Bleating of the Sheep

Bleating of the Sheep

By Pat Knight

Historically, God’s chosen people displayed a chronic disobedience pattern. Nearly as soon as God communicated a new decree, the Israelites either ignored or blatantly disobeyed His command. Few people took God seriously; fewer still took His laws seriously. The punishment for breaking God’s laws was particularly severe: disease, plagues, capture by enemy forces, and sometimes immediate death. Yet the grave consequences were not sufficient to motivate the Israelites to consistently obey their God.

The prophet, Samuel, relayed God’s instructions to King Saul: “‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’” (1 Samuel 15:3). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, named after Esau’s grandson, Amalek. The directions were simple in terms of clarity. King Saul understood explicitly.

God’s edict may seem excessively harsh punishment to us, but God and the Israelites knew the Amalekite people to be ruthless, merciless, and savage. They were predatory, attacking the Israelites during their wilderness walk. From the rear of the traveling camp, the Amalekites stalked and killed the weak and the elderly as they traveled from Egypt. Their treatment of Israel was spontaneous and vicious, causing Moses centuries earlier to prophesy:  “‘When you were weak and worn out, they {Amalekites} met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you a rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!’” (Deuteronomy 25: 18-19).

God had been generously patient with the Amalekites, giving them over five hundred years to change their barbaric ways. Our heavenly Father is the supreme judge, adjudicating wrong and evil. He does not forget!

With thousands of soldiers, King Saul staged an ambush for the Amalekites. Saul was given the opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to the Lord by obeying the assigned task of eliminating the Amalekite tribe. Instead of wiping out all life, “Saul and the army spared Agag {the Amalekite king), and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good;. These they were unwilling to destroy completely but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:9).

God then spoke to the prophet, Samuel, expressing His sorrow that He had ever made Saul king of His people, for Saul refused to follow God’s instructions, relying on his own instincts and greed instead. When Samuel traveled to confront King Saul, he discovered the king had set up a monument in his own honor. From disobedience to false image worshipping, King Saul was puffed up with self-importance. Yet even before Samuel questioned him, Saul offered, “‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’” (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul actually believed his actions were justified, but sinning against God is neither wise nor justified.

Samuel retorted, “What then is this bleating of the sheep I hear?
What is this lowing of the cattle I hear?”

1 Samuel 15:14

Saul shifted responsibility, blaming the soldiers for sparing the best animals to use as temple sacrifices for the Lord. Samuel then replied, “‘Enough!’

I can envision the prophet abruptly gesturing with his hand protesting Saul’s weak excuses. Samuel asked King Saul, “‘Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord? (vs. 19). Saul actually felt merit in completing his assigned military orders from God. It appears the details of God’s commands were irrelevant as long as Saul met his own selfish needs. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Our Lord values humility, repentance, and grief for sin. Saul’s heart was full of pride. Chief among the seven things God hates the most is pride, followed next in line by a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-19). Saul had employed both of the shameful priorities, masterfully disguising his rebellion and disobedience. Samuel replied with this rebuttal to Saul’s actions: “‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’” (1 Samuel 15:22). God removed His Spirit from Saul, dethroned him as king of Israel, and anointed another king in his place.

Upon self-examination, do we discover ourselves to be as shrewd as Saul, crafting insidious excuses for disobeying God? What personal justification do we use when God confronts us with our sin? We have ready access to all of God’s commands in His Living Word, through which He speaks to us. God commands that we love Him and others more highly than ourselves, discouraging our selfish motives.

It is possible that fear of reprisal prevents us from sinning on a regular basis, but we occasionally fall into temptation that is hard to resist. That is when our obedient devotion and love of God is paramount to  empower us to follow His words and His will. He has shown you. O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is the most compelling principle of behavior, defining a right relationship of men with Almighty God.

Our Lord loves us beyond measure, demonstrated by the gift of His Son, who died to set us free, creating a sovereign relationship that bridges between finite man and the infinite God. With God’s overwhelming love and attention to every detail in our lives, why would we even consider disobeying Him with the intention of indulging in self-desires? Why do we settle for second best when God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us?” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

We cannot come to God without faith in Him; faith leads to obedience. We want to please our Savior by serving Him. It grieves our Lord when we wander outside the boundaries He has established for us. “‘You are my friends if you do what I command. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’” (John 15:14-15). It is astounding that human friendship with Almighty God is even possible, deeming it imperative that we not react to His gracious gift with apathy or scorn exhibited by disobedience.

Instead of reacting like King Saul, blaming others for rebellion against God’s commands, let us take personal responsibility for sin, redirecting our energy to serve our Savior as His friends and fellow workers, seeking to consistently pursue His righteousness and faithfulness.

Obedience to God is palpable evidence of our faith. God considers our personal submission to His will so expressive of our love for Him that He accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. What assurance!

Joy’s Grandeur

Joy’s Grandeur

By Pat Knight

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—
I, whom you have delivered.
My tongue will tell of your righteous acts”  (Psalm 71:23).

On a second missionary journey, Paul and Silas traveled to Philippi, a leading Roman city where Roman customs were observed and idols worshipped. In Philippi the missionaries were confronted by a demon-possessed slave girl who made her owners wealthy by fortune-telling.

Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ’In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:18). Realizing their lucrative business had evaporated right before their eyes, the girl’s owners seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the public square to the city magistrate, and claimed false charges against them. Mob involvement grew to a fever pitch. Soon the men were stripped, beaten, and thrown into the maximum security cell of the jail.

The men were flogged, a severe form of beating similar to what Christ endured prior to crucifixion. Against bare skin the Romans used a whip fashioned of several leather straps with lead and bone embedded at the ends. Flogging tore open wide gashes of skin. The Jews, by law, restricted the number of lashes to thirty-nine, but the Romans had no limitations. Victims of Roman flogging often didn’t survive the savage punishment.

Following their beating, the two men were led into an inner prison cell where their feet were placed in stocks, serving as added security and extra torture. Physically their bodies were beaten and bloody, but their jubilant hearts could not be broken. Their spirits soared. Paul and Silas knew that all power, joy, and victory reside in Christ alone. They were confident they were serving a faithful God who would intervene on their behalf.

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 everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26).

Because their lives were saturated with joy, the missionaries were able to sing spontaneous, resounding praises to God. How many of us, in similar circumstances, find songs of joy on our lips?

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—I, whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts” (Psalm 71:23).The men sang while suffering, for they had vision and trust beyond their current situation. Their witness in song that night communicated far more to the other prisoners than any words they could have preached. If joy were dependent on circumstances, Paul and Silas would have cowered due to pain and injustice. But they were assured that God’s protection was sufficient.

In God’s Word, joy is a command, “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4), and a gift (Galatians 5:22), demonstrating that when God assigns a task to His children, He lavishes them with help and strength necessary to finish His work. “The trouble with too many of us is that we think God called us to be manufacturers when He really called us to be distributors. He alone has the resources to meet human needs; all we can do is receive His riches and share them with others” (Warren Wiersbe). Let us distribute God’s joy wherever He sends us, to whomever crosses our path.

God’s characteristics fill our hearts to overflowing. Any receptacle that overflows quickly spreads its contents into surrounding areas, seeping into cracks, permanently staining, leaking into remote spots to be discovered at a later time. Jesus’ joy is incapable of containment. It must multiply in the lives of believers, who carry it throughout the world.

Overwhelmed with gladness, our hearts cannot be restrained by a dam of negativity. Joy rolls along like a somersaulting downhill snowball, picking up peace, trust, and hope, wrapping them into a spectacular bundle of unmitigated worship. Trudging through uphill trails of adversity, layers of zeal, strength, and courage naturally melt, seeping onto the pathways of life, leaving behind evidence of an intimate relationship with Jesus our Savior. The dispersing love ministers to others, harvested by those who are desperate to know eternal peace and comfort.

Jesus provides inside-out rejoicing by filling our hearts with a deluge of enthusiasm. In addition, He clothes us with joy. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing praises and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). Sackcloth, a symbol of mourning, is replaced by songs of exuberant praise. From the riches of heaven’s own wardrobe room, swishing, elegant robes of rejoicing define us externally as the light of Christ’s joy engulfs our hearts, offering supernatural encouragement. Jesus said, “If you obey my command, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remained in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

Joy has the potential to leap boundaries. Those who know Jesus personally acknowledge the splendor of His majesty, initiating a reaction that can best be described as dynamic, triumphant joy forevermore. “My heart leaps for joy and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). When was the last time you spiritually leaped for joy, demonstrating the thrill of victory with eternal consequences?

When Paul and Silas rejoiced in prayer and song, they weren’t aware of the exceeding great plan God had devised: “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). Joy is the consistent result of trusting in Jesus.

Joy divided is multiplied. “To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with” (Mark Twain). Joy is contagious. Let us be carriers, proliferating its impact throughout the world.

Great Expectations

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
and assurance about what we do not see.
—Hebrews 11:1

Great Expectations

By Pat Knight

As I gazed out the window at the bleak winter landscape, I detected a definite lack of color, a bland outlook with no life stirring. With barren expectancy, we prepare our hearts for desolation, reflected in our attitudes and conversation. Are we so mentally programmed with gloominess that even our anticipation of future events is dulled?

Comparing heart focus with environmental conditions is risky, thwarting inward hope and personal growth. It is easy to be affected by the lack of sunshine and warmth in winter. Let us not permit exterior influences to eclipse the radiance with which Jesus penetrates darkness by reflecting His light through our lives. Joy is quickly extinguished by despondency.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). After Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, conquered his disbelief at Christ’s post-resurrection appearance, Jesus taught the eleven disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have  not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). In today’s vernacular we would explain Jesus’ teaching as “blind faith.” In spite of our circumstances, our beliefs don’t change; they are locked securely inside our hearts. Faith in God is the consequence of trust; trust the outgrowth of belief.

If we constantly focus on the negative, our hearts will languish with despair. We’ve all been exposed to a curmudgeon who  projects a pessimistic approach so hopeless that black clouds spontaneously open, dispensing chilly water on a new idea. Cynics have an intimidating influence on positive thoughts, much like the austere environment in winter.

With whom do we communicate to enliven a joyful spirit? God is the Author and Creator of all things good. “Jesus answered, ‘No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:18). The good God constantly imparts to us is a reflection of His own divine character of purity and holiness.

After gazing outside at the monotonous winter panorama once again, rather than a change of scenery, I discovered the need for an attitude adjustment. God has the ability to change our perspective with His gifts of joy and peace. Man is unable to conjure up sovereign gifts independently with the power of positive thinking, as some assert. We must depend upon our Lord to supply us with His limitless gifts, always available to those who seek Him. “Take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:24,The Msg).

We are commanded to fellowship with God, the glorious, victorious Creator of life and peace, joy and light, grace and love. In the new year, let us establish enlightened priorities, recognizing the capacity to alter our lives forever by placing them in God’s care. “Submit yourself, then, to God. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7a-8).

Winter, with its unique season of dormancy and hibernation for many living things, is also a period of refreshment, preparing for regrowth; for a magnificent burst of beauty and fragrance that identifies the imminent season of spring. Let us not bear winter grudgingly, but joyfully use the time to develop attitudes pleasing to God. There is beauty during winter unseen at other times of year. Shadows on snow peek around trees, marching like toy soldiers as the sun manipulates the imaginary forms. Sunsets of magnificent proportions and beauty light up late afternoon skies with unequivocal displays of prismatic colors. The deep green of softwood branches and the silhouettes of stark hardwoods in the foreground of high, pristine snowbanks create fantastic visual delights. A full moon illuminates light blue blankets of snow when the dark draperies of night are pulled down upon the world.

What do you envision in the winter season of your life? The bleakness of financial, health, or employment woes, or the unprecedented power, protection, and provisions offered by God Himself? The new year holds unimaginable possibilities and victories. Seek an attitude that reflects Jesus’ submission, humility, and obedience toward His Father. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus could release His deepest hope to His heavenly Father, assured that even at such a late hour God could perform the impossible by cancelling His Son‘s crucifixion. Yet, Jesus believed that His Father’s perfect plan would be accomplished. Christ was convinced that His hope wasn’t misplaced by cross-your-fingers wishful thinking, but as confident expectations resting on God’s promises, free of worry and nail-biting. Jesus trusted in God’s sovereign ability to answer his prayer custom designed for His Son alone. He does the same for us.

Hope is like an restraining anchor at the bottom of the sea. The Christian anchor rises up into the heavenly realms, guaranteeing our personal security. We are sheltered by our sovereign refuge.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

It is essential for us to value God above all else in our lives. He freely extends joyful delight, anchoring hope and unconditional love. Ask God to transform your priorities. He will lavish you abundantly with the righteousness of Jesus. To live right before God (righteousness) is His ultimate goal for each believer. “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

Hope is expressed when we turn toward God with confident expectation during times of trial.

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). With inner tranquility, believers relinquish their worries to God and dwell on them no more. Then the victory of God is theirs to enjoy. The full dimension of God’s love and provisions are beyond our comprehension, motivating us to trust Him explicitly.

During one final peek outside, I focused on the glory of God’s creation. Just as the outside world perpetually changes, believers also experience consistent growth and renewal deep within their hearts. We learn patience and perseverance, but most marvelous of all is the imperceptible growth in hope, trust, and faith our Lord accomplishes by His power at work within us, transforming our lives. Expect the unexpected from an exceptional, extraordinary God!

Heart Treasures

Heart Treasures

By Patricia Knight

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Mary was an ordinary person who accomplished the extraordinary. As a young teenager, a mere twelve to fourteen years of age, Mary possessed a quiet faith, one that conveyed submission, humility, and inner strength of character. The angel assured her, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with GodYou will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1: 30-32).

Mary was initially overwhelmed and perplexed by the announcement, but she asked only one question of the angel, Gabriel: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Once Gabriel responded that the Holy Spirit had overcome her to create her pregnancy, Mary replied, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Her next response was to sing a song of praise and glory to God, rejoicing in His mercy lavished upon her. Mary’s song ends with conviction that God is faithful to His promises. She felt honored that she had been chosen to participate in a miracle that would fulfill God’s sacred word made centuries ago to bring the prophesied Savior to the world.

Mary didn’t attempt to live in the future, avoiding futile “what if” questions. She relied upon her Lord to meet all of her needs on a daily basis. Whenever she was reminded of a new aspect of Jesus’ future predicted by a prophet or an angel, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). God recognized Mary’s superlative heart value. He chose her as the mother of Jesus by examining her heart and found it overflowing with goodness.  To hold the Son of God in her arms, to cuddle Him, to nurture and instruct Him, must have been a tremendous privilege and responsibility, not so different from the devotion and love all mothers feel toward their children. However, a sense of wonder must have constantly permeated Mary’s emotions.

As Jesus matured, He gradually developed an awareness of His unique relationship to God. He was also perfectly obedient to His earthly parents. Mary and Joseph must have yearned for their firstborn to experience every aspect of life, but Jesus was unable to fall in love, have a family, or experience any permanent status on earth. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.  He was focused on the work with eternal consequences that He must perform during his brief time on earth.

Jesus’ parents had no forewarning that their adult son would walk on water, cure the blind, or heal the lame. But they believed unreservedly in His mission. At a wedding feast where the wine supply was exhausted much too early in the celebration, Mary asked Jesus to help in some way to prevent embarrassment to the bridegroom. Then she instructed the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Though Jesus had never performed a miracle before, Mary trusted His abilities and judgment explicitly. She was likely as surprised as the servants that Jesus converted gallons of plain water into elegant wine.

Jesus was born on earth not to constantly perform fantastic miracles, as needed as they were, but to bring redemption of sin to the multitudes. 

Soon the prediction the prophet Simeon uttered when Jesus was an infant, was proving true: Mary as well as Jesus would suffer deep anguish in the future. When Jesus claimed to be the son of God, storm clouds of opposition and rejection gathered over His life. Mary must have felt personally attacked when she viewed mob hatred escalating toward her son. Jesus was the subject of intolerance and shame; scorn and disbelief.  Mary paid a tremendous price to bring the Savior into the world; she paid an exorbitant price to stand beneath the cross, witnessing the physical and emotional torment of Jesus’ during his heinous crucifixion. Mary’s heart must have completely shattered, spilling forth all the treasures she’d pondered over the past thirty-three years of her son’s life.

As He hung from the cross, Jesus assigned His beloved disciple, John, to care for His mother for the rest of her earthly life. Then Mary retreated into seclusion with Jesus’ committed followers, where they hid from the Roman authorities, praying for protection and guidance. Three days later, news arrived that Jesus had risen from the dead. How Mary rejoiced!  Her son, the Son of God, was alive!  Thanksgiving filled the air.

Are we willing to cling to our beliefs, as Mary did, even when the rising tide of public opposition threatens to chip away at our spiritual commitment, like granite eroding from the constant battering of surging tides? Just as plans for the incarnation of our Savior were flawlessly choreographed in heaven, God loves us so much that His purposes for each of our lives are also perfect. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas season, let us follow Mary’s example, learning to treasure all the Words of God and ponder them in our hearts.

Magnificent Multi-Tasking

Magnificent Multi-Tasking

By Patricia Knight

Considering that most of us gravitate toward energy-saving activities or devices, consolidating tasks to create efficient use of our time is commendable and often successful.

Recently I placed a phone call while preparing dinner, an appropriate time-saver; or so I thought. Both  hands were free for other functions as I nestled the phone between my ear and shoulder. The device soon slipped from its precarious position and launched air-borne to clobber an open jar of maraschino cherries. The impact gyrated the jar, spewing cherry juice in puddles on the countertop, flowing in rivulets down the lower cabinet doors. Before I could predict its next route, sticky liquid accumulated inside my open sandals; my toes were glued together in a quagmire of cherry juice. The phone landed, keyboard down, in a pool of gooey juice. I was quite literally, stuck in one place, encircled with a smattering of red, syrupy liquid. Cleaning up the cherry debacle took more time than accomplishing each task separately. I didn’t bother to calculate the absurd amount of time required to clean the sticky liquid from between the keys of the phone.

Our contemporary lingo is deluged with computer terms, some of which we have adopted for personal use, as with multi-tasking, the concurrent performance of several tasks at once. People have been multi-tasking for centuries; only the name is new. If we were able to perform an activity at a consistent level of excellence, there would be no need for Olympic games, competitive sports, or grading systems in schools. The reality is that no one can repeatedly duplicate exceptional results, particularly when combining tasks.

Our Lord is a magnificent multi-tasker who embodies superior knowledge and wisdom, (omniscient); is  present everywhere at all times, (omnipresent); and is all-powerful (omnipotent). Man may labor to juggle a few minor tasks simultaneously, but our sovereign God accomplishes innumerable enterprises continuously and perfectly every time. He is unlimited in character, actions, and abilities. God never changes, nor is He limited to time or space. God is perfect, divine, and infinite. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

God’s omnipotence is defined by His superior power and authority regarding His creation. He is the author of all life, desiring fellowship with mankind. He is capable of answering the prayers of billions of believers while surveilling the entire cosmos. God views every corner of our world to check on the whereabouts and activities of His children. “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NAS).

As a magnificent multi-tasker, our Lord knits together fractured bones while simultaneously painting a breathtaking sunset. His grace miraculously transforms the hearts of believers as He limits the proliferation of communicable diseases worldwide. God designed corn stalks crowned with silky festoons of tassel, yielding ears of perfectly aligned rows of corn inside an insulated husk. Across the globe, He assigns silk worms to weave elegant fabric. Our heavenly Father maintains planets in specific orbits, each rotating at a designated speed, as He suspends millions of twinkling stars in space. God presides over the earth He has populated, synchronizing balanced ecosystems for the land and its inhabitants, concurrently uniting people internationally via transportation and communication.

Our Lord monitors the exertional pull of the moon on tidal waters while maintaining exact gravitational forces on the earth’s surface. God welcomes one of His dear children into heaven for eternity as He simultaneously greets a newborn baby on earth. He raises His hand to prevent a vehicular collision while gently unveiling the fragile petals of a rose.

God’s harmonious, elaborate efforts impact people and matter everywhere. He is the sole architect and creator of our world, forming it with His commands, sculpting lofty mountain ranges, hollowing vast chasms of earth to flood as oceans, gouging gaping canyons, and leveling large expanses of desert and plains. He travels the labyrinth of galaxies, all the while meeting the complex needs of His children. “For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes” (Proverbs 5:21, NLT).

All natural elements respond to the Lord’s instructions. In one geographic zone, an avalanche of snow plows down a mountainside. On another continent, a rainbow is observed, displaying its prismatic array of colors against a placid, blue sky, reminding us of God’s promise to Noah centuries before.

Jesus was sleeping in the stern of His disciples’ boat when a furious storm blew across the lake without warning. The high seas were breaking over the gunnels when the disciples awakened their Master, “shouting, ‘Lord save us! We’re going to drown.’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was great calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him’” (Matthew 8: 25-27, NLT). Jesus controlled the sea simply by speaking to it, for He possesses authority over all elements of nature.

Let us defer to God’s excellence. He invented magnificent multi-dimensional tasking and He excels in the art, a sovereign version that equips Him with infinite ability to know the end result at the beginning of each endeavor. There is no refuting God’s power and wisdom. He is knowledgeable of the innermost thoughts, attitudes, and intents of each person’s heart. “O, Lord, you have examined my heart and you know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to understand” (Psalm 139: 1-6, NLT)

Although multi-tasking is computer jargon etched into our vocabulary, the number of tasks we are able to juggle at once is of trivial value. Of utmost importance is our relationship to the all-powerful ruler and sustainer of the universe, a personal God who desires to be ever-present in our lives, extending to us righteousness through His Son, Jesus Christ. God possesses superior knowledge and wisdom pertaining to our universe and to each person in it.

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He {God} brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding” (Isaiah 40:26; 28, NLT).

Thanksgiving for the Thankworthy

Thanksgiving for the Thankworthy

By Patricia Knight

In 1621, the first Thanksgiving in America joined culturally diverse Native Americans and newly arrived colonists for a feast of fresh produce, wild game, and simple baked goods to celebrate their first harvest in the New World. Since the 1800s, annual Thanksgiving feasts have been celebrated in the US. Congress passed a joint resolution establishing a permanent, annual, day of Thanksgiving, designated as the fourth Thursday in November, to commence in 1942. The legal holiday was founded as a religious observance for all citizens to express thanksgiving to God for His blessings during the previous year.

In centuries past, the Israelites observed mandatory thank offerings and specific feasts several times each year, commemorating the Lord’s gifts and blessings, a periodic reminder for worshippers to lavish their heavenly Father with thanksgiving for abundant harvests and consistent blessings.

Some people claim that a thank-you simply demonstrates good manners. For Christians, giving thanks exceeds etiquette and a yearly feast. Believers embrace a perpetually grateful attitude of the heart, a pattern as natural as breathing.

Thanksgiving emerges from a heart in tune with the heavenly Father.

Water surging headlong over a steep precipice reveals a picturesque waterfall as prisms of water droplets in sunlight produce scintillating rainbows; similar beauty cascades from a heart of thanksgiving.

In response to God’s miraculous rescue of His people following four centuries of slave labor in Egypt, Moses and the Israelites burst into songs of praise. During their escape, millions of Israelites traveling on foot stopped abruptly when confronted with the hopeless task of crossing the Red Sea.

“Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), who rolled the water upward, exposing a path of dry land for the people to walk through. As soon as the last remnant of God’s people safely reached the opposite shore, the pursuing Egyptian army was swallowed by the returning walls of the sea. The Israeli song praised God’s power, majesty, and mercy during His spectacular deliverance (Exodus 15:1-21).

Hannah and Elkanah were married but childless in a culture where barren women were often harassed until their spirits were crushed with shame and reproach. At the tabernacle, Hannah poured out her heartbreak to God in a passionate prayer, pleading for a son. Sometime later Hannah gave birth to a boy. As she had promised God in her prayer, Hannah delivered Samuel to the priest for a lifetime of dedicated service at the temple (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Hannah’s song of gratitude proclaims that life and death, prosperity and poverty, humility and exultation, are all determined by the power of a personal God. Hannah professed that God functions in supreme ways we neither predict nor fully understand, but He always answers believer’s prayers in unexpected, extraordinary ways. Hannah’s song is prophetic, the first announcement of the Lord’s anointed in the Bible. Centuries later, her inspired words found fulfillment in the birth of Christ, the Messiah.

The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), is one of the most familiar songs of thanksgiving in Scripture, which Mary composed following the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen as mother of the promised Messiah. Mary glorified God, affirming His mercy, might, and magnificence; His unfailing love and goodness. As words of praise spilled from her grateful heart, Mary acknowledged that God had chosen His humble servant for an exalted assignment.

Adoration praises God for who He is. “Call to God who is worthy of praise” (Psalm 18:3). Thanksgiving expresses gratitude for what God has done. Believers pray with confidence, assured our Lord will answer every petition. Since we attest to God’s faithfulness, anticipating responses to our prayers yields a spirit of thanksgiving, assured God’s replies will always reflect His perfect will for each of us. Trust then becomes a form of worship as we thank God in advance for his blessings. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT). Prayers of His people invite God’s extravagant blessings.

God’s plan of salvation and Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice His holy life for the redemption of our sins evoke prayers of thanksgiving. Praise is our method of offering heartfelt joy to the Father and Son. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57). It is important to recognize the myriad blessings our Lord bestows on us every day: maintaining wellness of body and mind, and provision of needs—restful sleep, reliable transportation, secure homes, family near and far, clean, plentiful drinking water. Gratitude naturally pours from a believer’s humble, joy-filled heart.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).The word, “all” is tiny but inclusive, enveloping the whole of one’s possessions, resources, energy, and relationships. God desires our gratitude at all times, through the good and the bad; in delightful and challenging situations, for the purpose of maturing our faith and offering God glory and honor. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Thanksgiving is the springboard to spiritual joy. 

Worship consists of praise, adoration, song, and prayer, aspects of thanksgiving that convey love and reverence to the sovereign Father and Son. The contemporary use of worship is derived from the old English word, “worthship,” denoting the worthiness of God. Thankworthy reflects gratitude through worship. No one exemplifies worship of the heavenly Father more perfectly than Jesus, who offered the ultimate sacrifice of praise, the motivation for a life overflowing with thanksgiving. Jesus is the standard of worship to the Father, a heavenly portrait of goodness and grace.

The very essence of thanksgiving compels jubilation.

 “Thank you! Everything in me says ‘Thank you!’  Angels listen as I sing my thanks…Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness; Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word. The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength. When they hear what you have to say, God, all earth’s kings will say, ‘Thank you!’ They’ll sing of what you’ve done: ‘How great the glory of God!’ And here’s why: God, high above, sees far below; no matter the distance, he knows everything about us’” (Psalm 138:1-6,The Msg.).

Our Lord is the source of thankworthiness!

Follow or Retreat

Follow or Retreat

By Patricia Knight

Flanked by His disciples during His three-year ministry on earth, Jesus traveled incalculable miles by foot and by boat. Wherever they went, curious crowds followed. Some people were sincerely interested in the Messiah’s message, but others were enamored with His miracles and wanted to see more. News of Jesus’ next destination spread quickly; multitudes were often waiting at a future site to meet Him. Though admirers and detractors alike surrounded Jesus, there were two places where throngs did not follow Him. For one, they were disinterested in pursuing Jesus to a secluded spot to pray.

Christ had just fed five hundred listeners by miraculously multiplying one boy’s small lunch. As soon as the meal was finished, Jesus instructed His disciples to go on ahead of Him by boat to the other side of the lake while He dismissed the crowd (Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus then walked up a mountainside to pray alone throughout the evening. He gained refreshment and renewal of body and soul for the challenging days ahead by communicating with His heavenly Father. Though we are provided no direct insight into His dialogue, we know from His instructions to His disciples, the prominence Jesus assigned to prayer.

Perhaps the crowds instinctively left Jesus by Himself during His quiet time because for them personal prayer was a foreign concept. Priests in the temple interceded for the people, but few individuals engaged in private prayer. The Lord’s messages were delivered through prophets. God created and called the nation of Israel. Laws were designated for the entire nation and the population was punished collectively for disobedience. There was little personal communication between individuals and God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the way for intimate contact between believers and God the Father, the same fellowship the Son of God enjoyed. 

Calvary was the other area of Jesus’ experience where people didn’t follow. Only the Son of God could die a redemptive death on the cross for our sins. Jesus suffered loneliness and agony mankind will never comprehend. It was even necessary for His heavenly Father to forsake His Son for a period as Christ hung on the cross. Only a few of Jesus’ close friends and His mother witnessed His crucifixion. All of His disciples but John abandoned their Master, fearing retribution by association.

Prior to His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized in prayer. “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled, saying, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:33b-34).Prayer to His Father was His only available source of peace and strength. The soldiers would soon arrive to arrest Him by force. It was not death Jesus feared, but the hour of crucifixion when the weight of the sins of the world—past, present, and future—would transfer to His soul. Jesus bore the unparalleled burden alone.

Crucifixion was a heinous, brutal, ruthless form of torture, reserved for slaves and the worst Roman criminals. Jesus, the Son of God, the only perfect man to walk this planet, was hanged as a common criminal. Though His enemies intended crucifixion as the ultimate means of persecution to silence Jesus forever, the cross of Calvary became a symbol of Jesus’ willing sacrifice, God’s ability to save mankind, and the believer’s commitment to follow only Christ, who willingly sacrificed His holy life for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus has redeemed us; believers now live for Him, infused with His characteristics and identified exclusively with Him. The cross of Calvary was the vehicle that created access to prayer. Jesus’ death and resurrection purchased eternity in heaven for every believer.

“The cross is a place where one dies to self,
enjoys no rights, and grovels in humility.
How odd for our Lord to invite us
to be crucified with Him;
but God knows the cross is a place of grace,
and the nearer one draws to Calvary,
the more abundant the peace and power” (Joni Eareckson Tada).

Imagine the colossal amount of sovereign power essential for the resurrection and ascension of our Savior. The same dynamic power is promised to believers. “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT).

Jesus’ pattern throughout his demanding ministry emphasized His discipline to focus on solitary time with His heavenly Father. Quality time spent with God provided Jesus with a boost of power and joy, reinforcing Jesus’ priorities and purposes on earth. God responded by empowering His Son with love, leadership, and strength. If Jesus required frequent refills of God’s gifts, how much more often we must request our hearts be filled to the brim with all the gifts God promises. If Christ, the perfect Son of God, could not operate independently on earth as a man without perpetual refills of God’s gifts, why do we arrogantly claim self-sufficiency apart from our heavenly Father? We are commanded to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Let us evaluate our position in prayer and our trek to the cross, where there is power in the victory our Savior attained for us. Jesus assures us of blessings aplenty, including life with Him eternally. If we occasionally withdraw from Jesus, as His disciples were so quick to do at the cross, let us then emulate their future commitment displayed at Pentecost: they prayed for courage to endure, power to carry on their Master’s work, and boldness to speak for their Lord.

I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central…Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, The Msg.).

It is no longer necessary to be jostled by crowds to ensure an audience with Jesus. He is listening this moment, waiting patiently to hear from you. Follow His directions for silent, sincere, steadfast, submissive supplication (Matthew 6:5-8). Jesus encourages us to leave our sins at the cross for forgiveness and to cast our cares at Him in prayer.

Let us not retreat from the two important journeys Jesus traveled on earth, but boldly seek His presence in prayer and the power of salvation He victoriously secured for us on the cross of Calvary.