If I were to ask you to list some of the most popular Christians throughout human history, who would be on your list? Maybe some people from the Bible, such as Paul, Moses or David. Or perhaps you would think of some in the past few hundred years, such as Charles Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor or Ann Judson. However, for every one of those more popular saints, there has been hundreds and thousands of individuals who worked behind the scenes and accomplished great things for the cause of Christ.
Our reading this morning brings us to a list of Christians that would fit this description. In Romans 16, Paul takes the time to list and mention brothers and sisters in Christ that were a blessing to him. His description of these men and women only prove to show his admiration for them: “my beloved”, “my kinsmen”, “my helpers”. These are folks that were a help to Paul in his ministry, no doubt a help that if it had not been there would have severely hurt the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry. Perhaps some of these folks were encouragers or prayer warriors while others may have been blessed with the ability to help Paul financially.
What about us? No doubt very few if any of us will attain the Christian “status” of a D.L Moody or a Oswald Chambers. But God still calls us to be faithful where we are at doing what we are called to do. Whether it be a faithful Sunday School teacher who prayers for his or her students daily or a greeter who welcomes people every Sunday with a smile. God sees, God knows, and God will reward in eternity. I wonder if in heaven some of the well-known preachers of our day will lose some of their fame and popularity while God rewards faithful preachers whose congregation never experienced the same kind of dynamic growth and numbers but who instead just remained faithful where God had them for as long as He wanted them there. After all, in the end, it is “God that giveth in the increase”. (1 Cor.3:6)
“I need that donut!”
I think quietly to myself as my mouth begins to salivate. The truth is, as my mom used to say, “You need that like you need a hole in your head.” We are prone to dupe ourselves into believing a lie. David knew all about self-deceit. He had been tortured by its grip long enough and there was plenty of damage which was evidence of how cut-throat deception can be.
The term David uses is “guile” (Psalm 32:2), and for the next few verses, he begins to peel back the mask of his self-deception to reveal the true person. He describes “when I kept silence, my bones waxed old…thy hand was heavy upon me, and my moisture was turned to drought.” He was one step away from death and his foot was on a banana peel! He realized he would either take this to the grave or let God take it to the cross. He came clean. He acknowledged his sin to God. The result was the transfusion of ice in his veins with the warmth of blessedness.
“Blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no guile.”
This word guile is inextricably tied to another person in Scripture—Jacob. He came with subtilty (Genesis 27:35 uses the same root word) and swindled the birthright from Esau. Even when God came to Jacob in Bethel, he pretended everything was okay. He played his own version of “Let’s Make a Deal” with God refusing to come clean during God’s invitation. Only after Jacob was the victim of similar shenanigans when Laban switched the bride on him (Genesis 29:25 again uses the same root word here), was Jacob about ready to come clean. Finally, as he wrestled with God, he admitted, “I am Jacob.” In effect, I am the deceiver.
“Blessed is the man in whose spirit there is no guile.”
Jacob does receive a blessing from God. Pure in motive and honest in self-image, this was the noble identification of God’s people (John 1:47; Revelation 14:5). Decide to throw yourself upon the mercy of God without guile. Do not pretend any longer. Recognize that we are all sinners, and hopefully, you are a sinner saved by grace.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Three times in Job 13 you find the word “hold.” Job is at his wit’s end. This is the end of the first of three cycles of speeches among the four men. Job demands, “O that ye would altogether hold your peace! And it should be your wisdom” (Job 13:5). Later he pleads, “Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, And let come on me what will” (Job 13:13). Is Job giving up?
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). This statement is as much defiant frustration as it is Job’s reliant focus. He expects to represent his case before God. How can the Infinite Being possibly unleash this much terror on such an insignificant creature (Job 13:21)? If Job were to not voice his defense he would “give up the ghost” (Job 13:19).
However, the silence which he can’t shake is the brassy silence of the heavens. The One he wishes to hear from has remained silent. Silence is not golden, especially when the One you most desperately wish to hear does not speak. Here is the question every one of us struggles with just like Job did: Does God’s silence mean He’s absent?
Charles Spurgeon said, “Many…owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” There is no greater life than our Savior as He hung on the cross. Did he hear any resounding answer after He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)? The heavens were essentially silent. This, Jesus bore to validate the statement he “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He knows your pain. He too has been there.
King David had his share of trouble on this earth. Like us, some were self-inflicted. Retrospectively, I search my life and wonder how would it have been if I had not stepped on so many of the landmines of life. I always admired David for his life of praise. Despite his troubles, he always turned to the Lord and gave Him the praise due.
When I read through the Psalms, I am convicted of my lack of praise. I try to increase my praise, but the troubles of life and the cares of the world seem to interfere. The problem is the focus, or the lack thereof. When the hounds are clawing at the door, I am crawling to the Lord in prayer and praise. But where are we, when the seas of solitude surround us? When all is calm, does God find us praising Him? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are in the same boat. We must strive to praise God more each day for the great and wonderful things He does (Ps. 86:10)! Let praise be the first thing on our mind when we awake.
Years ago, my pastor delivered a wonderful message about praising God and I committed to praising Him more. The next morning, while I was driving to work, the Arizona sunrise was awesome. The sun was blood red, the sky was afire and the desert floor appeared as if I were surrounded by an ocean. I broke out in a praise-fest. Out loud, I lifted the floors of Heaven with praise and thanksgiving. Making a joyful noise (far from what you would call angelic) I sang to God. My mind was focused fully on God. But then the world tugged me back out of the praise session when I realized I was going about 85 mph in a 55 zone! My heart started to beat with panic. I braked and looked around for an officer on this lonely highway. I could see it now. A highway patrolman giving me a ticket for praising God in a reckless manner! Truly God would love for us to be that focused on Him; minus the recklessness.
One of my biggest concerns is when I enter into the presence of God one of my shortcomings will be lack of praising God in this life; in this, I stand guilty. But, all of us are guilty to varying degrees. The Bible says in 1Th.5:17 Pray without ceasing. If one would study the model of prayer in Luke 11:2-4 (commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer) you would find the format for prayer. First and foremost, is acknowledging that God is our “Father” and that He is far and above us. The next verse is, “hallowed” be Thy name. That is praise! Praise and prayer are not always about asking. So if we continually praise God throughout our day we are following 1 Th. 5:17 by praying (praising) without ceasing. There are days I wish I would have gotten a ticket. I could use it as evidence when I face God. Lord thank you for fingers to type this letter… Let us resolve to praise Him; Who alone is worthy.
“Things I’ve Learned from my Children.”
A mother once recorded, “I’ve learned that a king size water bed has enough water to fill a 2000 square foot house four inches deep. I’ve learned that a three-year-old’s voice is louder than two hundred adults in a crowded restaurant. I’ve learned that double-paned windows are not strong enough to stop a baseball that has been hit by a ceiling fan. Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke and lots of it. Playdough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence. Superglue is forever. No matter how much Jell-O you put in the swimming pool, you can’t walk on the water. Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.”
Maybe this mother could relate to the phrase found four times in the book of Judges, “The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel” (Judges 2:14, 20; 3:8; 10:7). It comes as no surprise when you read through the flawed leaders and fickle people. Judges is a complicated book because you aren’t certain how to classify the personalities. During childhood, the stories we cut our teeth on train us that there is a good side and a bad side. The good side is always good and the bad side is definitively bad. However, Judges debunks the theory and actually shows us the raw material God uses to accomplish His will. You want to classify Barak as a hero, but he wanted Deborah to hold his hand. You want to think Jephthah is a self-made man, but he was a leader of outlaws and offers his own daughter on the altar in order to fulfill an unnecessary and rash vow. Gideon may seem meek and noble especially when he refuses to be crowned king. “And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23). However, look out later when he takes the spoils of war and makes a golden ephod which the people went “a whoring after it” (Judges 8:27).
The power of Biblical stories is what at first is a picture becomes a mirror. What begins as a story becomes a biographical sketch. “There is none good but one, that is, God,” but, as for the rest of us, we are like the fickle people and flawed leaders (Mark 10:18). After reading today’s passage, it is time for a helpful reminder, “Charity suffereth long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). We all need God’s longsuffering. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).
So, today, give thanks for the Lord’s longsuffering and remember the grain of human frailty runs in us all.