What the Bible says about
Acknowledging God's Presence
(From Forerunner Commentary)
It was surprising to discover two new things in this passage. The first is that while Christians usually choose Psalm 23 as their favorite psalm, Jews often choose Psalm 15. The second is that the Hebrew of the phrase "who shall dwell" does not suggest "living in," but rather "visiting with"—that is, being acceptable to come into God's presence. In other words, the psalm has at least an equally strong present tense application as it does a future one.
It is essential, therefore, for us to consider whether God allows us to visit Him, and thus whether He hears our prayers. The person who has these qualifications most certainly will be heard. In him is no false way at all, no pretense, no deceit, no gossip, no guile, and no hypocrisy. He has no hollow friendships, nor does He give vain compliments. His heart, hand, and tongue are in unison in believing and doing truth. This is a model for all of us to strive to reach.
Proverbs 25:19 instructs us, "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint." Faithfulness always indicates a person who deals truthfully; he can be trusted. Yet, dealing with unfaithful people is usually painful because one never knows whether they will come through. Thus, our evaluation of ourselves comes down to this question: How can God trust us if we are not striving to be honest now?
II Corinthians 4:1-2 sets a standard:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Paul's proclamation fits right into the description of the acceptable person in Psalm 15. Our responsibility is to manifest truth. We must make honest and diligent use of God's gracious gifts without craftiness. Is our way Christ's way and therefore acceptable to God? Can we say that we have nothing to do with hidden and shameful methods?
Paul is not saying that we act with unscrupulous cleverness, but that we do not adulterate truth in any form at all. By making truth clear, whether in word or deed, we commend ourselves both to human conscience in the sight of God and please Him at the same time. We should be childlike and open, leaving as little room as possible for people to misinterpret our motives, misunderstand our actions, or twist our words out of their real meaning.
Does it make any difference what people think of us? Some take the approach that "I'm going to do what I want to do, and what others think doesn't matter." However, it matters very much to God. If it did not, He would not show such concern in His Word regarding being a good witness for Him. Nor would He warn us about protecting our reputation—or His—because much of our effectiveness in witnessing depends on our being trustworthy.
Keeping the ninth commandment begins with not letting our deceitful heart trick us into doing anything less than what is honest and true in God's sight, regardless of what we think men might discern from what we say or do. To do this, we may have to override strong internal drives to make ourselves look good, but doing what is right is something that must be done to remain pure and glorify God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment
What does "greatpeace" mean? "Peace" automatically suggests an absence of war, no battling, no fighting. Under temptation, a battle always rages, even if we are winning. In such a case, no peace exists, much less "great peace." As an illustration, initially, the U.S. in Iraq won every battle handily, but it was still war. The spiritual war we fight is caused by temptation from Satan, our human nature, and the world. Remove temptation, and war stops. What remains is great peace.
How do we achieve not just peace, but "great peace"? The last half of Psalm 119:165 tells us: "nothing causes them to stumble." What causes a human to stumble? Temptation! This means that we have to be sheltered from it. The American Standard Version renders this phrase, "they have no occasion of stumbling," Young's Literal Translation puts it as "they have no stumbling-block," and the Rotherham's Emphasized Bible reads, "nothing to make them stumble." All of these renderings mean that not even the opportunity to stumble is presented. Other scriptures mention protection from stumbling:
Psalm 121:3 (NLT): He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
I John 2:10: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
Jude 24: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. . . .
God through the gift of His Holy Spirit is the only power in the universe that can accomplish such a feat. If God does not place that shield around us, we have no hope of success. Alone, we are powerless in the face of temptation. We overcome it not by our strength, but by God's power, the shield of faith (I John 5:4) given to us as His gift (Ephesians 2:8). It is our only sure defense.
To acknowledge God and to pray always are to be in alignment with one of Christ's most basic principles, a principle found in Matthew 6:33—to "seek first the kingdom of God" in all things. Praying always is stepping out in faith, believing that if we seek God first, He will add all the things we need (Philippians 4:19), including the strength to overcome, to finish this journey, and to enter His Kingdom.
When faced with the myriad decisions we have to make during each day, if we are not acknowledging God's presence, we have placed ourselves in the position of fighting our battles on our own. Israel made the same mistake, choosing the hard road in their fight, one littered with bodies. We probably all know of some bodies that now litter the spiritual road we have walked. We veterans carry scars from the battles we have lost.
Our battles to overcome are more like skirmishes than battles. In fact, we experience our most severe temptations and trials in everyday events like eating, conducting business affairs, or relating to others in the family or community. Luke 16:10 acknowledges this: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in whatis least is unjust also in much."
What better way to win those little skirmishes than to have an invincible Champion, God, in the van of the battle? Because these skirmishes are in the myriad of details we deal with every day, only striving to pray always during the day gives us that unyielding first line of defense.
Our deceitful human nature has in its arsenal countless ways, reasons, and excuses to avoid confronting the real issue of life—overcoming and allowing God to form and shape us into His image. Just bringing God into the picture unleashes forces that will not only help us to overcome, but will also protect us from the pitfalls that litter our path (Psalm 91:12). It is this striving to pray always that a Laodicean naturally avoids because he feels no need.
Praying Always (Part Six)
What do we actually do to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? How do we in our daily actions put God first? How do we take Christ's abstract statement and turn it into concrete steps that we can employ in our lives? One answer is Luke 21:36. Seeking God—is the solution to all our problems. Luke 21:36 gives us the first step in implementing that solution—praying always. This is a foundation on which to build eternal life.
By being in conscious and constant communication, we are acknowledging God. We are bringing Him into the picture, obeying Matthew 6:33 by seeking Him first. When we do that, we create the opportunity to put some interesting dynamics into action that will facilitate overcoming.
Could we have any better companion than God? With no other could we possibly find better fellowship. God designed prayer to be an act by a free-moral agent who consciously chooses to be with Him to develop their relationship. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, giving Him the opportunity to rub off on us, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When person A rubs off on person B, it implies that B becomes a little more like A—he begins to take on the other's characteristics. The same holds true with the relationship between God and us. Who has the easier time dealing with temptation—God or us? Of course, God does (James 1:13)! It follows, then, that if the more God rubs off on us, the more we become like Him—the more successful our battle against temptation becomes. The more God rubs off on us, the more the battle becomes God's, not ours.
To have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God, we have to be aware of the reality that we are always in His presence; He is "a God near at hand" (Jeremiah 23:23). Because God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and since we are the Temple where His Spirit dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), God is constantly with us. For His children, the question is never whether He is present, but whether we acknowledge His presence. Praying always accomplishes this.
If being in the presence of a friend of fine character improves us on a human level (Proverbs 13:20), how much more true is this when we are in the presence of God Himself, the very definition of character and wisdom? That is how He can rub off on us: We are with Him, in His fellowship, in His presence, through prayer. When it comes to His children, He is never way off somewhere, if we would but acknowledge this fact.
God designed human beings to adapt to their environment. Before conversion, this world and its influences were molding us into an anti-God form. Acknowledging God's presence is the antidote that counteracts the influence under which we have lived since birth.
God's calling is an invitation to fellowship with Him, and getting to know Him is our salvation (John 17:3). If this is so, then the means—prayer—is a vital part of the foundation on which we need to build. That is the message of Luke 21:36. Praying always leads to overcoming, and both will lead to an escape from God's wrath and fellowship with Christ on into God's Kingdom.
Notice another illustration of the power of presence. What happens to us when we are around people who are pessimistic, angry, fearful, whining? Compare that to our reaction when around those who are positive and enthusiastic, facing life with gentle humor, determination, and energy. The former can quickly drain and depress us, while the latter can energize and enthuse us. In these situations, a literal transference of a spiritual attitude takes place. However, as we increase our physical distance from either of these examples, their power to influence erodes.
What happens on the human plane is no different from what happens spiritually. The spirit—good or bad—of people radiates out from them. It can affect, even change our spirit. Likewise, Satan's spirit permeates our environment, influencing us unless we choose to counteract it.
That choice is praying at every opportunity, willingly submitting ourselves to the persuasion of the most positive, righteous, and unchanging attitudes that exist in the entire universe! This is why after prayer, after spending time in the presence of God, people can feel peace, joy, or confidence. On the other hand, they can also feel humbled and chastened because God has led them to remorse and repentance. Prayer changes things—us.
Praying Always (Part Four)
1 Corinthians 11:31-32
Verse 31 teaches that God allows us the opportunity to exercise self-discipline and avoid His judgment by watching—searchingly examining ourselves, detecting our shortcomings, and recognizing our own condition. Yet, if we fail to exercise discipline, He will not. As in the example of Jonah, He is faithful and will complete His purpose (Philippians 1:6). If we fall short, He will discipline and chasten us because He does not want to see us destroyed. God's purpose—our salvation—does not change. Again, the only variable is how much we choose to suffer before He accomplishes His purpose. We choose whether we will be humble or be humbled.
In many cases, not necessarily all, we choose our trials. It is the same in any family. If one son is dutiful and obedient, and the other is rebellious, pushing the envelope at every opportunity, it would come as no surprise which son suffers the greater trials (or receives the most discipline) in both number and severity. Each child has a choice. We also have a choice—to exercise the discipline now, or to receive it from God at some time in the future.
So, how do we searchingly examine ourselves, detect our shortcomings, and recognize our own condition? How do we find the path we should be taking? God promises us in Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." The Message, a paraphrase, renders this verse as, "Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track."
When we acknowledge His presence—which striving to pray always does—He shines His light on the decision or thought. Consciously including God in the process makes the right choice more obvious. It also makes the choice a conscious one of obeying or disobeying God, rather than relegating it to habit or impulse.
Too often, we are not exercising self-control because we are hiding from God's presence, just as Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3:8). We may hear that "still small voice" (I Kings 19:12), but we turn off our minds and just go with the flow, unresistingly following the dictates of our human nature, which has been under Satan's influence since our births.
This tendency makes striving to pray always, being in constant contact with God, the best way to accomplish effective self-examination. By communicating with God before every decision, even before every thought (II Corinthians 10:5), we invite God into the situation, putting the spotlight of truth on our thinking and motivations—human nature's worst nightmare.
With God's presence through His Holy Spirit, we are able to recognize our shame and our helplessness before God, helping to create a stronger awareness of sin that we cannot easily evade by rationalizing it. When face to face with the holy God, we cannot easily say that our sin is only a little thing. Nor can we use others as examples, saying, "They are doing it, so what is the big deal?" With God there, right in front of us, all our excuses fail.
Once we bring God into the picture, the right way is more obvious, removing the many excuses our human nature concocts to allow disobedience. Then, the stark choice of obedience or blatant rejection of God faces us. When this occurs, it is a good time to pray for the will and power to do the right thing (Philippians 2:13).
Praying Always (Part Five)
Do we really want fellowship with God? Our frequent contact with God, or lack of it, is an easy, concrete measurement for both God and ourselves to know the true answer.
A Laodicean's central characteristic is an aversion to God's presence. He does not gladly throw open the doors to let Christ in. Instead, he wants his privacy to pursue his own interests, unimpeded by the constraints God's presence would impose.
Striving to pray always throws open the door of our minds to God, and just as Luke 21:36 indicates, by vigilant watching we can spot our Laodicean tendencies, overcome them, and avoid tribulation. Commentator Albert Barnes makes some interesting points on Revelation 3:20:
The act of knocking implies two things:
(a) that we desire admittance; and
(b) that we recognise the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognises our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back.
Striving to pray always is our conscious choice to let God in. Psalm 4:4 (Contemporary English Version,CEV) emphasizes the seriousness of examining ourselves: "But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed."
Every night, at the end of another busy day, provides us—and God—an opportunity to evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We can ask ourselves: How much and how often did we acknowledge God throughout our day? How much did we talk to Him and fellowship with Him today? Where did we miss opportunities to do it? Why?
Perhaps the biggest question to ask is this: When did we hear the "still small voice" today and hide from God's presence? Our daily answers to these self-examination questions and our practical responses could in a large measure determine where we spend both the Tribulation and eternity (Luke 21:36).
Praying Always (Part Five)
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