funeral the last one was saved". (From: George Mueller, Man of Faith)

What are the longings of my heart? What are the loaves of bread I need because of visiting friends? Will I keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking? Or will I give up and assume that somehow, God is not listening to my prayers? Persistence, persistence, persistence! Prayer is an interesting thing. We are going to the God of the universes who already knows the end from the beginning. Yet, prayer is so important both to Him and to us. This teaching from Jesus came as a result of the disciples seeing Him at prayer "in a certain place" and asking Him to teach them to pray. After walking them through the Lord's prayer, he told the story of a man knocking on his friends door after hours looking for bread. He concluded the story with the exhortation to keep on asking, keep on looking, keep on knocking.

Lord, give me perseverance in my faith and in my prayers to you. Help me not to give up. Increase my faith and my faithfulness.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Key to a Tender Heart

“He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” (Matthew 19:8)

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

The root cause of every interpersonal conflict from divorce to all out war is the hardness of the human heart. The opposite of hard-heartedness is the tender-heartedness described in Ephesians 4:32. A person develops the tender heart by forgiving people. The source for the strength to forgive comes from a reflection upon Christ's forgiveness. We grow into a deep understanding of all that Christ has forgiven us for and that allows us to forgive others. A life lived that way results in a tender heart. A life of unforgiveness results in a hard heart that demands a certificate of divorce. Such people deceive themselves that changing their circumstances will result in that which only a change of heart condition can accomplish.

I want to be a forgiving person, keeping my heart tender before the Lord by reflecting on His forgiveness of me and extending that same forgiveness to others.

Some years ago, my friend Dave Legg wrote the following about forgiveness:

All too often our approach to conflict and hurt is separation. Unfortunately, separation is never the solution when unity is the problem. When God says make every effort to maintain the unity of the body (Ephesians 4:3), He chose to use a powerful idea. The phrase “make every effort” means literally to strive like a gladiator. In other words, it’s not a casual suggestion or something to do if we’re not busy. Often, a refusal to forgive a wrong keeps us locked in the past and unable to move into the future.

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of the unforgiving servant who ends up in prison at the end. Jesus then concludes the parable by saying, "this is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart". I believe the prison that Jesus is talking about here is the prison of a hardened heart. It is a prison of the unforgiving person's own making.

Forgiveness is the key to a tender heart and a tender heart is key to finishing the race. Most people have thin skins and hard hearts. Christ followers must have thick skins and tender hearts.