Practising Grace

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18

In our home there are three children, and when they were younger they took lessons on different musical instruments. It was not unusual to hear the sound of a flute coming from one room and the notes of a clarinet from another—and sometimes they both were drowned out by the noise of a French horn from a third room. The most concentrated practicing came when it was time for tryouts in the school band. Each one wanted to do his or her best, and sometimes the competition was fierce. The solution was to practice, practice, practice! That was the way our children could hone their musical skills, and many times they attained first chair as their prize.

It can be easy to forget that the necessity of practice applies to life skills, too. One example would be fitting into situations which we find uncomfortable but are an unavoidable part of life. Maintaining a joyful attitude even with associates who are difficult to be around may take practice. We may also have to deal with unruly family members, obstinate coworkers, or hard-to-please employers. It requires a lot of grace to deal with these things, and a lot of self-discipline to practice the grace of God when we need to.

Some try to run from opportunities to practice God’s grace. After all, it is not easy—if it were, we would not need His help. Yet, the objective we strive for is much more important than first chair in the school band. Perseverance under pressure can bring tremendous rewards! If we are patient and kind, we will be a blessing to those around us, even if they do not admit it. If we consistently practice honesty and integrity, everyone we meet will benefit. As we practice the attributes we know God expects us to have, we represent Christ and impress upon others His goodness and love for them.

With God’s help, we can learn to be gracious and upright wherever we are. Sometimes it seems impossible to be that kind of person in a difficult situation, and we may even feel that we have failed at first. But as we talk it over with the Lord and humbly ask Him to help us, He will show us how to practice the principles that enable us to grow in His grace.

Two Promises

“I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” – Judges 11:35

Before I became a Christian, I made a promise to God that if he would heal my mother, I would give my life to Him. I was in my late teens and my mother lay in bed, extremely sick. She had a terrible, large swelling on the side of her face and a very high fever for many days, and she began to lose all of the hair on her head. She was so ill that I began to worry that she would die. I cannot remember ever asking God for anything until that time, but one day I prayed, “God, if You will heal my mother and make her well, I will serve You.” God answered that prayer and my mother recovered.

Although I did not immediately keep my end of the deal, God held me to the promise I had made to Him. After a time, He put such conviction on my soul that I knelt before Him one Sunday morning, and asked for forgiveness. He saved and sanctified me that day.

Many years after that time, I was married for some time and wanted a child. One day I made another promise to God. This time I prayed, “God, if You will give me a child, I will teach that child about You.” Shortly thereafter God answered my prayer, and in time I gave birth to a baby boy. What a thrill it was for me to be a mother! I kept my promise to God and raised my son “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and today I am happy to say that he serves the Lord and is active in church work.

Many people make promises to God, especially if they want an answer to prayer. However, if we choose to promise God something, we must be sure to uphold our end of the deal in order to receive His blessing in our lives. How glad I am that I kept the promises I made to God! He always hears and answers our prayers when we are honest before Him. All we need to do is make our requests known to Him through “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6).

 

A Song with a Message

“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” – Luke 9:25

It was the 1930s, and business trends were still headed downward. There was rumor of upcoming salary cuts at the New York insurance office where a twenty-two-year-old clerk worked. Possessor of a deep, melodious voice, the young man was offered a radio contract. There was opportunity for fame and great financial gain if he would agree to regular performances on a secular program.

The young man had been pondering the matter for several days when he sat down at the piano early one Sunday to rehearse a hymn he was to sing in church. As he played, his mother brought him a piece of paper on which was written a poem by Rhea Miller. A Christian woman, she knew of the offer her son was pondering, and she desperately wanted him to be fully consecrated to God’s plan for his life.

He scanned the words on the paper before him.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,

I’d rather be His than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,

I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain,

Or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything,

This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause

I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,

I’d rather be true to His holy name.

 

The words hit their mark. In a few moments, his fingers unconsciously left the tune he was rehearsing and began to find the melody which is known today to millions.

The young man turned down the secular contract, and a short time later he was offered a position with a Chicago radio station where he could sing the Gospel songs he loved. While there, George Beverly Shea met Billy Graham—and that was the beginning of his sixty-year association with the Billy Graham evangelistic outreach. Because of his decision to follow God’s plan instead of his own, when the rich voice of this well-loved Gospel singer is but a memory, Christians around the world will continue to be inspired by his song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”

God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives, but we must choose whether or not we will follow Him. His plan for us is far greater than anything we could achieve on our own, and we will not regret any sacrifice made for Christ once we are in Heaven. Let us determine to allow the Lord to direct us, and then expect Him to do mighty things in our lives.

Giving to God First

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” – Malachi 3:10

As I sat and pondered the situation before me that night, overwhelming despair filled my heart. My business had been slow, receivables were behind, and there was one more month left than there was money in my checking account. A small check had come in, but it did not come near to paying the bills that were due. My daughter’s school tuition was also due again, and I did not have a clue how I was going to pay it if I paid my tithes. From my youth I had been taught to pay my tithes first, and I had always tried to do this. I knew the Lord would bless me if I honored him first.

For some time I sat there considering how my faith seemed to have already been stretched to the limit. I prayed again asking the Lord to provide and see me through. Then I wrote the tithes check in simple faith. On Sunday I placed the check in the tithes box at church. Sunday night after church, my pastor came up to me and handed me an envelope. “Someone gave this to me and said to give it to you,” he said. When I got in the car to go home, I looked inside the envelope. Enclosed were ten twenty-dollar bills. My heart jumped! We had enough money to pay a couple of bills and buy a little food. “Thank You, Lord” welled up in my heart as I drove home.

The next day I paid the bills I could, but still did not have the money to pay my daughter’s school tuition. I went to the post office and mailed the bills. As I opened my post office box, I found an envelope from a close relative. Inside was a check in the exact amount of the tuition! What a faith booster this has been for our family over the years as we reiterated God’s provision during those trying times!

When we honor God with our tithes and offerings, He honors and blesses us. That does not mean that if we need money, we should run out and give an offering in the hope that God will pour out money upon us. God also looks on the heart! But when prompted by the Holy Spirit to give of our resources for the furtherance of His work, we need to do so, even if it means sacrifice.

The Battlefield of the Mind

“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

When I was eighteen years old, I moved onto a university campus to begin my four-year college career. My mom later told me that she had been concerned about how my faith would hold up in a totally academic environment, and she was relieved when I settled on a school close enough to home that I could still go to church on Sundays. I drove home almost every weekend during the school year and went to church with my family.

It was not until I had graduated that I realized how valuable my time in church had been. I thought I was holding up just fine; I sought to be in the center of God’s will and even received the baptism of the Holy Spirit during the summer after my freshman year. However, a worldview had been subtly propagated on campus, and I was affected by it. In my classes we talked about the problems of the world and how they could be solved—clean water and microloans for Africa, dispute resolution in South Asia, and economic development for South America. Although they were well-intentioned ideas, the problem was that they left God out of the picture. My school, like most, was very humanistic. Students were told they could do anything they put their minds to, when the truth is that we can do all things through Christ. I am so thankful God helped me to refocus my ambitions toward the Gospel, but I know there are still many who will miss His call as they pursue an empty, humanistic purpose in life.

The Apostle Paul saw the “fight of faith” as a contest against ideas, philosophies, and general thought patterns that are opposed to God’s Word. And he defined his goal as a minister of the Gospel in terms of a spiritual warfare. The military imagery used in today’s focus verse suggests that controlling the mind is no light matter—this is a war.

Paul identified any ideas that were not consistent with divine revelation as “imaginations” that must be cast down. He did not aim to present the Gospel as one among many valid philosophies of life; rather, he was determined to abolish every school of thought that did not align with the truth, and bring “every thought” into captivity—under the control of Jesus Christ. He recognized that adopting the world’s values and courting the world’s approval leaves God out, the One who is our only hope of salvation.

As Christians, we are called to battle with our “loins girt about with truth” (Ephesians 6:14). As we look to the Spirit of God, He will help us distinguish between the world’s philosophies and Christ’s truth, and to maintain pure and holy minds in an ungodly world.

Cultivating Good Crops

“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.” – Genesis 3:17-18

Farming is not easy work. A farmer labors to plow, plant, and cultivate his crop, all the while knowing that his efforts will pay off only if the weather and other external factors are positive. For a successful harvest, he is ultimately dependent on things only God can provide: sunshine, adequate rainfall, and protection from insect infestations and natural disasters, to name a few.

Even though the farmer cannot control his environment, he continues to diligently attend to his responsibilities of plowing, planting, cultivating, weeding, fertilizing, and tending to his crop. The farmer cannot do what God must do to make the crops grow, and God will not do what the farmer should do.

Raising crops became difficult when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. As a punishment for their sin, God cursed the ground so that food would not grow without much labor from man. Another result of their sin was that mankind fell from a state of moral perfection, which means that it also takes work to maintain holiness in our hearts. Only God can make us holy, but we have a part to contribute as well, and God will not do our part.

When we have been saved from our sins, God will wonderfully sanctify us and eradicate our sinful natures. However, we still have a responsibility: even though the experience of sanctification is instantaneous, we must continue to keep the ground in our hearts well-cultivated by the Word of God, watered through prayer, and nourished by intake of the Scripture. Any “weeds” that might hinder our spiritual growth must be removed quickly, and we need to keep a watchful eye out for any “insects” or undesirable elements that would damage or destroy the spiritual fruit we are to produce. In short, there is an ongoing requirement to exercise diligence to keep ourselves unspotted from the world’s influence, and to grow in our relationship with God.

In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul told members of the Early Church in Corinth, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” If we do that, God will keep us holy and help us to grow in Him.

Speak Life

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” – Proverbs 18:21

A few years ago my daughter was experiencing some difficulties in her third-grade class. The school year started off fine, but in early November, her test scores began to slip. Other parents were also saying that their children were not scoring well, which seemed unusual. I spoke to the teacher to see what the problem was, and to my surprise I discovered that much of the material on the tests was not being taught in class. Needless to say, I was quite upset, and so was my daughter, who now believed she was not smart and feared repeating the third grade if she did not pass the upcoming city-wide exams.

Whether it was in the schools or on the nightly news, it seemed like everyone was talking franticly about the third-grade city-wide exams. I knew that my daughter’s self-confidence would be destroyed if she did not pass these tests, and I started to realize I had to do something to help her. I asked God for instructions on how to reverse the situation. God specifically told me to put a Scripture in her lunchbox every day—food for her body and her spirit. That is what I did, knowing that before I could begin to tutor her in school subjects, her confidence needed to be rebuilt with words of life.

The day of the big test finally came. That morning we prayed together and had our last pep talk, and then we went to school and she took her tests. About two months later the results came in: she passed both the reading and the math tests! We literally jumped up and down with joy and relief!

How wonderful that even in a situation like this, God can give specific instructions on how to solve our problems. Putting Scripture into a daughter’s lunchbox is not a solution that most people would think of, yet that is just what she needed to overcome her fear and self-doubt. Our focus verse tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and I believe God was instructing me to speak life to my daughter. Indeed, from time to time we all need to be reminded of who God is and what He can do, and who we are in Christ—“We are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). When we or a loved one is facing a daunting trial, let’s chose to speak life!

Fourscore Years

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow.” – Psalm 90:10

Fourscore years! As the decades roll by, we pass the milestones of twenty, forty, sixty, then eighty. And each group of years has its own activities and responsibilities. During the first score of years, we are growing and being schooled in and out of classrooms. By age twenty some have married, some have been called into the military, some have gone to college, and all have more or less grown up. Then comes the second score of years. We are finding our niche in the workplace, establishing homes, and raising and caring for our families and loved ones.

Between forty and sixty we are still raising families, and grandchildren are likely entering the picture. These years can still be very active, though we may begin to look forward to retirement. From sixty to eighty we start to recognize the telltale signs of old age. After we retire we may find that time can be heavy on our hands, but still there are things to do and we try to remain active.

Then comes eighty-plus—notice there is not much said about the fifth score of years. At that point we are walking one day at a time, and in some cases one step at a time. Many—or even most—of our old friends and associates are gone, but still we continue to do what we can.

Our focus verse points out that life is short and, in many ways, difficult. Simply being human provides enough challenges to keep us busy for an entire lifetime, yet we know that once our work is over, the trials here will be forgotten. Realizing this reminds us to use our time wisely—to focus on what will last in eternity. No matter what our stage in life, we can choose to dedicate our time to God, and only then will our efforts have a lasting effect.

How sad it would be to finish fourscore years and then realize that life has been only “labour and sorrow.” Instead, when our lives are over, we want to know we have accomplished God’s will for us and held nothing back from Him. This short verse I wrote several years ago can be our aim:

One more mile, one more hour, one more effort, one more tear;

Then my path may lead me to the feet of my Lord.

Then I would not ask for riches nor a scepter or a crown;

Just His smile will be my reward.

 

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Oh what music to my ear!

Just to know my Lord was satisfied

With the way I served Him here.

 

So I’ll gladly follow Jesus through my life’s remaining while.

I’ll take up my cross and follow one more mile.

Faith Building

“Pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Not long ago, I was teaching a Sunday school class on the importance of prayer. At the end of the class, I wrote the students’ prayer requests down on pieces of paper and asked one of them to take the requests to the prayer room. As he left, another student became worried and kept asking me, “Did he get my deposit slip?”

The phrasing of his question made me think of how we go to the bank and make deposits into our savings account. Likewise, every time we choose to trust God and pray about a situation, it is as though we are making deposits into our “faith bank.” As we see our prayers answered, it builds up our faith. If we never made a prayer deposit, our faith would not grow, but we see much growth when we pray often.

In our focus verse, Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing. We should be praying about every decision we make, and every situation in which we find ourselves. We need to have complete dependency on our heavenly Father, knowing we cannot do one thing without Him. Then, just imagine how quickly our faith will build up! By making prayer deposits constantly, we will start to grasp how willing God is to work on our behalf, and we will trust Him with even bigger concerns and needs.

When we start the morning with devotions and prayer, we do not have to end our communication with God by saying “amen.” Instead, we can continue that prayer as we go about our daily tasks at home, at work, or at school. We can have a constant attitude of prayer, and be always ready for an opportunity to be used by God. When someone comes to our minds that we have not seen or heard from for a long time, we will instinctively send up a quick prayer for that person.

In Philippians 4:6 we are reminded, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” That thanksgiving is important because we owe everything we have to God. As we pray more and our faith builds, we will find ourselves automatically thanking God for what He has already done for us. And as we thank Him, we realize nothing is impossible with our heavenly Father.