Consider Your Ways

Nothing can warp your priorities like an unhealthy dose of self-interest. When your view of the world can’t extend beyond the mirror, your spiritual vision becomes clouded. When you over value your self-image, you will discipline your kids for misbehavior because they have embarrassed you, not because they have disobeyed.

Being too interested in your own image in parenting means you care more about how others perceive you than you do about your own child’s heart. When you are driven by selfish ambition, your family, friends, church, and God will inevitably take a back seat. You can’t pursue God’s glory with your life if you are pursuing your own.

Haggai’s first sermon-like message to the people of Israel was a call for them to “consider their ways.” The Lord himself said the Jews had reasoned among themselves that it was not the right time to rebuild the house of the Lord. The time didn’t seem right because their priorities weren’t right. Rebuking them, the Lord calls the Jews “these people” rather than “my people” indicating that their pursuit of self-glory was reorienting the focus of their worship.

While the Jews were diligent to rebuild their own homes, they feared there weren’t enough finances or materials to take on a temple reconstruction project. But the fact remained: their homes were complete, while God’s house was in ruins. God didn’t need a home in order to have a place to dwell, but the temple was the central location of God’s dwelling place with his people. The problem is clear: God’s people prioritized their prosperity over God’s presence.

If we aren’t careful, we will fall into the same trap as the Israelites. If we don’t stop to consider our ways, we will find ourselves pursuing personal prosperity over the Lord’s presence. Through Christ, we have access to God’s presence that ancient Israel never even dreamed of having.

To neglect the presence of God by prioritizing anything in our lives over pursuing him in his Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers is to turn the gospel on its head. We have been brought near to God through the work of Christ, so it would be foolish to intentionally move away from him for the sake of personal prosperity that will soon pass away.


The Blood-Bought Joy of Prayer

One spring morning, as I sat on the patio enjoying a cup of coffee and the warm light from the sun beaming from the east, with no clouds to hide it, I prepared to open God’s Word and soak in its satisfying content. I was listening to “Before the Throne of God Above”[1] in the background as I prayed for God to bless the reading of his Word and to give me the grace to understand and the desire to obey what I read. In the middle of my prayer, I burst out in song as this verse began:

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Yes, right in the middle of my prayer, I lifted my voice in praise of my sinless Savior. Without Jesus satisfying the wrath of God, his righteous wrath would remain on me (John 3:36). The truth of the gospel and the work of Jesus in it caused me to ponder the joy of prayer. I realized that I can only make this plea to God because my sinless Savior took my punishment, took my shame, and took my guilt, so that I may be free to cry in the Spirit, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15)!

I stand before the throne of God guiltless, blameless, and free

Hebrews 4:14-16 shows us the importance of Christ’s sinlessness and his temptation, as well as giving us the basis for our confidence to approach the throne of God in prayer.

Fully Tempted

Jesus Christ was fully tempted. There are many reasons why this is important, but pertinent to our discussion here, his temptation is vital so he can sympathize with us. In other words, the intervention and pleading that Jesus does on our behalf is personal. It is not a general grace but a personal grace. Our pleas are not only heard but also felt. This goes to the heart of the nature of the God we serve, love, and have. He is set apart from all other gods as a transcendent and personal God! This means that prayer is not a super-spiritual rite or performance in order to obtain righteousness. Prayer is instead a means of grace through which we fellowship and commune with an eternal God who not only comforts us in our weaknesses but also can fully identify with them.

Wholly Sinless

Jesus was not only fully tempted, but he was also entirely sinless through all temptation. It is great that Christ can identify with us to a certain level, and I am eternally glad and grateful for this. But if he could fully identify with us even in sin, this would be detrimental and the end of the Christian faith. We identify with Adam in the sense that we are tempted as he was and in the sense that we sin as he did. (See Genesis 3.)

However, Christ is the second Adam, the new Man, who was tempted as we are, and as Adam was, but Christ did not sin. Jesus obeyed where Adam did not and where we do not. Adam’s only hope—and ours as well—is in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which he accomplished through much temptation to sin. As a result of this perfect righteousness, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, a lamb without blemish, to be condemned in our place. Jesus’ sinlessness means that he is able to take our sin upon himself, and by offering himself as this perfect sacrifice, he becomes our great High Priest through whom we approach the throne of God.

Draw Near with Confidence

This passage does not mean that when you pray to God for something to happen that it automatically will. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his side to be removed. (See 1 Cor. 12:7-9.) He prayed through the same Christ and approached the same throne of God with the same confidence that we do, yet the thorn in his flesh remained. His request was denied. Sometimes, God may want to demonstrate the power of his grace through your endurance through suffering. He may want to teach you that his grace is sufficient.

However, what is certain is the way for us to receive grace and mercy for our souls, and in our lives, is to approach God’s throne. Reformed theologian, John Frame writes, “So [Jesus] is the only person who can give us access to the Father. We come through him because he has made the final sacrifice. When he died, the veil of the temple was torn in two, so the Lord opened wide our access to him (Heb. 10:22).”

We can approach the throne of God in prayer confidently only on the basis of what Christ has done on our behalf. “[H]e entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats or calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). The atoning sacrifice of Christ is eternally successful “because of the superiority of the one who offers and is offered.”[3] On our own merit, we do not have the right to approach God, for if we did, we would surely die. But with Christ Jesus as our substitute and our great High Priest, we can with full confidence ask God to bless us and to give us grace and mercy in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

How God responds to our prayers is not the basis of our confidence in asking. A child does not base his confidence in asking his dad or mom for a gift on the guarantee they will say yes. He is confident in asking his parents for a gift because of the relationship he has with them. So it is with prayer. We should be confident to ask of God anything on the basis of our relationship with him. In short, we can be confident because Christ has restored us to God! We can be confident in prayer because the gospel demands it.

The Nature of Prayer Because of Christ

The significance of Hebrews 4:14-16 is massive. I wish to leave you with three aspects of prayer that I hope will encourage you to pray more and to discover the blood-bought joy of prayer. Prayer is now personal, powerful, and pleasing because of the work of Christ.

  1. Prayer is personal because the Christ through whom we pray identifies with our temptation and sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Through him, we personally commune with God, our Father.
  2. Prayer is powerful because our pleas are heard by an omnipotent God. The one we approach in prayer is the God who gives sight to the blind and life to the dead, the one who sits on the throne of glory. But prayer itself from our perspective takes power in the work of Christ in his intervention and pleading on our behalf. It is in Jesus’ name we pray.
  3. Prayer is pleasing to both God and us because God desires to give his children good gifts and we desire to be in fellowship with him. We have peace with God because of our justification before him in Christ (Rom. 5:1). And this peace is pregnant with pleasure (Rom. 5:2). So prayer goes from being a meaningless rite to a glorious joy-producing means of grace.

Pray in Christ. Pray for joy. God is glorified when you pray this way.

[1] Charitie Lees Smith (1863).

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing Company, 2013), 1055.

[3] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011),, 497.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and other book retailers.

How Have You Loved Us?

Have you ever found yourself questioning God’s love? Being the fickle people that we are, we give our circumstances far too much respect and power over our lives. We encounter a God in the Bible who has expressly said and shown that he has loved us. We love to sing, teach, preach, and share of God’s love. But the moment we don’t feel God’s love, we begin to question whether he ever loved us to begin with.

Loss often leads us to doubt God’s love. If we lose a job, lose a family member, lose our health, lose a relationship, or lose status, we wonder where God’s love has gone. We equate God’s love with blessing. We forget that the God who gives is also the God who takes away (Job 1:21). We view God’s love only in terms of the good things we receive from him. Oh, how fickle we are.

Malachi’s prophecy opens with a flooring statement of his love. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. The first word from the Lord to his people who are unashamed of their sin and apathetic in their worship is an overwhelming word of grace. God simply, yet profoundly says, “I have loved you.”

But the people of Israel ask a question you and I ask in the depths of our hearts when we walk through difficult circumstances: “How have you loved us?” What would you expect God to say in response? How has he shown his love to his people? I automatically think of the exodus, the conquering of the Promised Land, choosing to dwell with Israel in the Tabernacle and Temple, preserving his people in exile, and bringing them back to their homeland. The examples of God’s love for Israel in the Old Testament are endless.

However, the example God gives for how he has loved his people extends back to the time of the patriarchs. God loves his people because he “loved Jacob and hated Esau.” In other words, God loves his people today because he freely chose to love them in the first place. Both Jacob and Esau proved their unworthiness of God’s love in their lives, but before either of the twins was born, God freely chose to set his electing love on Jacob and not Esau (Rom. 9:6-13).

How has God loved his people? He has loved them by freely choosing to love them when nothing compelled him to love them. Esau was Jacob’s twin brother. By cultural standards, Esau deserved his father’s blessing, but God chose to set his covenant love on the younger brother, Jacob. God’s love for his people, his love for you, is based on nothing but his free and sovereign grace in election. God loves you because he freely chose to love you. How freeing it is to know that you don’t have to earn God’s love through religious performance!

Nothing outside of God, certainly nothing in us, compelled God to love us. We should tremble at the awesome thought that God has chosen to set his sovereign, immovable, unchangeable love on us. Nothing can compel us to be confident in God’s love in the midst of difficult circumstances, and nothing can motivate us toward greater obedience like possessing the love of a sovereign God he didn’t have to give.