Back to School Prayer Guide 2022-23

This is meant to be a resource to help you pray for the upcoming school year – local schools, students, parents, teachers, administration, and school staff.

Praying is the most we can do – handing our concerns and cares over to the sovereign, almighty God of the universe. The requests and guide below are just suggestions; feel free to pray for whatever comes to mind!

There are two passages of Scripture that drive our desire to do this and show us the goal, scope, and hope of turning things over to the Lord in prayer:

  • “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)
  • “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)








Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 2:8-10

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

My heart is heavy after the evil events this past month in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. I have tried to form words on this to write here, but have failed. Plain and simple, there is evil in this fallen world. We feel helpless and small in its wake. But I find myself clinging more and more to Jesus’ words and John’s response at the end of Revelation:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)

We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

In the week since TX and nearly month since NY, there can be seen a different sort of wickedness. Here in the United States, there is a lot of partisan finger pointing with both sides calling the other bad (and all sorts of other things), but this particular wickedness is one of the few bipartisan efforts in the US government today. It is opportunism.

Lives were lost, and one side says that this pain needs to be used to push through gun legislation. Senseless killing is seen as an opportunity to push policy. People made in the image of God were slaughtered, and the other side blames the first for the murderers to have opportunity to kill in the first place. We need to repent of such. In times when the evil seems to much and the words just do not come, it is okay to be quiet. But, when evil happens and you see opportunity for advancement – of yourself or your platform or agenda, it is time to assess what is going on in your own heart. When hearts should be rent in sadness and hurting for others, especially hearts professing to be “comforted by God” and by His Spirit comforting others (1 Corinthians 1:3-5), but take time to talk policy first, the worldliness of our own hearts can be seen, too.

I remember back in February 2019 in the aftermath of the Aurora, IL shooting. Similar opportunities arose – again from both sides. News took the stories and ran with them. It was the fault of gun legislation and the lack thereof. There should have been this and that. And, in the midst of that, there were reports of the plant manager texting his wife that he loved her as his last act before passing. People took that and ran with it, too.

That plant manager, Josh Pinkard, was my friend. He was my youth pastor while he was a student at Mississippi State University. To his wife, that text was more than a story. His children and parents did not see it as an opportunity to push legislation or deny it. Even as I wipe away tears and type this now, the opportunism stings. I imagine it does for some in Buffalo and Uvalde as well.

It stings for me because it reminds me of the original perpetrator of evil here on the earth: Satan. It is his MO to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He lives for the opportunity to devour and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for weaknesses to exploit. That’s what he did in the garden, too. He saw an opportunity to tempt Eve, and “her husband who was there with her” (Genesis 3:5) – to exploit on their curiosity and pride and point them toward sin, and the rest of us through that Fall (Romans 5:12). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus Himself when He was physically at His lowest and hungriest (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus did what our original ancestors did not: He held to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9) and resisted the devil (James 4:7).

For the Colossian church, their lack of knowledge gave opportunity for Satan and his false teachers. Remember that this was not a church started by Paul. The churches he started were often accompanied by longer visits filled with teaching and discipleship. This church was started by Epaphras who was saved and brought the gospel back home with him. Now, there were false teachers on all sides prying at the edges of what the Colossian church knew about the gospel and seeking to tear it to shreds with their false gospel. Looking at their struggle and reading how Paul sought to help them can help protect us today. Satan is still on the prowl for such opportunities today. Let us look and see how the same message that Paul gave the Colossian church can help protect us and ours today.

See to It That No One Takes You Captive

That command seems too simple when reading it for the first time. If only it were that easy: do not get captured. We have already looked at how evil the world is today, would that command alone be enough to protect people? Absolutely not. I cannot imagine sending my daughter off with friends or on a church trip and saying, “Hey, you know I love you; don’t get kidnapped.” Negative. Her mother and I have talked and talked and taught and tried to train her to watch out for things – to be wary. We have actually given her a list (a very short list) of people that can be trusted – at the exclusion of every other person on the planet!

Paul does similarly with the Colossian church in today’s passage. He does give the command to guard themselves against capture, but, in doing so, he lists specific dangers – specific captors – who are prowling and wanting to abduct the church from the safety of the gospel and imprison them in damning false gospel.  He even gives them a list of people that they can absolutely trust not to lead them astray with the gospel, but Paul’s list is even shorter than mine: Jesus. It is important to understand this before diving into the various false gospels. It is not as important to understand all of the facets of each area of false teaching; it is important to realize they are “not according to Christ” (v. 8). As we talked about in last week’s Bible study, one must know what the Bible teaches to protect against false teaching.

Paul has already gone to great lengths and, through the Holy Spirit, has given them that beautiful Christological hymn in 1:15-20, but now, again through the Holy Spirit, is going to help them see the danger that is already in their midst.

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

The word philosophy is a compound word in the original language: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom).[2] There have always been people who love wisdom – really who love knowledge and facts and can talk/debate them all day long. The teachings of Plato and Aristotle had been around for nearly 500 years at that point, and their use of logic and discussions running parallel (or added to) religion were fairly widespread. There were people then, like today, who sought to supplement their religion with philosophy. And that sort of false teacher was trying to do that with the gospel among the believers at Colossae.

Think of opportunists who try to ask questions today that are reminiscent of Satan’s question in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ___?” They allow logic and reasoning to allow them to take God’s Word and pick and choose what is correct. What they end up with is very little Bible and mostly what appeases their own intellects and desires. The false teachers appealed to human logic and reasoning to “delude…with plausible arguments” as Paul wrote about earlier in v. 4. Test teachers to see whether they proclaim Christ or argue against His Word (1 John 4:1-6). If you are not in the Word, you are in danger. See to it that you are not captured.

Then, there were those who Paul refers to simply as “empty deceit”, basically empty promises. This could be from a false god or simply promises that take advantage of the church’s lack of biblical knowledge to lead them astray. There are many forms of this today that picture how easy it would have been for the Colossian church, especially since they did not have the Bible like we do today and their lack of discipleship. Think of how many people are hoodwinked by faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers, wicked men and women who stage miracles and perform sleight-of-hand trickery to get rich at the expense of the unhealed and the poor. Think of the people who write books promising hope and health and prosperity under the guise of Christianity or being a preacher who produce disciples whom Hank Williams described in his song “Dust on the Bible”: “not one word of Bible verse, not a Scripture do [they] know”.

God’s Word is full of promises He has made. The Colossian church struggled to tell the difference between the false and empty with the genuine promises of God because they lacked a teacher and the Word. We have access to both today. See to it that you are not captured.

Human Tradition

It is said that the seven words that can kill an organization are we’ve never done it like that before. In the case of the Colossian church, there was a deadlier phrase: we’ve always done it this way. Human tradition is powerful. But, more powerful than tradition is ignorance. How many of our traditions do not go back as far as you think? For example, there is a popular end-times theory that God plans on rapturing His church before the time of tribulation begins. I have heard several people in the last two weeks specifically reference this as what the church has believed for 2,000 years. Yet the earliest known teaching was by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s.[3]

This is going to sound like something an English teacher would say, and, since I am one, I will not argue against it: you need to check your sources. Where are you getting your information? Are your sources using the Bible – all of it and not a few proof-text verses – to get their biblical information, or are they presenting you with opinions. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17. They were eager to receive the gospel but not so eager as to take it immediately but were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Again, the Colossian church had limited means to check the sources of the false teachers, but there are so many ways to spend time in God’s Word today that we are without excuse. Often, we are led astray because we want to hear what false teachers are preaching. We would rather believe that God is going to snatch up His church before tribulation starts because that seems nice rather than recognizing that Jesus Himself promised the church that she would have tribulation (John 16:33) and that the Bible teaches that the church has experienced tribulation at the hands of Satan since it began (1 Peter 5:9). See to it that you are not captured.

Elemental Spirits of the World

The word translated “elemental spirits” is actually a word used in the original language to talk about the alphabet or, basically, “elementary principles”.[4] I think John MacArthur gives a good illustration for this: “To abandon biblical truth for empty philosophy is like returning to kindergarten after earning a doctorate”.[5] Basically, Paul is describing trading the gospel of Jesus Christ to childish beliefs or that a childlike mind could make up.

Paul asks a question regarding the elemental spirits later on in v. 20 that can help us see the issue here: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” Why trade Christ for lesser things?

Of course, the difficulty here is that the things of Christ are to be taken on faith. Faith is “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while the “elemental spirits” can be observed and seen. It is definitely easier to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun than to understand that Jesus, the Son, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) – that while creation reveals the Creator, one is seen and the other requires faith to see His handiwork. But once you have seen His fingerprints in creation, how can you go back. How can you trade the God who is Light Himself (Genesis 1:3, 1 John 1:5-7, Revelation 21:23-26) to worship the sun that could not exist without Him? Yet Satan exploits that opportunity – the desire to see and the difficulty of faith – to make fools out of men who think they are wise when they exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). See to it that you are not captured.

Wrapping Up

We will continue looking at the way that Paul talks about these false teachings over the next few weeks, and I hope that they help you in your walk with Christ. It is scary to think that there is evil in the world. It is scarier to me to see how we respond to the evil. My pastor reminded us last Thursday night that evil does not win and shared a verse with us, Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is an important reminder and one that reflects Paul’s writings here in Colossians. He does not give more focus on the dangers than he does to Jesus. If you are “in Christ”, it serves you well to remember that Jesus is God – that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). If you are “in Christ”, you have been “filled in Him” (v. 10), that is, His Spirit is in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus is “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10) and is “greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

As we looked at in the beginning of today’s Bible study, there are those who would exploit evil situations to give opportunity for their own agendas. But there is opportunity for hope in Jesus Christ, even in the face of such evil and wickedness. There are two passages of Scripture that were referenced in our Bible study that highlighted the evil attacks of Satan and the trouble we have in this world. I want to close by looking at the fuller context of them to show the hope that can be found even in the midst of attack.

  • John 10:10-11: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
  • John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Do you see why the context of the Word is so important? We are not left with death and tribulation because life is offered – hope is offered – by Him who has already overcome the world! He does not offer peace by way of legislation or empty promises, He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:20). And He offers that peace to all who would have faith in Him.

I am praying for you, dear Sojourner, that you can find the only peace in the tribulation of this world: Jesus Christ. I am praying that you are in His Word and spending time with Him in prayer. And I pray that you “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6) to see what is of God and what is not.

I am thankful for Jesus. And I again echo the cry of John in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. 2000. In Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 4:400. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Feldmeth, Nathan P. 2008. In Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, 49. The IVP Pocket Reference Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

[4] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1996. In Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., 1:587. New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1992. Colossians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Refresh & Restore — February 24, 2022

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[1]

Colossians 1:3-14

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

We are wrapping up this section of Colossians today, but I have become so thankful for this prayer!

One of the things that I enjoy about teaching and preaching the Bible – especially if I get to study and write about it – is the fact that it must first be applied in my own life. I wish I could say that this has always been the case (or even always is now), but the older I get and the longer I walk with Christ, I find that He first works on me with His Word before He works through me in sharing it.

This prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossian church has impacted the way I look at 1) the ways God allows me to get to share His Word through preaching, teaching, and writing, and 2) the people to whom He has called me to serve. Today’s verses (vv. 13-14) have me looking at this prayer – and praying similarly – more specifically.

Here is the breakdown we have been working out of for the past few weeks[2]:

  • Paul thanks God often for what he has heard about the church at Colossae – their faith in Christ, love for each other, and hope found in Him – because of the gospel bearing fruit in their midst (vv. 3-8).
  • Paul prays specifically for their continued growth in knowing God and walking with Him so that they can continue the gospel work in Colossae (vv. 9-12).
  • Paul reminds them that the gospel that they believed is the basis for their faith in Christ and his prayer for them – which is enough to combat the false teaching they are encountering (vv. 13-14).

So, today, I want to remind you, dear Sojourner, that the gospel is the basis for your faith in Christ. I want to help you to remember that the truths it holds are more than enough to combat whatever troubles this world is throwing your way. And I want to pray for you (show you the prayer that I am and have prayed for you throughout the week as I have worked on this week’s study).

Deliverance from the Domain of Darkness (vv. 13a, 14)

In many ways, Paul’s letters to the church in Colossae and the one he wrote to the church in Ephesus are similar. Today’s verses share some similarities to what we see in Ephesians 2, and, as far as understanding being “delivered…from the domain of darkness”, Ephesians 2:1-3 is particularly helpful:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”[3]

In talking about the “domain of darkness”, the place our sin holds cannot be ignored. I have cited the above verses from Ephesians several times in these devotions, and I have also cited Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) and 6:23 (“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”). The reality of our sins – and especially the consequences of those sins when faced with a holy and righteous God – are terrifying. It should be. The Bible is clear that sin (“Human activity that is contrary to God’s will”[4]) has the consequence of death. And, if one has not been born again – repented of that sin and trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord for salvation, that death means an eternal separation from God in Hell. It also means that, in pursuing sin instead of what God wills, we are following “the course of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air” – Satan. The “domain of darkness” falls into his area of expertise.

I think the description Peter gives of Satan is particularly helpful for the context of the “domain of darkness”. In 1 Peter 5:9, Satan is described as our “adversary” and “prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”. He is working contrary to the will of God and is seeking to devour (“to destroy, to ruin completely”[5]) people by keeping them away from God and his will.

In Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Colossian church, v. 13 shows thankfulness that Jesus has “delivered” (“draw or snatch from danger, rescue, deliver”[6]) them from Satan’s domain and the destruction that he sought for them. The most interesting thing to me about that word “delivered” in the original language is that it was not focused as much on the rescue of someone from something as it was a drawing of the needy party to the rescuer. So, rather than simply focusing on the fact that they were no longer in Satan’s domain, he is specifically thankful that the Rescuer, Jesus, drew the members of the Colossian church to Himself that they may have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (v. 14, cf. John 6:44).

That is good news!

Transference to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son (v. 13b)

Carrying out of that language of being drawn to God paints a picture in my mind of one being rescued from drowning – which is one of my greatest fears. The image is very specific for me, allowing me to visualize being pulled from the depths by the one doing the rescuing and clinging to him as he rescues. It really puts the picture of what Jesus did for Peter while walking on water[7].

Matthew 14:22-33 tells the full story, but the part that stands out to me is what specifically happened when Peter decided to step out of the boat with Jesus:

“And Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”[8]

That image of Jesus standing on the water – with Peter having, naturally, fallen through its liquid surface – and reaching out His hand is very striking to me. Peter was scared. He was sinking. And he called out to the One he trusted enough to literally step out of the boat and found rescue from Him. I love the progression of the events. Peter “cried out, ‘Lord, save me’, and “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him”.

Could it be that salvation works similar to that? When the Bible teaches that “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13), is that true?

Being delivered from the domain of darkness – in this case a reference to being saved – results in being transferred to the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Our position in regard to God changes. We move from the death due to our trespasses and sins to new life in Jesus. Look at the change depicted in Ephesians 2:4-7:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”[9]

And again, in Titus 3:4-7:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”[10]

To be transferred to God’s Kingdom – the Kingdom of Jesus Christ – is to move from death to life. It is to move from being an enemy of God to His adopted child. In a sense, Paul is rejoicing and thanking God that everything Jesus prophesied would happen through Paul’s calling and ministry was happening in the lives of the church members at Colossae:

“…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18)

What a joy it must have been for Paul to see the fruit of the gospel showing up in the lives of people. This was not hypothetical for him. Real sinners who had a genuine need of a Savior – whose eternity depended on Him – had found “redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. That is good news!

Closing in Prayer

I told you at the beginning of today’s devotion that I was particularly for this prayer and that one of the primary reasons for that thankfulness was that it affects the way I view the people I am called to serve. First and foremost, I am called to serve at Christ Community Church – many of you fall into that group of people. But I also have the opportunity to share in Bible study with the rest of you – an extended-faith-family, if you will. Some of you I know and others encounter these devotions by God’s providence and the usage of the internet.

Sojourner, I pray for you often, but today I want to pray specifically like Paul prayed for those in his charge. I typically do not write out a prayer before praying it, but I want to share with you what has been prayed for you.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for those who read and listen to these devotions. I pray that you will fill them with the knowledge of Your will and give them wisdom and understanding by the power of your Holy Spirit.

I pray that if any of them do not know you as Lord and Savior that you would draw them unto Yourself and save them. I pray that they may be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to Your Kingdom via the redemption and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ.

For those who know you, I pray that you help them to follow after you in a way that is worthy of You and pleases You. I pray that they may bear fruit for You in the work You have for them to do. I ask that You strengthen them with Your power that they may endure their sojourn here on earth patiently and bear witness for You until they see You face-to-face.

Thank You for Your Word and Your Spirit. May You get glory and praise.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:3–14.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 81.

[3] ESV, Eph 2:1–3.

[4] J. Jordan Henderson, “Sin,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 233.

[6] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[7] I want to clarify something to you regarding this particular illustration. I believe this was a literal event that literally happened. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, walked across the surface of the water and allowed Peter, so long as his eyes remained on Christ to walk on the water as well. I am not making an allegory out of it nor am I seeking to give you a theology of Jesus pulling you from whatever you are figuratively drowning in. I just find this very specific story about Jesus literally pulling Peter from the water to be a beautiful picture of what Jesus also does for us in drawing us to Himself (John 6:44, Psalm 40:1-2).

[8] ESV, Mt 14:28–33.

[9] ESV, Eph 2:4–7.

[10] ESV, Tt 3:4–7.

Refresh & Restore — February 17, 2022

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[1]

Colossians 1:3-14

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

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Greetings Sojourners!

Welcome back to our study of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae! We started with the above passage last week with the understanding that it would take us a few weeks to work our way through it. To refresh our memories and keep our study in its correct context, let us do a bit of a recap.

Colossians 1:3-14 is Paul letting the church at Colossae know what he has been praying for them and why he is praying for them. We even broke this section into smaller chunks to help us wrap our heads around – and to look at how Paul’s prayer for the Colossians has an impact on the Church today[2]:

  • Paul thanks God often for what he has heard about the church at Colossae – their faith in Christ, love for each other, and hope found in Him – because of the gospel bearing fruit in their midst (vv. 3-8).
  • Paul prays specifically for their continued growth in knowing God and walking with Him so that they can continue the gospel work in Colossae (vv. 9-12).
  • Paul reminds them that the gospel that they believed is the basis for their faith in Christ and his prayer for them – which is enough to combat the false teaching they are encountering (vv. 13-14).

Today, we will dive into verses 9-12 at the specific things that Paul was praying for God’s Spirit to do in the lives of the Colossian church and what we should be praying for the Church at large and, especially, the local churches to which God has called us.

A Prayer Worth Continuing (or Not Ceasing) (vv. 9-12)

All of these aspects of the what Paul is praying here flows out of the why that we looked at last week. Since Paul had heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4), “the love that [they] had for all the saints” (v. 4), and the hope they knew was “laid up for [them] in heaven” (v. 5), that knowledge – that testimony of their relationship with Christ – motivated Paul to continually pray for them. I love the way he words it: “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you” (v. 9). This is a beautiful picture of the relationship and care between believers that is supposed to exist because of common faith in Jesus.

Today, as we walk through what Paul – and those who were serving with him (“we” – v. 9) – prayed for the church at Colossae, let this study move you to pray for your church. To help keep our prayers grounded in the Word and what God’s Spirit wants for His Church, explanations will be minimized and more attention will be given to showing what the Bible says about these requests. After all, how much better could our lives be if God granted our prayer, giving us these “characteristics” of a life that is pleasing to God, dependent on His power, and overflowing with fruitful thankfulness because of all that Jesus has done for us[3].


…asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… (v. 9)

  • ch. 3:16 – Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
  • Ephesians 1:17 – …that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him….
  • Ephesians 5:17 – Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 – The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to Him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  • Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

This is a request for God to fill the Colossian believers with His knowledge – knowledge that comes from His gospel and grows through His Spirit inside them. Part of the reason for this request is for the knowledge of God and His will to counteract and overpower whatever false teaching is occurring in Colossae. But we all need to be filled with “the knowledge of His will” and interpret it with the “wisdom” that comes from His Spirit – to understand based on the new life we have in Christ and His indwelling Spirit rather than with our own worldly brains and experience.

Let us pray that God would grant us knowledge according to His Word that shows us His will. Let us ask to rely on the wisdom and understanding of His Spirit instead of leaning on our own understanding.


…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him…. (v. 10)

  • Ephesians 4:1 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called….
  • Philippians 1:27 – Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel….

Understanding this particular request requires a little bit of understanding and context regarding the original language. When it says “to walk” here, it is referring to one’s “manner of life”[4]. It is also related to the command of Jesus for His disciples to “follow” Him (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:14, 19:21; Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21; Luke 5:27, 9:23, 9:59, 14:27, 18:24; John 1:43, 10:27, 12:26, 13:36, 21:19-22). You also need to understand that when it is translated as the English word “worthy” it is not referencing our value to be saved or ability to save ourselves. The original word had a connotation of being suitable or fitting[5]; it referred to one’s walk showing evidence of actually following Christ. This was important to the church at Colossae and in our churches today. And it only occurs when our own lives reflect the gospel that our mouths proclaim. But there’s a catch: it is not based solely on actions that can be observed by man because it requires a new heart that can only be observed by God (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26; Hebrews 4:12-13). Oh, that the content of our lives would be pleasing to Jesus!

Let us pray for God to make our hearts and our lives match. Let us pray that the knowledge of His will that we gain from His Word would impact our lives in such a way that people recognize we are walking with Jesus.


…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. (v. 10)

  • ch. 1:6 – …which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth….
  • Matthew 7:16-20 – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in to the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
  • John 15:1-6 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
  • Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Hopefully by now you have noticed that these prayer requests build on each other. There is no way to do one without God having granted the former (i.e., walking a walk that is fitting for a believer requires knowing what God wants a believer to walk like). This request is a little tougher. This request requires a bit of pruning.

Ultimately, the idea of bearing fruit is a metaphor, but it is one that is important to understand. Paul has already used it to describe how the gospel bore fruit in the Colossian church and that its message was bearing fruit all over the world (vv. 5-6), so the Colossians could connect that with what he was praying for them now. To “bear fruit” is for what is inside to produce outside results. So, walking “in a manner worthy of the Lord” is fruit of new life in Christ Jesus. Yes, good works can be fake or faked, but what is inside will always show out in the end. If you just thought of a particular person (who is not you) when you read that, you need to know the same is true for you, too! The verses above that Jesus – God Himself – spoke about this show its importance: the kind of fruit one bears indicates what kind of tree they are (or are not). Our churches need regular pruning to make sure that God’s fruit (singular) – that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – shows that inward change has happened because none of those (individually and especially collectively) are not natural to sinful humans.

Let us pray that God helps us recognize whether or not we are bearing fruit and deal with the reality that a lack of fruit may indicate for us. Let us pray that we have a desire to bear fruit – not only in completing “good work” for Him but increasing in our knowledge (intimacy, not academics) of Him.


…being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…. (v. 11)

  • Ephesians 3:16 – …that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being….
  • Philippians 4:10-13 – I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Think about the illustration that Jesus gave of people being able to do nothing if they are not connected to Him – that no one can bear fruit unless they are connected to the Vine. If there is a good work to be accomplished, He provides the strength. If there is an obstacle to be overcome, He provides the boost needed to climb over it. So often, people misunderstand 1 Corinthians 10:13 to mean that God will not give them more than they can handle. This particular request relies heavily on 1 Corinthians 10:12 (remember how important context is): “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Paul’s request for the Colossians is not for them to display their spiritual strength and ability. No, he recognizes what they are up against and prays that God’s strength will be what carries them through, giving Him glory in the process. He does not ask for them to be successful in worldly sense but, instead, seeks for them to endure whatever trial with patience, holding onto the joy that comes from Him alone – from the “hope laid up for (them) in heaven” (v. 5).

Let us ask the same for ourselves – for God to supply His strength to help because our own is not enough, for God to magnify Himself in our weaknesses and accomplish so much more than anyone would ever think could be done in or through us. Oh, what a glorious revival would come if we as individuals, and especially in our churches, relied on the power of God’s Spirit to complete His mission!


…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (v. 12)

  • Ephesians 3:15 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
  • Acts 26:18 – …to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

Paul’s last request is what will truly occur once all of the others have been granted: thankfulness. Once God has saved us – turned us from dark toward His Light, from Satan’s power to the finished work of Jesus Christ, once we have grown in the knowledge of Him and His will, once our manner of life is fitting for one following Jesus, once we have been pruned and bear His fruit, and once we are running under Holy Spirit power and not our own steam, there is NO other result than thanksgiving. If we are in Christ, we have moved from the wages of our sin – death (Romans 6:23) – to sharing “in the inheritance of the saints in light”. We should pray as Paul did for our churches. We should pray it for ourselves. Let us do so!

Reflecting & Closing

There are a few things that are on my mind as I wrap up this week’s study.

First, I am scared to pray these things for myself. What if God answers them all with a resounding “yes”? I look at my own life and see the changes that need to happen – that will happen as I grow more in Christ and my fear of praying these things gives way to the faith in Him who does the changing in my heart. So, I recognize that changes need to be taking place that are not – just as I am sure there are the same in your life. Know I am praying for these things to happen for you, whether you want them or not! If you do not like that, feel free to get your revenge by praying for me, too.

Second, I know that the local church God has called me and my family to be a part of (Christ Community in Grenada, MS) is not perfect and will change if God grants these prayer requests. It might not feel like I am used to it feeling. Good. I also pray that God’s Spirit will give us a good swift kick in the seats of our comfort zones and do a little uncomfortable pruning so His church (not mine) will bear His fruit.

Third, I know that some of you probably do not have a church home right now. Covid is still a thing. Your old church was probably full of hypocrites and sinners. But we need a local body of believers to stir us up to the good works that we need to be doing – to keep us in check and focused on Jesus’ imminent return (Hebrews 10:23-25). All of the people who hold me accountable are in my church, and it ticks me off to no end when they have to do it. Pruning hurts. But you will never know if you are a thistle, a thornbush, or a Galatians 5 tree if you are not planted in a grove of other believers. Let that sink in. Christianity is not for spectators or solo artists. It exists in the communities God plants because that is how He decided to do it.

I am praying for you and love you. Let me know if I can serve you in any way.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:3–14.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 81.

[3] Charles L. Quarles, “Colossians,” in The NIV Grace and Truth Study Bible, ed. R. Albert Mohler Jr. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 1654.

[4] Compare the language and intent of Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1, and Philippians 1:27.

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[6] No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Refresh & Restore — August 26, 2021

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[1]

Matthew 11:28-30

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings, Sojourner!

I. Am. Tired. And, chances are, you are too – even if you aren’t a teacher. We all have work at our jobs and work to do at home and work to put into…well, more work.

I use the idea of “teacher-tired” because of the amount of pressure that teachers put on themselves. Many teachers view what they do as more of a calling than a career. They get to mold young minds and influence the entire future of the students they teach. At the same time, there are other pressures that simply come with the job and compound with that internal stress. And, just like many of you have felt, it just seems like there is no way to get everything done. It feels like we are inadequate for the task, and that can be discouraging.

So, maybe you need to hear what I have to tell myself: it’s okay. It is! There are times where I am just not enough, and that’s okay, too. It’s okay because I have a reminder in Christ that He never expected me to be enough – and how I need a constant reminder that He is enough.

No matter what your work is, it is important to have the appropriate balance. Work is important and has a role in the world, but it is not one’s world. Many times we point to God’s cursing the ground and Adam’s “pain” in working among the “thorns and thistles”, focusing on the “sweat of [his] face in laboring (Genesis 3:17-19), but God had already given Adam responsibility to fill the earth and dominion over it before the Fall (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20). So, work is not the problem; we are.

Lord willing, today’s devotion is meant to help you see that Jesus is enough and that He is able to help us when we feel we do not measure up – to put our work in the right perspective. That’s why I put His words from Matthew 11. They show His heart for us. They show His care for those who work and are weighed down with pressure, expectation, and responsibility. They show the hope that comes from putting our cares and burdens on Him and taking up His rest. And, as always, it is my prayer that His words will refresh and restore you.

Identity in Christ Over Ability

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[2]

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Part of our problem – or at least what I have found to be true for me – is that sometimes we allow our work to become our identity. When we allow what we do to define who we are, our entire identity begins to crumble as soon as struggle sets in. As a teacher, there is a pressure to want every period of every day to go well – for every child to fully get everything I teach. Then again, I felt the same pressure when I was a full-time pastor, and I found myself completely burned out at nearly thirty years old. You see, I was my who-I-was ended up wrapped around my what-I-did, leaving every other aspect of who God had called me to be as His disciple, my wife’s husband, my children’s father, etc. woefully ignored. My entire identity was wrapped up in being Pastor Keith, and, when I quit, Pastor Keith stopped existing. I felt like I stopped existing.

Now, on the other side of that experience, I thank God for the burn out. I thank God for allowing my false identity to crumble. Rather than bitterness and hurt, I now understand David’s prayer to God to “let the bones that You have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8)! I thank God that He is bigger than my failures. And I can thank Him because when I got out of the way – when I hit the bottom – I found the Rock, Jesus! As embarrassed as I was of what I saw as failure, I found myself echoing the cry of David in Psalm 61:2-3: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” He had been there all along – my strong tower even when my pride in accomplishment – and employment – was the enemy.

I found myself having to be corrected like Paul did for the Corinthians. According to “worldly standards”, I expected myself to be powerful, noble, and wise. Yet, all the while, I was foolish, weak, and low.

You see, when we pursue “worldly standards”, we boast in our own accomplishments. I remember a seminary professor once saying that we could not simultaneously boast in how awesome God is while trying to convince people how clever we are. The Kingdom of God is contrary to the standards of the world. When we are weak, Christ’s strength can be seen. When we are foolish, Christ’s wisdom can be shared. When we are low and bowed in worship, Christ is boasted in and exalted. Our posture of worship, our identity needs to be based in Him – in who He is, what He has done in our lives, and who He has called us to be.

So, maybe you find yourself feeling like a bit of a failure, but what a joy it is to be able to boast like Paul in the righteousness of God that He shares with His sons and daughters, in sanctification because we know He set us apart for His service fully knowing our flaws, and in redemption where His strength shines through and makes us new in Him!

Faith in Christ Over Feeling Like a Failure

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[3]

1 Peter 5:6-7

If you haven’t already, you need to hear this: you are going to fail. I know that doesn’t seem very motivational, but it’s true! We all fail from time to time. I mentioned earlier that teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve and succeed. Yet every lesson in every class period of every week, day, and year is simply not going to be a homerun. For that matter, even professional baseball players don’t knock it out of the park with every swing – or even once in every game! We often look at failure as humiliating, but I would like to help you reframe your failures as lessons in humility.

Jesus does not expect us not to fail. That’s inherent in His invitation in Matthew 11, recognizing that we will find ourselves “heavy laden” and in need of His “rest”. We just talked about how our identities can be found in the wrong things, but our failures and successes can be wrongly founded, too. When – not if – we mess up, God is not standing in judgment over us to smack or smite us. No, if we belong to Him – if we have been saved by Him – we are adopted into His family. And just like a good Daddy, His hand is waiting to pick us up and dust us off. Now, that does not mean that our Heavenly Father does not meet us with discipline sometimes; in the verses that come before the 1 Peter passage, we are reminded of Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Sometimes His grace grates upon our pride and we find ourselves humbled (not willingly but definitively). Yet in that humbling we find grace. In that humbling, we find the “mighty hand of God”, still bearing the scars of the nails He took for us, reaching out to show “He cares”.

It is in those moments that faith transcends feeling. It is our very hope and foundation. Knowing that He cares for His children no matter what frees us from the fear of failure. Just as my own children have asked me from time to time whether I would always love them, we need to be reassured. Thank God that He wants us to cast all our anxieties – all our insecurities on Him. And, most of all, we should be thankful that He cares for us.

Prioritizing Praise in Prayer Over Problems

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[4]

Philippians 4:4-7

I don’t imagine it was too difficult to convince you that you have struggles and difficulties and failures, but it may take a bit more convincing that they are something to “rejoice” over! Let me clarify what the command is here in this passage. Paul is not saying that we rejoice in the difficulties but that we find joy “in the Lord” – in trusting that He, in His sovereign will and might, have the situation under control. We rejoice that He is “at hand” – that His return is imminent. And we rejoice in the fact that He cares enough to listen when we bring all our requests – that He will take our burdens (again, Matthew 11) and trade them for His peace. Even though He fully knows everything we need and even what we think and feel, He cares enough to want us to pray to Him about it.

So, where does the rejoicing come in? Well, look at the context of these verses: our “prayer and supplication” are to be accompanied by “thanksgiving”. In fact, He tells us that He expects all our “requests” to be accompanied by thankfulness. When we put our fears, anxieties, and needs up against all He has done and that we know He can do, they pale in comparison. And, based on the verses that follow, we can trust that the “peace of God” (v. 7) comes when we look at, learn from, receive, and hear from “the God of peace” who is with us (v. 9)! Knowing you are not alone helps; knowing that You are loved and watched over by the sovereign God of the universe heals.

Wrapping Up

As I stated earlier, we learn about work from the very beginning in the garden. That is also where we learn to rest. When God “finished His work that He had done”, “He rested” (Genesis 2:2). He did not rest because He was tired or needed a break. He rested because what He had done was good, and that day of rest began to be known as the Sabbath. While God did not need the Sabbath, He knew we would. And the only way we can truly have that Sabbath rest is to trust in what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do. No matter what your job is or what your responsibilities are, God is still God. There’s no work mess up that unseats Him from His throne. There’s no consequence or boss’ wrath that can undo who He says you are. In fact, one day all of the toil and responsibility and struggle will be gone, and only one’s relationship with Christ will matter. One day, all the days of trusting Him through toil and trouble will fade away when we see Him face-to-face. So, it is my prayer that you can come to Him to find rest – that you trade Him your labor and your being heavy laden and rest, and trust, and have faith in Him alone.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.

[2] Ibid., 1 Co 1:26–31.

[3] Ibid., 1 Pe 5:6–7.

[4] Ibid., Php 4:4–7.

Refresh & Restore — June 10, 2021

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.[1]

1 John 5:13-21

Greetings, Sojourner!

We are at the end of our study of 1 John! And, as John does in his letter, we will take this last passage in chunks to cover the text similarly to how he does. Hopefully, this will help you see the difference between 1 John being Scripture – “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “not produced by the will of man, but [man speaking] from God as…carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) – instead of just a letter from a pastor to his flock. The words that he wrote are God’s words – to his original audience and to us today.

Each of these closing remarks fit with the message of Life, Light, and Love in the rest of 1 John. And they fit in with John’s ultimate purpose – “that you may know you have eternal life” (v. 13). This verse is similar to the closing of his gospel: “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). It is my hope that studying 1 John has given you opportunity to know that you have life in Him by “confess[ing] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believ[ing] in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). The good news here is that, if you have believed in Him you will “not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13).

What can be known “concerning the word of life” (1:1) is clearly very important to John, and Danny Akin very aptly compiled a list of the things John helps us know in 1 John that I believe can be beneficial to us as we close out this study:

“We can know that we know God (2:3, 13-14; 4:7). We can know that we are in God (2:5)…. We can know the truth (2:21, 3:19). We can know that Jesus is righteous (2:29). We can know that we will be like Jesus (3:2). We can know that Jesus came to take away sins (3:5). We can know that Jesus is sinless (3:5). We can know that we have passed out of death into life (3:14)…. We can know love (3:16, 4:16). We can know that God abides in us (3:24, 4:13). We can know the Spirit of God (4:2) [and the difference between] the Spirit of truth and…of deception (4:6). We can know that we love God’s children (5:2).”[2]

And God, through John, has a few more things that we can know that are shared in this closing section – things that we can believe. So, listen to what God’s Spirit would have us to believe through this closing section of 1 John.

We can know God answers prayer. (vv. 14-15)

We have looked earlier in this letter about what it means to have “confidence before God” (3:21) to “not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (2:28), giving “confidence for the day of judgment” (4:17). This confidence is an abiding one that dwells in our hearts when our lives shine His light and share His love. Now, we see we can have confidence that our prayers are reaching Him – that He is hearing what we pray and answering it.

This is not the first time that John has spoken on this. In 3:22 he tells us that “whatever we ask we receive from [God], because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him”. When we add the aspect of praying “according to His will” (v. 14), we get a clearer picture of what He wants from us in prayer; He wants us to pray as He taught His disciples to pray – “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). You see, seeking His will is key in having one’s prayers heard and answered. God is not bound by some set of magic words to give whatever we request. He is not a genie that we can recite some code to command His response. Instead, He is the holy (“hallowed be [His] name” – Matthew 6:9) and sovereign God of the universe. Seeking His will puts us on the same page as Him, giving us appropriate desires and thereby appropriate prayers. In the same way that we are to “be transformed by the renewal of [our minds to test and] discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2), we should seek to have Him transform our prayer life to want what He wants.

As for what is and is not God’s will, we do not have to perform a séance or ritual. Rick Warren said it well: “God’s will is found in God’s Word – stop looking for a sign and start looking for a verse.” So, for us today, think of all the things that we have studied in God’s Word – look back at the list of things that we can know just from 1 John. If we want our prayers to be heard and answered, they must align with God’s will, and God’s will always aligns with His Word. Once our prayer life is aligned with His Word, we can absolutely know that He is hearing us, and, in His hearing, He is responding.

We can know how to pray for our brothers and to keep them (and us) from sin. (vv. 16-18)

If you read verses 16-18 and thought, “Hmmm, I am not sure what I just read.” You are not alone. We will tread carefully here and let the context of the surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and the letter as a whole guide us so that we have the surest interpretation. There are two things that cue us specifically to what John is talking about. First, the verses just prior to this section are talking about prayer – as does the end of v. 16. So, John is talking about praying for this “brother” who is “committing a sin”. Second, we can look back in 2:1 and see what that “if anyone does sin” they “have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. So, one whose sins are covered (cleansed – 1:9) by Jesus Christ the righteous is saved/born again/has eternal life.

While these verses are indeed difficult (especially v. 16), we are going to keep to the simplest interpretation that fits best with the rest of the Bible, so, even if we err here, we fall back on what is clear in the Word. The simplest interpretation sees two different groups of people: 1) those whose sin “does not lead to death” (v. 17), and 2) those whose sin “leads to death” (v. 16).

The Bible is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that everyone who is in Christ was once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The only way to move from death to life is to be “made alive together with [God who has] forgiven all our trespasses by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). This fits John’s teaching that Jesus is our propitiation (2:2, 4:10). So, if “anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death” – seeing one who professes faith in Christ but is actively sinning – “he shall ask, and God will give Him life” (v. 16). We need to hold one another accountable and specifically pray that God will grant repentance (and life) to those who say that they are His yet are living in sin. This is trusting God to take care of your brother (His child) and asking Him to restore him.

In this interpretation, the “sin that leads to death” (v. 16) would be not believing/trusting in Christ. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in John 3:18 that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. Those who have not repented of sin and trusted in Christ are still dead in their sin – they still face condemnation for their sin (Romans 8:1). The issue lies in how you can tell the difference. For that, I do not put your brother on the stand but your own life. “All wrongdoing is sin” (v. 17); “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and “…the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Those are all clearly true from the Word of God. It is also true that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (v. 18). We must examine our own lives according to these truths, and, if we profess to belong to Christ, we must pray for God to grant others repentance as well as our own selves (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

We can know Him. (vv. 19-21)

Ultimately John’s goal is for us to know Christ. He ends as he began, showing us “that which was from the beginning” (1:1) – His friend and Savior who he heard with his own ears, saw with his own eyes, touched with his own hands. He had met Jesus and lived the rest of his life sharing the Life that Jesus gave to him, shining the Light of Christ into the darkness of the world around him, and loving others with the Love that Christ loved him.

He wants us to know that even though “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (v. 19) that we can know we belong to Jesus. He wants us to be able to trust that God’s Word is the true because Jesus Himself is truth (v. 20, John 14:6). He wants us to be able to distinguish between the real Christ and idols (v. 21).

Beloved, Sojourner, what a beautiful picture of love – someone wanting to make sure that, in the midst of evil and terror and all of the negative and depressing things in the world, there is a Savior whose name is Jesus who is everything we need. The world produces more idols (if we are honest, our own hearts produce most of our idols – Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 17:20) than we can successfully fend off. We need to be rescued. And that is exactly what we find in Jesus – a Rescuer, a King who left His throne to become a servant so that people can be saved. He is a beacon that shines in the midst of darkness showing all men the Way. He is love even in the face of hatred. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and one day His name will be spoken and “every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Do you know Him?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:13–21.

[2] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 1 Jn 5:13–21.

Pray for Our Teachers

Right now, the school district in which my wife and I are privileged to teach is out for Spring Break. All around our area, students and teachers are enjoying some much-needed downtime. But, this year, Spring Break means so much more – it is needed so much more.

I find myself thinking back to the teachers that I had growing up who meant the most to me.

I was blessed in Kindergarten to have Nancy Denley who, knowing my family and having grown up with my father, took a personal interest in seeing how I turned out. She ended up teaching most of my siblings and cousins, so she has definitely earned the status of hero!

In 1st grade, Carrie Mack and Linda Bumpers impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. They saw potential in me and, more importantly, wanted me to see potential in myself. From Mrs. Mack pushing me to do my best when 6-year-old me was satisfied with less to Mrs. Bumpers rescuing me from the principal’s office, I have vivid memories to this day that remind me of the lasting impact of an educator.

In 7th grade, Mike Miles showed me how much a single teacher showing an interest can make in the life of a student. I was the unpopular kid who somehow perpetually managed to wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or be present in the wrong situation. Mr. Miles managed to help me see that I had value during a time period when the world around me said different.

In 11th grade, Gean Gilbert showed me that a love of one’s teaching content can be spread to one’s students. She brought history to life for me and made a state-tested class feel like learning. She also brought a very historically significant guitar and let me play it!

9th-12th grades saw me in Charlene Leverette’s class. I took every elective that she taught in my 9th and 10th grade years, growing my love of reading into a love for writing – both of which serve me still today. She was my 11th grade English teacher and paid all the costs herself for me to take AP English in 12th. She saw potential in me and did not let up until I met the expectations she laid out for me. Mrs. Leverette was known for giving out tough love. She was hard on me and my classmates. But tough love was what we needed.

When I decided to be a teacher, I was so excited to get to teach alongside Mrs. Leverette. I thought there would be no better mentor for me than her. However, she refused. She told me that I had already learned as much from her as I could. While that hurt me at the time, I am immensely thankful for her wisdom in that decision, and, because of that, I was blessed to have Dorothy Watson as my mentor-teacher during student teaching.

I had Mrs. Watson’s husband, Nez, my senior year. He instilled a great deal of wisdom in me that year. He invested in me personally, and, for that, I am immensely thankful. Mrs. Watson did the same for me as a young student teacher. She taught me the value of working hard during the school day so that my home time was not spent working. She and Mr. Watson took a personal interest in me and my wife at the beginning of our marriage, encouraging us to be good teachers and to be thankful for the opportunity to work together and impact the lives of kids.

Finally, and perhaps the most influential is my wife. While I did not start teaching immediately (it took nearly ten years for me to actually make it to the classroom), Candice did. She did not set out to be a teacher, but, as soon as she realized that God had gifted her to teach, she set aside a much more lucrative career path to help kids learn math. I got to watch her succeed through tutoring needy children in college. I got to celebrate her victories from afar as she achieved great things in every school she taught in. But, it was not until I got to be in her classroom and see her teach that I realized what an inspiration she is.

All of these people have influenced what I want to be in the classroom. They have shown me what it is to be able to have a lasting impact. And, I see many of my colleagues work and strive to do the same thing in their classrooms. But, despite the unseen benefits, teaching is difficult.

There are hours spent outside of the classroom planning and grading. High volumes of testing produces data that must be analyzed causing plans to be altered and implemented. While many people feel that teaching school is limited to Monday-Friday in 9/12 months, it is much more than one could imagine. Additionally, there are many – like the ones I mentioned above – that go far beyond the job because what they do is a calling. There are sleepless nights working after their own biological children go to sleep. There are skipped lunches so that they can go the extra mile for their students. There are sacrifices to be made all around. And, while that makes them phenomenal teachers, it bears a personal cost.

Not only that, but this school year is different. Add the pandemic to the normal rigors of teaching, and you have a recipe for exhaustion and, in some cases, burn out. Now, there are masks and technological difficulties and disinfecting. The work load increases – which it has to in order to meet the needs of the students – but the amount of time we have stays the same.

Take into account that fewer people are majoring in education, and you have the a potential recipe for disaster. Where will future generations of children be without great teachers who care? Where will our schools be when the called ones leave?

Rather than panic, I believe it is time that we join together and pray for our teachers. Two verses come to mind and drive me to hope in God to take care of our teachers:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:13

and

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

So, here are some prayer requests that our teachers may find “all joy and peace” in their calling and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. I believe that praying to God is the most that we can do because what more can we do than take our burdens to the Almighty God of the universe? Join with me in approaching the throne of Christ in prayer, seeking the help that only He can offer:

  • Pray for rest and relaxation through the rest of the break for teachers and students.
  • Pray for endurance for the final quarter of this school year for teachers and students.
  • Pray that students will not try to find their identity in grades and test scores.
  • Pray that teachers will remember why they wanted to start teaching.
  • Pray that teachers will find the strength they need to keep giving their best effort for their students.
  • Pray that teachers will not try to find their identity in test scores.
  • Pray that teachers will not try to find their identity in observations and evaluations.
  • Pray that our teachers’ homes be the place of solace that they need.
  • Pray that our teachers can find that difficult balance between their personal lives and their professional lives.
  • Pray for our counselors who have taken on more hats than normal and who meet the needs of kids who are struggling in all of the regular ways with pandemic-related issues added in.
  • Pray for our IT/tech staff as they work to keep all of our equipment working and that they may receive grace as the difficulties continue to come up time and again.
  • Pray for the administrators who – for the most part – have not stopped working in-person since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Pray for the administrators as they balance longer hours and more contracted days with their own need for rest and recuperation.
  • Pray for administrators as they have had to make difficult decisions during the pandemic whether or not the public agreed with what needed to be done.
  • Pray for the community you live in that people find it in their hearts to give grace rather than harsh criticism when it comes to schools and school staff.
  • Pray for people by name that you know of who work at school in any capacity.
  • Pray and thank God for teachers who impacted you when you were in school and ask God to raise up more teachers like them in the midst of this pandemic.
  • Pray for students you know by name and ask God to help them have the strength to finish this school year well.
  • Finally, pray for an end to this pandemic and a return to normalcy for our students, faculty, and staff.

Thank you for praying! This list is far from exhaustive, but, hopefully, it will set your mind and heart on a path to continue praying for those working with children in the midst of this continued pandemic.

Refresh & Restore — November 12, 2020

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Daniel 6:1-5

10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel 6:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

Well, just when we thought 2020 could not get any stranger, we decided to hold an election. The United States is split, and divisiveness seems to be at an all time high. But, to quote my friend and fellow teacher Chuck Crouch, “The world is not falling apart; it’s falling into place.”[1] How can that be amid things seeming to be in such disarray? Oddly, our answer comes from King Nebuchadnezzar after God finally got his attention:

“…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; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He 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?’”

Daniel 4:34a-35

In the first devotion in this series, we saw how terrible and wicked Nebuchadnezzar could be. Then, in the second installment, we saw how irrational and tyrannical he could be. And, last week, we saw the full extent of his desire for power and recognition as he demanded worship and threatened death to everyone who did not bow to him. But – and this is especially important – the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar is gone and has been for millennia. In fact, his son Belshazzar who took over from him (Daniel 5) is gone, too. The same can be said for so many kingdoms. But there is a King of kings with a Kingdom that will not and cannot be shaken (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28)!

Ultimately, this is the biggest lesson to be learned from Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were of God’s chosen nation, yet that earthly kingdom was allowed to be taken over. They were given places of esteem and renown within arguably the greatest and most powerful kingdom of its time. But their allegiance was to a greater Kingdom. When the laws of the land contradicted the Law of God there was no question as to where their obedience would lie. They faced certain death with a faith stronger than the powers-that-be could or would ever understand. Even though they lived thousands of years before Jim Elliot, they embodied the message he proclaimed with his life and these words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In today’s passage, we do not see Daniel the youth, but, rather, we see Daniel as an older, seasoned man. He has served his Lord continually and served under three kings and two major world powers – Babylon and Media-Persia. By all accounts it seems as if everything had fallen into place for Daniel; at least that is the way I have always heard his situation portrayed. But was he any less an exile or eunuch because he had renown and a high-profile job? The world had certainly not forgotten that he was “one of the exiles from Judah” (Daniel 6:13). No, Daniel was a servant of the Most High God throughout his life, and the kingdom of the world would continually hold that against him.

So often, we see Daniel and his companions characterized as heroes because of their survival, but God is the hero of their life stories. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were not naturally flame retardant, and Daniel was not immune to the teeth and claws of ferocious lions. God caused the flames not to burn. God shut the mouths of the lions. What did these guys do, then, that causes us to still speak of them all these thousands of years later?

They prayed to their God.

They worshiped their Lord.

If we are honest with ourselves, their only remotely heroic acts – the actions that are heralded as examples of civil disobedience and contending for the faith – are the actions that we find the most mundane and practice the least in our walk with the Lord. It must also be noted that these acts of prayer and worship were not done in the public square. They were not done in grandiose gestures that draw attention to movements or positions or any such thing. Their prayer and worship took place in their private lives – just between them and the Lord. The only reason that we have even heard about it is because one’s personal relationship with the Lord is the only thing that fuels courage in the face of death – the only thing that straightens the backs of Christ-followers when an emperor demands bowed heads and knees.

For Daniel, the situation was different than we probably realize. It is easy to look at him as a “Bible hero”. That gives him a sense of other-ness and allows us to excuse our lack of faithfulness. Daniel was not different. He had to feel the tension to give in just this once. You see, Daniel was a legit disciple; his personal worship included study of the Word, specifically the writings/prophesies of Jeremiah. And it was through this studying that he learned that the end of their exile was coming to an end (Daniel 9:2). That means that this trial hit differently. He had lost so much over the years in exile, and, now, as an old man he faced the chance of losing his life when he was so close to being released and going home.

I cannot imagine what went on in his heart. I would like to believe that he struggled like I do. I know that is selfish of me, but I think of how much I struggle to weigh the benefit of being and ministering where God has planted me against the difficulties of actually being in those situations. For Daniel, the years of constant prayer and continued faithfulness from God to him outweighed the possibility of death. The life that God had given him (John 14:6) and the hope for a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that came from his faith in the Lord kept him faithful even when times appeared dark. So, rather than giving up or giving in, Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10; cf. Daniel 2:23, Daniel 9:3-19, Psalm 138:2, 1 Kings 8:48).

That continued faithfulness had an impact on those around Daniel, too. Of course, many of those people – those belonging to the kingdom of darkness and vying for a temporary earthly position – wanted him dead, but Darius wanted him to live. Do not misunderstand me here. It was Darius’ worldly foolishness that put Daniel in this situation. But God showed Darius something through the witness of Daniel.

Most of us have much more in common with Darius than we do with Daniel. Darius knew he had messed up and tried his hardest to undo the situation himself. “…[H]e labored till the sun went down to rescue him” (Daniel 6:14b). But, truth be told, Darius made a terrible Savior. It is a good thing that Daniel did not need Darius to save him. No, Darius tried all that he could but was unable to come up with a plan to save Daniel. At his wits end – at his most hopeless, he saw the hope that Daniel had and made an amazing proclamation: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you” (Daniel 6:16)! Daniel’s continual service and faith in God was evident. If someone were to call upon the God we serve continually, would King Jesus be the one to respond or would we be at the mercy of the mute idols that receive our time and worship (Habakkuk 2:18, 1 Corinthians 12:2)?

With Darius’ plea for help from Daniel’s God, Daniel was lowered into the pit where ferocious and hungry lions were waiting to devour him. A stone was laid over the entrance of the lions’ den. And Darius was forced to wait until morning to find out if Daniel had been delivered or devoured.

As I said earlier, it is a good thing that Daniel did not need to rely on Darius as his Savior.

I find this part more comforting as an adult. The lions’ den terrified me as a child, even though I knew Daniel would walk out the other side unscathed. Now, I know that there was a stone rolled over a door hundreds of years after Daniel and the lions’ den. That stone covered the tomb of a lion, and Satan and his earthly forces – just like those who plotted Daniel’s demise – relished in the excitement that they had shut the mouth of that lion. But that lion – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, our God and Savior Jesus Christ – would walk out of the tomb of His own accord! And it is because of Him that Darius – and all who put their hope and faith in Him – could rejoice like John in his vision of heaven:

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered….’ And…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….”

Revelation 5:5-6

It is that Lion – “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) – who gave Daniel the rescue that he so desperately needed and can rescue us as well.

When the stone was rolled away from the lion’s den, Darius asked (Daniel 6:20) a very important question: “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions”? God had, of course, shut the lions’ mouths (Daniel 6:22, Hebrews 11:33). And His power to save is still available today.

I do not know what difficulties you face. I know that many people are afraid of the way things in this world are heading. But God is still on His throne. The question for us is: where are we? Are we on our knees like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Are we continually serving the God we claim to trust? The good news for us is that He is willing to accept us should we call out to Him (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

I would like to leave you with a song this week. This was written nearly 500 years ago by Martin Luther, and I think it would do us well to have this song in our hearts today:

“And tho’ this world, with devil’s filled / Should threaten to undo us / We will not fear, for God hath willed / His truth to triumph through us / The Prince of Darkness grim / We tremble not for him / His rage we can endure / For lo, his doom is sure / One little word can fell him.”[2]

Amen.


[1] After telling Chuck that I wanted to quote him for this week’s Refresh & Restore, he quickly told me that he felt that he had gotten that thought from a Christian song and did not want to take credit away from the original author. Ye olde Google told me that the original quote comes from the song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns. So, listen to Chuck, and click the link if you would like to listen to the song.

[2] Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

Refresh & Restore — October 29, 2020

17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
He removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with Him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
24 Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”
25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.” 26 The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these….”   

Daniel 2:17-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

I have always been fascinated by the lives of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their dietary faithfulness in Daniel 1, excursion in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, and salvation in the lions’ den in Daniel 6 get a lot of focus – and have always been favorites of mine. But it was not until recently that Daniel 2 became a centerpiece of my amazement.

It is in our nature to be attracted to moments that appear spectacular. And these four young men were definitely involved in some spectacular moments. God moved powerfully and memorably in their lives. Even though they were exiles, they enjoyed the freedom that comes only from knowing and trusting in the Lord. But it is the acts of worship that precede these events that can give us the most hope.

Daniel 2 begins with Nebuchadnezzar being greatly disturbed by a dream. Perhaps disturbed is an understatement. He was plagued by a prophetic nightmare that kept him up and made him even more violent than usual. He had court magicians and tricksters who specialized in everything from token parlor tricks to divining futures to interpreting dreams.

He made a request of them that was quite ridiculous and genuinely impossible. He did not want them to tell him their interpretation because he knew that they would tell him an answer that pleased and comforted him. Instead, he wanted them to be able to describe his dream to him and, then – and only then, give him the interpretation. They stammered and complained. They tried to explain to the king that it was impossible, but he, just like all tyrannical kings in history, would not be pacified. He gave orders that his guards go through the kingdom and mutilate every magician, enchanter, and wise man that could not fulfill his demands.

This is where we pick up today. You see, Daniel was gifted by God with “understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17), and he, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were “found…ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters…in the kingdom” (Daniel 1:20). But, since the king was so angry, they were in danger of being killed.

These guys just could not catch a break. After all they had been through, these exiled eunuchs now faced execution because of the king’s nightmares. The natural course of action would have been to run away or beg for their lives. They could have fought or struck up a rebellion of sorts. I am sure there were other natural responses that they could have made. Yet they chose the one response that is the most unnatural – they chose to pray.

As we talked about last week, times of crisis draw on the faith that is practice in the normal and mundane. If you turn to God for every need (Philippians 4:6), you will surely turn to Him when things get difficult. If you are looking to talk with Him continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), you will be no stranger to prayer once things tend towards persecution. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were still communing with the Lord even though they were exiled to a foreign land. They did not worship the gods of the Babylonians because they had faith in the Most High. And they did not allow themselves to succumb to fear because they fully knew that their God had already carried them through all of their troubles thus far.

I absolutely love the way that their faith showed up in their lives so naturally. Look again at Daniel’s response to finding out he was sentenced to death:

“Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.”

vv. 17-18

He simply went to his companions and told them to pray! This seems so outstanding, but it should be commonplace for all believers. These young men’s response should be the same for us. Imagine how much different our lives would be if we would follow the advice of the writer of Hebrews:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

Daniel told his companions to “seek mercy” and that is exactly what God gave them. He had such faith that God would give them mercy that he was able to go to sleep so that God could reveal to him the king’s dream (v. 19). And how did Daniel respond? Did he march straight up to old Nebuchadnezzar and set him straight? Maybe he jumped on the ancient middle eastern social media platform and let everyone know he had a solution to their problems? No, and no. He responded by worshiping God Most High because he knew that he had no means by which to save himself and realized that he should show his gratitude to the King of kings before settling up with the king of his exile.

I love the way that Sinclair Ferguson puts this particular practice into focus:

“The test of spirituality does not lie only in the fervency of our prayers in times of crisis, but in the wholeheartedness of our worship when God acts in grace. Relief unaccompanied by worship is never an adequate response to the mercies of God.”[1]

Daniel had a relationship with his God. He knew that his God knew him and cared for him. He worshiped his Lord because he saw the value – the “surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:8) – that his God uniquely held. And that moved him to worship.

I would urge you to go back to the Scripture passage at the beginning of this devotion and read Daniel’s prayer – his song – to God in response. You can also continue through the end of Daniel 2 and see the vision that God gave Daniel and the response of Nebuchadnezzar to the impossible thing that God did through Daniel. But, above all, I hope that you realize that the faith that Daniel and his companions had is something that is available to you even today.

As I wrote last week, there is coming a time when difficulties will be more prominent. Things are going to get worse here on earth and not better. But God is still going to be on His throne through all of this. And the best place for us to be now – and it must be now if it will ever be in the future – is on our knees seeking mercy from Him.

Maybe you do not know how to pray. Let Jesus Christ – God Himself – show you how:

“Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:9-13

Amen.


[1] Sinclair Ferguson, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 21: Daniel