How To Cultivate Faithful Obedience

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 5.30.59 PMWe have been reading testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the lives of Christian women in the series of Faithful Obedience (we’ll read many more in the next months), and we have seen how these women have learned, by God’s grace, to respond in obedience to God’s will for them.

But maybe you have been reading this series and keep thinking how is it even possible to learn to respond in this way? How can these women face chronic diseases, the loss of husbands, infertility, the loss of children, the diagnose of breast cancer with such a humble and joyous heart? How is it possible to open our hands and receive God’s will for us with so much gratitude even when it looks like a heavy loss? Yes, you have been going to church for many years but you wonder if you would be able to respond in faithful obedience to God’s Providence in your life when a hard Providence comes your way?

The truth is that none of us will be able to submit to God’s will with joy and gratitude and faithful obedience on our own strength. None of us. We are shortsighted, our vision most of the times is blurry. Left to our own, we can’t submit joyfully to what we don’t understand. And faithful obedience to God seems just something beyond our capacity. So how can we cultivate this kind of response in all sort of trials?

Our brothers and sisters who have gone through the toughest trials, have been able to submit willingly and joyfully to God, and to respond in faithful obedience to Him because they have learned to do one thing consistently: look up to Jesus. And Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith, the One who is sited at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.

And how do we keep looking up to Christ? How does that look like? “Look up to Christ” is not an inspirational phrase, but a reality that has the power to sustain us through it all.

1. We first look up to Christ when we recognize that we can’t do anything to save ourselves from our own sin and the consequences of our sins -or the sin in the world (sickness, abuses done to us, etc). This is the place to start because only those who look up to Christ can be saved. And only those who have been saved can look up to Him for comfort, strength, mercy, and grace.

2. We look up to Christ when we take God’s Book, the Bible, and see Jesus on each one of its pages. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us and the way to come to Him in the Scriptures. We have not been left to ourselves to try to imagine God or find our own way to Him. Who He is and how we can approach Him is written, so we open our Bible and read it.

When we read our Bibles we are confronted with the Holiness of God and the Spirit convicts us of our sins. The Holy Spirit then uses the same Word of God to bring us repentance and wash us, and transform us into the likeness of Jesus. And once our sins are forgiven, we can see more clearly what a wonderful Savior we have in Jesus. We look up to see Him without a veil in our eyes we see Him more clearly and brightly.

We look up to Christ when we read our Bibles because it is a way of saying “I truly don’t know the way, Lord. Teach me your ways and guide me in them. I want to obey you in the here and in the now.” And on the other hand, when we fail to come to consistently to the Word of God, we are in a way saying, “I know the way, I can be my own guide” and in doing so we deliberately take off our eyes from Jesus and put them in ourselves, or in an idol that we think can save us.

We look up to Christ each day when we read our Bible because it is only there that we can see Jesus as the source of food that sustains and water that quenches our thirst. We look up to Christ when we read His Word because it is there that we come to understand that He Himself is our shelter and sure help in time of need. The journey is long and only those who eat the Word and delight in it will find the strength needed to persevere until the end.

In our Bibles we can also read the warnings of all the dangers and the enemies that we must face. But as we read chapter after chapter, book after book, we learn how we are to fight in this world -and we read how victory is only possible to those who have their eyes fixed on Jesus, to those who persevere looking up, waiting on Him for their deliverance.

We also find in the pages of the Bible the promises of God which belong to His children. Promises that build up our faith, that cause us to rejoice in the midst of a storm, that remind us of the hope that we have -one that is never in vain. Promises that point us to Jesus and remind us to live looking up to Him.

And the more we come to the Word, the more Scripture we intake, memorize, mediate, and believe, the more we will be ready to use it as the only effective sword to fight the Devil, our own sinful thoughts , and our feelings when they rebel against God.

3. We also look up to Christ when we pray without ceasing, for there is nothing like a life of prayer to declare how much we need Christ and how lost we are without Him.

A Christian who loves the Word of God loves to pray, and a Christian who loves to pray loves the Word of God. These two can never be separated. If we separate them our time in the Word will be fruitless and dry, and our prayer life will lack substance and words. The whole Bible is full of examples of prayers so that we may learn how to pray in all circumstances. When we cannot find the right words to pray and our minds are heavy and confused, we can find in the Psalms the words to express our anxieties, our fears, our many “Why, God?” and “How long, Oh, Lord?” Jesus prayed these prayers and in His name we can pray them too.

It is only through the merits of Jesus that we can approach the Throne of Grace and find grace and mercy in time of need. And it is only in the name of Jesus that we can make our requests of God with the certainty that He will hear us. How can we not look up to Christ if He is the way to the Father of all Comfort?

4. Another way in which we look up to Christ is when look around and see how many brothers and sisters we have in Christ. When we stand in the congregation of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and are ready to encourage many and be encouraged by others in the Lord, we are, in a very practical way, looking up to head of body which is Christ. Sometimes we will have the opportunity to give a glass of water to one who thirsts, but many other times, God will put us on the other end. And when that times come, we must be ready to stretch out our hand in gratitude and receive that glass of water that we desperately need as if the Lord Jesus Himself were giving it to us -because He is indeed.

So we look up to Christ when we look up to Him to be saved, when we are in the Word of God each day, when we live a life of dependence to Him praying at all times, and when we are an active part of the body of Christ, serving others and being served by them too.

When we live looking up to Christ, we will find that faithful obedience will become the natural response to His Providence in our life. And by “natural” I don’t mean that it will necessarily be easy every time, but that it will always be possible.*

The more we train ourselves to look up to Christ, to be in the Word, to live by prayer, to do life with other believers, the more we will long to respond in faithful obedience. “Not my will but yours be done” will become the heart of each one of our prayers.

The Lord has prepared many circumstances to test us and to teach us to respond in faithful obedience to Him. He has prepared seasons of want and seasons of plenty, and in both we are called to walk in obedience, just like Jesus did. We must learn to ask ourselves, how does faithful obedience would look like in my present circumstance?

Look up to Christ even today so that through His merits, His perfect life, His perfect death, and His perfect obedience to the Father, you may find great satisfaction in obeying Him in whatever season He may have you now.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

 

 

 

* I learned this from Elisabeth Elliot. In her book Discipline: the glad surrender she wrote,”Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.”

Photo by Jan Romero via Unsplash

The Paradox of His Providence

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Susannah Spurgeon wrote, after the death of her husband,  an encouraging prayer that will do us well to learn:

“Dear Lord, this is a paradox of Your providence, which both manifests and magnifies the glorious sovereignty of Your grace! Give us such true and tender trust in You, that Your “dealings” may never perplex or terrify us; but, rather, be the openings and discoveries of Your covenant love. Let us learn to read Your ways with us, as a skillful reader interprets a choice book, seeing the sentences in advance, as it were, and thus rendering a clear and continuous impression of the author’s mind and purpose.”*

May God continue to help us learn how to read His Providence as we open His Word and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us, to encourage us, and to increase our faith.

Under His sun and by grace,

Becky Pliego

 

 

 

* http://gracegems.org/SERMONS2/a_basket_of_summer_fruit.htm

 

 

 

Praying Without Ceasing

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“Pray without ceasing” is the apostle’s instruction for the saints (1 Thess. 5:17). And some may ask, how do we even do that? But maybe the question we should be asking is this one, How can pretend we can live this day without praying without ceasing?

The moment we get up from bed (or even in bed!) our minds start to rush. So many things to be done, things to be said -and not said-, decisions that we must make, expenses that we must plan. We receive many texts and emails with prayer requests. Our own burdens are present, we know there are hard fights we must face. How will we go through all these?  “Pray without ceasing,” we read.

Praying without ceasing is a command, but if you think about it, it is also a wonderful balm. The fact that we can come to God in prayer every day and all day long and lay all our petitions and anxieties at the feet of Jesus is an invaluable gift of grace.

We must carry our cross, yes, but not on our own, there are mercy and grace to help us in time of need at the throne of Grace. We just need to draw close before this heavenly throne in the name of Jesus. Oh, that we may have eyes to see this as the reality it is! The fountain of mercy and grace is open for us every day all day long! There is no need for us to walk through the day carrying our own burdens and trying to alleviate our own anxieties; we can pray without ceasing! That is our privilege as children of God. That is our right as coheirs of the grace of God with Christ Jesus our Lord.

So just as we breath to inhale oxygen, we pray to receive mercy and grace. We make dinner and pray. We drive running errands and remember a portion of the Bible we read in the morning and also our friend in need and so we pray the Words of God back to Him. We listen to our audio Bible as we fold laundry and as we listen we are reminded to pray for someone in a very specific way. We receive a prayer request and we pray -right there. We are about to have an important meeting, we pray asking God for help. We sin and we pray. We fight sin and we pray. Until we are called to God’s presence, there will be no ceasing of our battles, so why would we cease to pray?

Praying without ceasing is what we do because we know how great is our need and how compassionate is our God. We pray without ceasing because if we don’t we will despair and find ourselves buried under our anxious thoughts. We pray without ceasing because we know down deep in our hearts and in our bones, that we can do nothing apart from Jesus. We know that apart from Him there are no answers to our questions, no peace for our hearts, no place to find rest. We pray without ceasing because how can we not if there are so many needs around us and in our own lives? We pray without ceasing because how can we not?

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

Photo by Alyson McPhee on Unsplash

Pray Expecting Answers

IMG_0923We have the Psalms, the prayers of the apostles, the prayers of many saints in Church history recorded for us; we know that Jesus himself taught us how to pray and we still feel that we don’t know how to pray.  We still feel inadequate and that our words are never the right ones. We don’t know what to ask for or how to ask for some things. We are Reformed Christians, we believe in God’s sovereignty and so we try our best not to sound like those who name and claim promises and demand answers from God as if they had the power to do so.

But I am afraid that because of this idea of wanting to pray aright -according to each of the points on which our theology stands – the prayer life of many has lost all fervency. The words that come out from our mouths are as dry as our hearts. Our eyes never cry because we don’t let them do so. We are more worried about controlling our emotions than the Psalmist. We know the motions and so we pray the Lord’s prayer not daring to be specific in our prayers. Our favorite prayer is “Let your will be done, Lord” and often pray it holding back, like in a strong dam, all that we really want to say.

Friends, it will do us good to read more of  what the Puritans, Spurgeon, Ryle, Pink, Owens, have written and learn from them how to be good theologians on our knees. The secret I have found in the writings of these men is that the main thing that ruled their prayer life was this: they all knew God and knew that God hears our prayers and answers His children. They prayed with fervency and much confidence. They knew that no Christian prays in vain, that no Christian waits in vain, that no Christian claims to God in vain. They all prayed expecting answers from God.

We should take our Bibles and pray the Scriptures back to God, and do it fervently, trusting that our prayers do reach the ear the Lord. But along with the Scriptures, we must also bring our anxieties, our own individual petitions -big and small-, our fears, our longings before God. We can earnestly plead to Him and ask for His divine intervention and trust that He will come and meet us in our needs. This is not arrogance, this is what coming boldly before the throne of grace in Jesus’ name looks like (Heb. 4:16).

O, how we need to pray more from the heart. How we need to expect more answers from the Lord. Why do we come to prayer more often than not, thinking that God will not answer us? Or why when we pray we think that He will always say no to our petitions? Haven’t we forgotten that God is our good Father who LOVES (yes, all caps!) to give good gifts to His children (Mt.11)? Haven’t we forgotten that He will never withhold from His people good gifts (Ps.84:11)? How we need to be reminded in our prayer closet of the words of the apostle Paul, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)!

Let us be praying people, but let us pray knowing that our God hears us and rewards those who seek Him: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb.11:6)

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

Recommended book: The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, a collection of sermons by C.H. Spurgeon edited by Robert Hall.