God has really been stirring my heart lately about the importance of prayer. We have been adding some corporate prayer times to our monthly schedule as a church because we strongly believe that if we want to see the Spirit of God at work in a powerful way we must take prayer seriously. I don’t do this often, but I am sharing with you the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It is from Daniel 9:1-19 and in this passage Daniel reveals what it looks like to go beyond maintenance prayer to front line prayer. Once you click on it you can go to the 39:00 minute mark for the beginning of the sermon.
What would you say needs to change regarding the American church? How would you answer that question? I would like to make a strong biblical argument that what the American church needs the most is to repent of their sin and turn back to their first love.
Make no mistake about it, the primary problem for the Jews who were in exile in Babylon was that they had forgotten God and pursued after idols. God used the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment and hopefully to lead his people into repentance.
DA Carson, one of my professors from Trinity writes this, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” Repentance is a gift from our holy God and we desperately need it.
Passage: Daniel 4
19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and this thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! 20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. 23 And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ 24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, hand your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
God’s sovereignty is meant to encourage believers living in a Babylonian culture
I believe this is one of the main themes in the book of Daniel. It would have been completely understandable if the Jews who were in exile to have wondered what in the world God was up to. Truth be known, they should have figured out after all the prophets had warned Israel that they were in exile because of their rebellion against God. The Israelites were slow to learn. They are a lot like you and me.
How is God’s sovereignty being revealed in Daniel 4? King Nebuchadnezzar was absolutely filled with pride. He was responsible for building two ancient wonders of the world, the hanging gardens and the walls of Babylon. Both were massive and absolutely amazing. Nebuchadnezzar was the single most powerful man on earth and this point in time. In one second Nebuchadnezzar goes from being the most powerful man in the world to being humbled by living as if he were an ox. This demonstration of power by God reminded the Jews that their God was in control at all times.
It is also a reminder for you and me today that even though the pandemic is still raging, the political world is broken, that God is still in control. We should not be a people of fear, worry and anxiety. When people look at us they should see people who are hopeful and filled with joy because our God is good and he rules over the entire universe.
God will disturb our comfortable life to lead us to repentance
Nebuchadnezzar had the good life. He had all the money, power and fame that a person could ever hope for. Then God speaks to the king through a dream. Daniel must be brought in to interpret the dream. Basically God was warning Nebuchadnezzar that he is going to lose everything if he does not repent. 12 months go by and the king does not take the Word of God seriously. Nebuchadnezzar is humbled and made to live like an ox for seven years.
This reminds me of the story in Luke 12 where Jesus warns people about living for temporary pleasures by talking about the rich fool. In verse 19 we read this: Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays treasure up for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Are you pouring out your life for the good of others?
Are you tithing and giving generously?
How are you approaching retirement? The number one question you should be asking if you are thinking about retirement or if you are retired is this, how can I use these days for the good of others and for the glory of God?
God wants to use us in the lives of people who are in spiritual danger
God strategically placed Daniel in king Nebuchadnezzar’s life to point him to his great need for God. God has likewise placed each one of us where we are so that we can point people to Jesus.
Who are you reaching out to? Who are you discipling? (One of the most important questions Christians can ask and answer). Can we really say we are followers of Jesus if we are not obeying the Great Commission?
God’s people must be characterized by lives of deep worship
In verses 34-35 we find out how Nebuchadnezzar responds to his great humiliation.
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and she does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of the power and greatness of God led him to worship God. I believe this reveals that the king finally God it and embraced Yahweh as the one true God.
What are you worshipping these days? Are you drawing closer to Jesus or would you say that you have spiritually plateaued? Let’s all recommit to seeking after Jesus with all of our heart.
Do ya see? Do ya see?
All the people sinking down?
Dontcha care? Dontcha care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Oh, bless me Lord, bless me Lord
You know, it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts, no one even sheds one tear
But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back and keep soaking it in
Oh, can’tcha see it’s such sin?
‘Cause He brings people to your door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
“God bless you, be at peace”
And all heaven just weeps
‘Cause Jesus came to your door
You’ve left Him out on the streets
Open up, open up
And give yourself away
Ya see the need, ya hear the cries
So how can you delay?
God’s calling and you’re the one
But like Jonah, you run
He’s told you to speak
But ya keep holding it in
Oh, can’tcha see it’s such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed?
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, ya can’t even get out of bed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on, get out of your bed
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
And You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Don’t close your eyes, don’t pretend the job’s done
Come away, come away, come away with Me my love
Oh, come away from this mess
Come away with Me my love
Come away from this mess
Come away with Me my love
Come away, come away
Oh, come away with Me my love
Week 2-Idols and Repentance
Lent is primarily about focusing our hearts and minds on the glorious truths of the gospel. One of the things that keeps us from feasting on the gospel any time of the year is idolatry. (“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” -1 Corinthians 10:14). An idol is anything that we desire or treasure more than God. The tremendous challenge when it comes to talking about idolatry is that we can easily see when someone else has an issue with idolatry but it is really hard to recognize it in our own life. If we want more of Jesus we are going to have to repent of the things in our life that have become a god to us. Here are some diagnostic questions from David Powlison that will help us to see more clearly the idols that exist in our life.
- What do I worry about most?
- What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
- What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
- What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
- What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
- What do I lead with in conversations?
- Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?
- What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
- What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
- What is my hope for the future?
- What do you blog, tweet or post the most about on social networks?
As you answer these questions you can begin to see things, or people, that have become too important to you. The best way to deal with our idols is by turning to God’s Word. The passage of Scripture that I am recommending for you to meditate on is Psalm 51. Psalm 51 shows us how David responded after he had given into the lust of his heart and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Don’t just read the passage of Scripture. Slow down. Meditate on the words. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of areas of your life that you need to surrender. Ask God to give you the strength to, not merely confess your sin, but to truly hate it and repent of it.
• Psalm 51
Questions for Reflection
• What is God saying to you through this passage? What will your response be to what God is saying?
• Slowly read over the diagnostic questions. What do they reveal about what you value and treasure most in life?
• Parents, how can you communicate to your kids the dangers of idolatry? Have social media and Iphones become too important to them (sports, boyfriends, girlfriends, success, image)?
• In Psalm 51 David finally comes clean and truly repents of his sin. Is there someone you need to talk to about your battle with sin? Someone that can hold you accountable and help you find spiritual victory?
Picture is ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’ by Titian, 1556. Song is a cover of ‘Clear the Stage’ done by Jimmy Needham.
Is is possible that we have begun to believe that our methods, personality, strategies, intellect, and gifts are more important to the spiritual health of the church than a contrite heart and repentance?
The nation of Israel in 1 Samuel came to the conclusion that what they really needed most was a new king.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” -1 Samuel 8:4-5
Israel thought that the most important change they could make was to establish a earthly king. Time to upgrade from judges to a king. Certainly that will fix what ails them. They were making decisions based on worldly wisdom, not the Word of God.
We know this because God informs Samuel that Israel’s desire to have an earthly king reflects the fact that they have lost interest in him being their One rightful king.
7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. -1 Samuel 8:7
Let’s be honest. We do this kind of thing in the church and in our personal life all the time, don’t we? Think through these questions with me. What do you think your church needs most? Better preaching? Better Worship Team? Better Children’s Ministry? More emphasis on Missions? You name it. The list could go on and on.
The same kind of question(s) could be asked regarding our personal lives. What do you think you need the most? More time? Better salary? Better spouse? New house? New career?
Leaders, when was the last time you went to a church conference where the theme was repentance? I wonder why that is. Have we lost sight of the “methods” that God uses to change lives and churches?
The point that God was desperate to get across to his people in 1 Samuel is that what they needed most was not merely to tweak their programs or their personal lives. What they needed most was to repent of their sins.
3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. -1 Samuel 7:3
We could have the best of everything in our churches as far as staffing, resources, buildings, education, and strategy goes but if we are not seeking after God with all of our heart then it is all meaningless. Smoke with no fire. A show without substance.
One of the primary issues that is revealed in the book of 1 Samuel is that we all tend to seek after attractive substitutes (false kings) when we should be pursuing after God with a broken and contrite heart.
Blogging about this kind of stuff is really easy. I can type this out and my heart still be far from God. It would not be the first time that happened. Living it out is a whole different thing. I can say that 1 Samuel has created a strong conviction in my own life to turn from my pet sins and seek after God with a renewed sense of urgency and passion.