Category Archives: Discipleship

Prayer and Obedience: A Warning from Jeremiah.

Ever find yourself in difficult or troubling circumstances, struggling to identify a solution that resolves the situation with no detrimental impact on your life? Or face a consequential decision with a variety of options that lead in dramatically different directions, and will forever alter the course of your life?

Most of us encounter such circumstances and confront such decisions more than once in life. Some of us probably feel like we do so with regularity, facing one harrowing situation after another while navigating a relentless current of difficult decisions.

Such events can be a source of considerable stress and anxiety, and be emotionally draining. Which, in turn, can make us inclined to take the trail of least resistance. Pursue the path most comfortable and least disruptive. Reject any option or situation that defies common sense. Embrace the logical. Avoid unreasonable risk.

That perspective, however, can cloud our understanding of God’s view, His plans for us, and the direction He wants us to take. It can prevent us from considering the possibility that God’s agenda is in direct conflict with our own agenda. And it often convinces us that God’s desires for us align nicely with our own desires. While we may pray for God’s guidance and ask Him to reveal His will to us, in our hearts we already know what we are going to do.

The prophet Jeremiah confronted this religious mindset with the Judean people just after their governor was assassinated (see Jeremiah 41). They feared remaining in Judea; afraid it would put their lives at risk with the Babylonian king. Instead they believed it was safer to escape to Egypt. They approached Jeremiah for clarity, asking him to beseech the Lord. “Pray that the Lord your God will show us what to do and where to go” (Jeremiah 42:3, NLT).

Jeremiah agreed to their request. “I will pray to the Lord your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you” (Jeremiah 42:4, NLT).

However, something in Jeremiah’s response, perhaps his tone, must have suggested he had doubts about their sincerity. To alleviate those doubts they told him, “May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do. Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea”(Jeremiah 42:5-6, NLT).

They must have known that Jeremiah believed they had already made up their minds as to what they would do; that they were simply going through the motions of seeking God’s guidance. So they insisted they would obey God’s will ‘whether they liked it or not.’

Ten days later Jeremiah returned to the Judean people and informed them of God’s response. “Stay here in this land … Do not fear the king of Babylon … For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power” (Jeremiah 42:10-11, NLT). God made clear He would protect His people if they remained in the land, despite the power of the Babylonian king and his presumed anger at the Judean people.

Sensing that they would ignore God’s guidance, Jeremiah added, “If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt” (Jeremiah 42:15b-16, NLT).

Jeremiah then revealed a disturbing truth. The Judean people were inauthentic in asking God for guidance. “You were not being honest when you sent me to pray to the Lord your God for you. You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it.’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God … So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going” (Jeremiah 42:20-22, NLT).

We all face an ‘Egypt’ decision at some point in our lives. A situation that leaves us worried, afraid, and overwhelmed. And like the Judeans, we may be convinced we know God’s will. We may be sure He will lead us down the least risky path. That the decision He wants us to make is the one that makes the most sense, appears safest, and yields the greatest blessing for us.

So we pray. We solicit His guidance. We ask that His will be done. And we assure Him that we will do whatever He asks; that we will obey Him whether we like it or not.

But are we just being religious? Are we just going through the spiritual motions of prayer, saying what we know what God wants to hear? Will we go down the risky path if God leads us there? Will we put our safety, comfort, freedom, and lives at risk if obedience requires it? Or are we like the Judeans, insisting we will follow God but having no intention of doing so?

The consequences of ‘pretend prayer’ are severe. For the Judeans they faced the very pain, suffering, and death they had hoped to avoid by going to Egypt. We, too, risk God’s punishment and the withdrawal of His presence when we refuse to obey Him – whether we like it or not.

Take time this week to examine your prayer life. What big decision or challenging circumstance have you recently brought before the Lord? Are you willing to do whatever God says? Go wherever He leads? Obey Him whether you like the direction or not? If so, He will answer your prayer. But be prepared for the unexpected answer – which might be difficult to digest.

Do You Love God? Examine the Evidence.

At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.

And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).

Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.

Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.

When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).

Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.

What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.

Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:

If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).

Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.

If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.

However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).

John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.

John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.

The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.

Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.

If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.

Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.

But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.

All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.

1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).

2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).

5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).

6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).

7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).

8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).

9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).

12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).

13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).

14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).

15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).

16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).

18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).

19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).

Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.

And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).

We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.

Considering Christ? Count the Cost First.

One of the great tragedies of modern Christianity is our failure to explain to the spiritually lost what coming to Christ entails. Perhaps spurred by an eagerness to see our friends and loved ones join the family of faith we often neglect to share Jesus’ expectations for those who choose to embrace him as Savior. Instead we tend to emphasize the benefits of calling Christ Lord and ignore the considerable cost of doing so.

That silence, however, does a great disservice to those considering Christ. Not only does it appeal to a potential believer’s self-interest – the ultimate foundation of sand that will eventually collapse – it contradicts Jesus’ specific teaching. He told a large crowd that followed him, “If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost” (Luke 14:27-28a, NLT).

That must have seemed an odd instruction to those in the crowd (even as it does to us). So Jesus explained his rationale by comparing the journey of faith to a contractor who calculates the full cost of building a structure before he begins construction. “Otherwise,” Jesus says, “he might complete only the foundation before running out of money.”

His point? Those who fail to understand the cost of coming to Christ risk abandoning their faith when persecution arises or God tests them. And they’re much less likely to persevere when circumstances grow difficult. So while countless benefits accrue to those who surrender their lives to Christ, that path involves many challenges as well. Jesus even told his disciples, “difficult is the path that leads to life and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Few find it because it is not the well-trod path. It is the difficult path because committing ourselves to Christ costs everything. That may surprise those who have bought into the disastrous and deadly lie that Christ makes no demands of his disciples. But Jesus paints a very different reality to that crowd of potential followers, as He tells them, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NLT). To avoid any confusion Jesus’ states his expectation in remarkably clear and unambiguous language.

Some readers will bristle at that verse. They will insist that Jesus does not require His disciples to forsake anything, let alone everything. They will perform all manner of linguistic gymnastics to explain away Jesus’ plain meaning. Such people refuse to count the cost. They count only the blessings; and in the process pursue the broad path of destruction rather than the narrow path of eternal life.

I encourage those considering Christ to count the cost first. Not to discourage you from embracing Jesus as Lord but so you enter into that relationship with your eyes wide open. He does indeed offer a multitude of promises and blessings to those who surrender their lives to Him, both in this world and in the one to come. But that commitment sends you down a difficult path and imposes a steep cost. If it didn’t, Jesus would not have said as much – and He would not have advised us to count the cost.