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Power Up

June 18, 2018

He got up, rebuked he wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. . . they were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!’” Mark 4:41.

Our culture loves super heroes—men and women with supernatural powers—Superman, Batman and Batgirl, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Power Rangers—the list goes on and on.

Next Sunday’s Scripture texts[1] describe the power of a real and eternal Super Power—God. In addition to his many other attributes, God is present everywhere, he knows everything, and he is all-powerful. Our texts describe the application of God’s power through the ages as well as his power as expressed through Jesus and now living in the Spirit within us. But in addition to describing our powerful God, the texts give us some insight into how we can tap into that power.

No super powers existing on earth or in our imaginations can compare or even come close to God’s real power. God reminds Job of that when he asks him: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? . . . Have you given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place? . . . Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? “ (Job 38:4, 12, 18).   We can see God’s power around us in all of creation and are reminded that God is there for each of us. [See my prior blog on this subject, Power Player of All Time: https://dianereagan.com/2016/04/01/power-player-of-all-time/.]

Jesus Christ came to earth fully equipped with divine power.  But his displays of power were not for self-aggrandizement. He wasn’t seeking to promote himself or to procure favors or wealth. He used his powers to help the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised. In this week’s gospel text, he calmed the storm and the waters to ease the fears of his disciples: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm . . . they were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!’” Mark 4:41.

Paul speaks of all of the hardships that he and others endured in their quest to spread the good news to far-flung places of the earth. He describes the beatings, imprisonments, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger they endured to spread the good news. He writes that it was the Holy Spirit and the power of God that kept them going: “In purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God, with weapons of righteousness . . . dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:6-10).

You can tap into God’s power through prayer.  E. M. Bounds taught “More prayer, more power; less prayer, less power; no prayer, no power.” Many years ago one of my former pastors, Stephen Lien, quoted his mother, Orena Lien, who taught him a similar proverb: “No prayer, no power; little prayer, little power; much prayer, much power.” The psalmist itemizes the times that the Lord rescued the Israelites from sure death and destruction, and offers this bit of advice: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124: 8). Power up.

James tells us that prayer is both powerful and effective: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5: 13-17. Power up.

These texts show us God’s power at work around us in his creation. Paul describes all of the hardships he endured by tapping into the power of God. The Holy Spirit was with him, helping him all of the way.   Isn’t it time that you tapped into God’s power? When you wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep, be grateful that God has given you a special time to spend with him.  Call out to him from the depths of your soul, and ask him to heal you, to restore you, to comfort you, to guide you, to counsel you, to stay with you. When you are commuting to and from school or work, use that time to talk to God—to praise him, to confess your mistakes, to unload your concerns, to ask for guidance and help.  Call upon the Lord earnestly from your heart in prayer and he will empower you.

Power up.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Job 38: 1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13; Mark 4: 35-41.

Fill Your Chest With Faith, Hope, and Love

June 11, 2018

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green proclaiming ,’The Lord is upright; he is my Rock.” Psalm 92: 12-15

When I was growing up it was common for a teenage girl or young woman to have a hope chest made of cedar. Family friends and relatives would give her items to set up housekeeping upon her marriage. Cedar chests were used because they were sturdy and repelled insects. The hope chest represented the hope of love, marriage to a faithful husband, and dreams of setting up a household with lovely things. When I was a teenager, I spent a summer afternoon with a cousin who carefully removed each item from her hope chest and explained who had given it to her. She had a growing set of bone china, blankets, linens, and other household items.

I was reminded of cedar hope chests in meditating on Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

Like a hope chest, the Scripture lessons for next Sunday speak of faith, hope, and love.[1] We can all be chests filled with hope, faith, and love when we depend on Jesus. Paul confirmed the importance of these three pillars in our walk with God: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Faith

Cedar trees, like palm trees, are tall trees. They grow up to 120’ high and can be up to 30’ wide in circumference. They stand strong in the mountain winds, and are prized for their strong wood. Cedar wood has been used since ancient times for shipbuilding and other construction projects. When our faith is like a cedar of Lebanon, it is strong and sturdy and will not waiver in the winds of circumstance. Like the cedar and the palm, our faith will be tall and long-lived—it will “bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92: 14). Paul tells us: ”Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5: 6-7).   During our lifetimes we have faith not because we have seen Jesus in the flesh, but because we know that he suffered, died, and was resurrected for our sins. We know that these things are true, even though we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh.

Jesus explains how the kingdom of God grows in the world, just as our individual faith grows over time: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” Mark 4: 30-32).   Christianity started out with Jesus and a small band of disciples, but grew into a global community of believers. Likewise, our faith begins as a small seed and continues to grow as we delve deeper and deeper into the Word, and as we reach out to God and to others who help us nurture our faith.

Hope

Only God can bring us true hope. Using a cedar sprig as a metaphor for the Messiah, Ezekiel brings hope to the people. He explains how God will plant a tender shoot– the Messiah–which will grow into a strong kingdom and will shelter many: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches . . . I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 17: 22-23, 24b). God kept his promise and sent his Son who died for our sins. His death planted the seed for what would rise up to become a great kingdom.

Love

Paul tells us that of the three–faith, hope, and love–the greatest of these is love. It was the Father’s love that sent Jesus to us, and Jesus’ love for us that made him willingly go to the cross for us: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15). All that we do should be motivated by Christ’s great love for us. The Message translation of verse 14 is “His love has the first and last word in everything we do.” Love covers many transgressions.  When we are filled with the love of Christ, there is no room in our souls for long-standing anger, resentment, or bitterness.  When love washes over us, our blood pressure drops, and we rest in God’s loving arms.  We are peaceful and at rest.

The Scripture texts this week invite us to fill ourselves with faith as tall and strong as a cedar, hope that our faith will continue to grow from its tender shoots to a long-lasting faith, and the love from above to fill every cell of our bodies.  God’s Spirit inhabits the body of every believer and leads and guides us along the way.  It is the Spirit living within us who prays for us when we are too weak, anxious, broken, or otherwise impaired to pray for ourselves.  The Spirit feels our groaning, aching, and despairing self. Our tears fall on the Spirit who intercedes on our behalf.  When we cannot pray for ourselves, the Spirit is there for us.  Fill your chest with faith, hope, and the love of God, and he will stand with you–as strong and as unmovable as a cedar tree.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Ezekiel 17: 22-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34.

Be An Encourager

June 4, 2018

Therefore, do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Original sin began with Adam and Eve: “And he [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” Genesis 3: 11-13.[1] Eve was tempted and involved Adam in her sin.   Adam then blamed Eve who blamed the serpent. Their sin was compounded when they failed to take responsibility for their misdeeds, and pointed the finger at each other. As is often the case, the cover-up was worse than admitting the truth and taking responsibility.

In an article posted on Psychology Today, the author describes the blame game as “One of the most destructive human pastimes . . . It has been responsible for mass casualties of war, regrettable acts of road rage, and on a broad interpersonal level (social, familial, and work-related), a considerable amount of human frustration and unhappiness.”[2]

We can break this destructive cycle by taking responsibility for our mistakes, and by encouraging others who have made mistakes to move forward. Alexander Pope said “To err is human, to forgive divine.” [3] Everyone makes mistakes. God forgives our transgressions. When we forgive we are acting according to God’s will.

One wonders what would have happened if Adam and Eve had taken responsibility for disobeying God, instead of playing the blame game.  It is not enough to say “the devil made me do it.” Adam and Eve needed to take responsibility for their actions.  But what if Adam had gone even further and encouraged Eve to confess her mistake to God instead of compounding the error? What if he had been an encourager instead of a co-conspirator/enabler?

Jesus encourages us to help one another, and to encourage each other—to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as our own flesh and blood: “Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3: 34-34). We are all human, and we all make mistakes. In a family where the members love and support each other, they admit their mistakes to each other, are forgiven, and are encouraged to move on. That is how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with others. Be an encourager.

The psalmist notes that God is forgiving, and erases the record of our sins when we approach him humbly and ask for forgiveness: “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope ” (Psalm 130: 3-5). God encourages us to move on from our mistakes and to have hope in our future as we continue our walk through life with him.

Paul encourages the members of the church at Corinth in his second letter to them: ”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4: 16). Paul knew first-hand that we continue to sin and are constantly in need of God’s forgiveness: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience? Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it become obvious that God’s command is necessary” (Romans 7: 15, The Message).

Stop playing the blame game. Stop blaming others for all of your woes. Take responsibility for your own shortcomings, forgive others, and ask God to forgive you as you have forgiven others. But go even further–be an encourager. Encourage your sisters and brothers in Christ. Encourage those who are seeking to fill the God-shaped hole in their hearts. Encourage those who have fallen. Encourage those who have strayed from the path. Encourage them to return to God—the source of life itself. Encourage them to go to the Lord with their anxieties, their fears, their troubles, their failures, their needs, and their joys.

Stand with the discouraged, the anxious, the grieving, and others who have lost hope. Share their burdens. Be an encourager.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Psalm 130, Genesis 3: 8-15; 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5:1; Mark 3: 20-35.

[2] Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D, “Stop Playing the Blame Game,” Psychology Today, July 29, 2012.

[3] Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism.”

Don’t Major in Minors

May 28, 2018

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2: 27-28

In a Madam Secretary episode that aired a few weeks ago (“Phase Two”), Henry McCord returned to the War College to teach and learned that his proposal to establish an Ethics Department had been accepted. Henry competed with another qualified candidate for the Department Head position and won. The final scene of the episode is the Department’s first meeting. Henry’s agenda included some significant matters relating to the work of the Department, but the meeting immediately devolved into an argument about who is going to get the parking space that just opened up! It rang true for me because I work for an agency where parking spaces in the building are highly coveted.   Arguing over parking spaces and office size is majoring in minor issues.

The law Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai includes the Third Commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, and its corollary prohibition not to work on the Sabbath: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14a).[1]   Jesus points out in the gospel lesson that arguing over what constitutes “work” is pointless—it is majoring in minor issues.

This issue is illustrated by the current-day use of Shabbat elevators in Israel and in other areas with large Jewish populations. A Shabbat elevator automatically stops at every floor on the Sabbath to let people in and out without having to press any buttons. Pressing an elevator button is considered work prohibited by the Third Commandment. Some observant Jews argue that even using an elevator without pushing buttons violates Jewish law because when an elevator descends the person’s weight helps move the elevator down; ergo, the person is performing “work.” Other Jewish scholars argue that the automatic turning on and off of the lights in some elevators violates the Biblical prohibition against lighting a fire on the Sabbath—an exercise in majoring in minors.

These arguments make Jesus’ point: That the purpose of the commandment is not to argue over the definition of work: “One Sabbath day he was walking through a field of ripe grain. As his disciples made a path, they pulled off heads of grain. The Pharisees told on them to Jesus: ‘Look, your disciples are breaking Sabbath rules!’ Jesus said, ‘Really? Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was hungry, along with those who were with him? How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, with the Chief Priest Abiathar right there watching—holy bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat—and handed it out to his companions?’ Then Jesus said, ‘The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 23-27; The Message)

The purpose of the commandment is to ensure that we set aside a day to worship God and to rest. It is important that we set aside time for God—to meditate on him and to give our bodies and souls a rest. It is for our benefit, not God’s. Our physical and spiritual reserves are replenished when we take time to rest and to concentrate on God. But we have to eat, receive necessary medical attention and other emergency services on the Sabbath, so someone has to lift a finger! Someone needs to provide services in emergency rooms, hospitals, police stations, and fire stations.

Mark recounts another instance when Jesus warned not to get so tied up in the minutiae of rules that you forget the purpose of the rule: “Then he went back in the meeting place where he found a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if he would heal him, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. He said to the man with the crippled hand, ‘Stand here where we can see you.’ Then he spoke to the people: ‘What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?’ No one said a word. He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.’ He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him” Mark 3:1-6.

The Pharisees’ objections weren’t about offending God. They were only trying to protect their own turf. They were jealous of Jesus’ abilities and were worried that he would take their power away from them.

It is important to remember what is important. As one preacher put it—to keep the main thing, the main thing. What is the main thing? In writing to the church in Corinth, which had largely forgotten what is important, Paul explained, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4: 5-6). The main point of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is to put your work aside and spend time with God at least once a week. Work on your relationship with Jesus Christ. Arguing over whether pushing an elevator button in an elevator, or even taking an elevator on the Sabbath, is not the main thing.

Are you so wound up in man-made rules and regulations that you are forgetting what is important? If so, you are missing out on a relationship with the God of the universe. Have you become so embittered or unforgiving that there is no room in your soul for the Spirit? Have you so busied yourself with work, hobbies, activities, social engagements, vacations, recreation, and the pursuit of material things that you don’t have time to spend in the Word or in quiet meditation? If so, it is time to slow down and take stock of what is important in your life right now, and forever.   The late theologian R.C. Sproul had a column for years called “Right Now Counts Forever.” What you do today, tomorrow, and the next day counts for something to God.

Don’t major in minors. Start letting go of the negative habits and inconsequential matters in your life, and take time to communicate with God. He is listening.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Deuteronomy 5: 12-15; Psalm 81: 1-10; 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12; Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3: 1-6.

Holy, Holy, Holy

May 18, 2018

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filed the temple. Above him were seraphs, . . . And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6: 1-3

On Sunday, May 27th, churches all over Christendom will be resounding with Reginald Heber’s classic Trinity Sunday hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy”: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee; Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty, God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.”[1]

The seraphim that Isaiah saw in his vision sang out “holy” three times. There is no other attribute of God referenced in sacred Scripture that is repeated three times—God is not called love, love, love, or just, just, just. But their description of God as holy, holy, holy was elevated to the superlative degree. This tells us that the holiness of God is an attribute that exceeds all other attributes. Above all, we worship a holy God.

And unlike the God of the other major religions of the world, we worship a Trinitarian God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– which is emphasized in Heber’s hymn based on Isaiah 6:[2]In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filed the temple. Above him were seraphs, . . . And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6: 1-3

You can get a headache trying to figure out the Trinity. Our human minds cannot totally grasp the meaning of the Trinity, but because we are made in God’s image, we can at least accept its Scripture-based truth. For more information on the Trinity, see last year’s June 5, 2017 blog, “The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” https://dianereagan.com/2017/06/05/the-trinity-father-son-and-holy-spirit/

A few weeks ago we discussed the fact that God loves us so much that he calls us his children (see “The Author of Life”). This week’s gospel reaffirms God’s great love for us: “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).   Don Kistler points out that the three divine persons of the Godhead work in perfect unity out of love for each other and for us: “The whole process of saving sinners begins with the love of the Father. He thought up the plan. He put the plan in motion . . . the Son steps forward to carry out the Father’s will [Hebrews 10:7] . . . The Holy Spirit takes what the Son has done and applies it to sinners, making us righteous in God’s sight. And all of this is to praise the glory of His grace.”[3]

When Scripture refers to God, or Lord (without reference to a specific person of the Trinity), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are included. David’s song of praise to the Lord in Sunday’s text refers to the Lord, and to God, and includes the whole Godhead: “The voice of the lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic” (Psalm 29: 3-4). There are three persons, but one God. Tozer explains, “So when I’m talking about God, I’m talking about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—not confusing the persons, for there are three persons. But everything that is true of the Father is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit. And everything that is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit is true of the Father.”[4]

Peter refers to the three persons of the Godhead in his Pentecost sermon to the crowd. Peter, who had denied that he knew Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested, was emboldened by the Holy Spirit and became a dynamic speaker of truth: “God has raised this Jesus to life, an we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear . . . Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2: 32-34, 36).

God knows that we cannot completely understand the Trinity—but it is a key difference between Christianity and other faiths. We worship three separate persons of the Godhead–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—as one God. While we cannot completely understand it, we can rely on sacred Scripture for the truth. In addition to multiple references to the plurality of the Godhead in Scripture, all three persons of the Trinity were present at Jesus’ baptism, which was witnessed and recorded.

We can rely on and rejoice in all three persons of the Godhead, who help us on a daily basis. We are grateful for the Father, who is always there for us. We are grateful for the Son, who sacrificed his life to save us from our sinful selves, and is our advocate. And we are grateful for the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, who brings us gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, and joy, so that we may enjoy and appreciate each other and work toward greater obedience to God throughout our lives.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] “Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by Anglican priest Reginald Heber (1783-1826).

[2] The Scripture texts for Holy Trinity Sunday are Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2: 14a, 22-36; John 3: 1-17.

[3] Don Kistler, “Divine Architect”, Tabletalk, April 2006, p. 18.

[4] A.W. Tozer, Meditations on the Trinity (2017) Moody Publishers, pp. 256-257

Are You Ready?

May 15, 2018

But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:13

When you speak to a baby he or she will babble back at you, even from a very young age. Within a few short months, the baby is ready to start forming syllables, then words. But if you give the baby a book, he or she will most likely try to tear out the pages or chew on it. Babies aren’t ready to read. That’s why baby “books” consist of symbols and shapes and are made of indestructible, non-toxic materials.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples that he would be sending the Holy Spirit: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you must also testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27)[1]. Jesus was preparing them for their work with the Holy Spirit. In these verses the Holy Spirit is called both a Counselor or Advocate, and the Spirit of truth. As Counselor, the Holy Spirit would help and encourage them. As the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit would teach and illuminate the gospel message so that they were empowered to preach.

In the same way that babies aren’t ready to read before they learn to speak, most of the early Christians weren’t spiritually ready to receive the Holy Spirit immediately after the resurrection. But the disciples were. When Jesus appeared to the disciples the third day after he was crucified, they “were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20: 20). Jesus said “’Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said,Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20: 21). The disciples received the Holy Spirit privately, so that Jesus could begin his 40-day “How to be Apostles” course covering the substance of their work over the coming months and years. The Holy Spirit convicted them of the truth of the resurrection, and helped them understand Jesus’ teachings in the ensuing days. They were ready to receive the Holy Spirit. They were committed to working to spread the word. They were ready.

The first Pentecost of the Christian church occurred 50 days after the resurrection–10 days after the ascension of Jesus. By then Jesus had appeared to more than 500 people, and there were about 120 followers of Jesus. That day the Holy Spirit made a very public appearance to a group of Jewish believers from around the world who had made the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost—the Spirit was given to everyone that Pentecost: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each one of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit, . . .” (Acts 2: 1-4a).

Pentecost is a traditional Jewish festival that remembers Moses receiving the law from God on Mount Sinai. (See last year’s blog, Empowered by the Holy Spirit at https://dianereagan.com/2017/05/29/empowered-by-the-holy-spirit/)

In God’s perfect timing, the Holy Spirit appeared publicly for the first time when the early believers were ready to receive the Spirit. Many of those gathered had seen Jesus since the resurrection. In fact, whether Jesus was raised from the dead was not even an issue in the first century church because there were so many living eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive after he was crucified and died. That day–when the Holy Spirit appeared publicly–was the day that the Christian church under grace was born. Peter preached to the crowd, and “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2: 41). Thereafter, the fledgling church grew exponentially.

These Scriptures raise the question, “Are you ready to receive the Holy Spirit?” In his little book of sermons on the Holy Spirit entitled How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit,[2] A. W. Tozer posits that not everyone is ready to receive the Holy Spirit. He notes that you are not ready if “you are more influenced by the world than you are by the New Testament . . . But there are some of you who are prepared. They are those who have made the grand, sweet committal.” For those who are prepared he counsels that the Holy Spirit will make himself known to you when you put the time and effort into working on your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Are you ready? Are you ready to move past just showing up at church on Sunday for social or other reasons? Are you ready to stop just going through the motions? Are you ready to get serious about your faith? Are you ready to spend time in the Word—not just in a group study, but in private? Are you ready to meditate in private on the Word? Are you ready to get to know this Jesus who died for your sins? Are you ready to be gripped by the Spirit? Because that is what will happen once you really commit yourself to Jesus. Are you willing to put in the time and effort? It is an all or nothing endeavor. You won’t receive the Spirit if your faith is lukewarm or superficial. You need to be ready to follow where he leads. You need to be obedient and faithful. That can be scary.

Are you ready?

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Pentecost are Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 139: 1-16; Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27; John 16: 4-15.

[2] A.W. Tozer, How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit (1952) Moody Publishers, p.54-57)

How to Pray With Confidence

May 7, 2018

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5: 14

Mothers are counted among the most faithful prayer warriors.  We prayed for our children before they were born, and we continue to pray for them throughout their lives. This Mother’s Day, know that you can pray with confidence that God hears your prayers, that he is faithful, and that he will give you the answers you need. Whether God hears and answers our prayers was also the subject of my July 20, 2016 blog, Yes, Virginia, God Answers Prayer, https://dianereagan.com/2016/07/20/yes-virginia-god-answers-prayer/.

The Resurrection gives us confidence in our salvation. It shows us that Christ atoned for our sins and secured our salvation when he died on the cross. This is a confidence that we can take to the bank. It is a confidence that sees us through life. In John we read “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5: 12). But John also gives us confidence that God hears our prayers: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5: 14).[1]

The key to ensuring that God listens to our prayers is found in the prayers themselves. If we approach prayer as a discussion with God about his will for us, he listens and will answer our prayers. We can pray with confidence that God will show us the way to the path he wants us to follow if we pray “Thy will be done.” Father Robert Spitzer says that is the most important prayer of all: “If you cannot remember any other prayer, default to this one.”[2] The purpose of prayer is not to impose our will on God, but to determine what his will is for our lives and to intercede on behalf of others (1 John 5:16).

God is not a cosmic butler to be summoned to do our bidding– to further our own goals.   He only answers prayers that are within the gambit of his plan. A.Z. Tozer writes, “When we go to God with a request that He modify the existing situation for us, that is, that He answer prayer, there are two conditions that we must meet: (1) We must pray in the will of God. (2) We must be on what old-fashioned Christians often call ‘praying ground’; that is we must be living lives pleasing to God. It is futile to beg God to act contrary to His revealed purposes.”[3]

Please read that sentence again and really think about it: “It is futile to beg God to act contrary to His revealed purposes.” God wants to commune with us; he wants to answer our prayers, but we must meet those conditions.  The other Scripture texts for next Sunday give us examples of people praying on “praying ground” that God’s will be done.

Jesus himself provided many examples of prayer and instructed us how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer includes the key element, “Thy will be done.” We see Jesus praying for his disciples in the 17th Chapter of John. He prayed for their protection: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so they they may be as one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me . . . My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Excerpts, John 17: 11-12; 15).

Luke recounts that after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, “[T]he apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying . . . They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. . . [I]t is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, . . . for one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Excerpts, Acts1:12-14; 21-22).   The disciples, now apostles, were feeling the great loss of Jesus when he ascended into heaven. But he had told them to stay in Jerusalem and promised to send the Spirit within a few days (Acts 1: 4).   They followed his instructions, and prayed for answers. When you are at a loss for what to do, you can still follow the guidelines set forth in Scripture, and pray that God’s will be done through you in your life.

A special word to mothers and grandmothers as we approach Mother’s Day next Sunday: remember that Monica prayed for years for her dissolute son—a son who would later become one of the great church fathers—St. Augustine of Hippo.  Have confidence that God will hear and answer your prayer that his will be done in your life and in the lives of those you love.  God wants only the best for you and for your loved ones.

When you follow Jesus and pray that his will be done, you can be confident that he is listening to you and that he will answer your prayers.  He will arrange for people, circumstances, and events to come together and to show you the way out of your challenges, despair, anxiety, and desperation.  He will point the way to the path that he wants you and your loved ones to follow.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Seventh Week of Easter are Acts 1: 12-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5: 9-15; John 17: 11-19.

[2] Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life (2008) Ignatius Press, p. 36

[3] A. Z. Tozer, compiled by W. L. Seaver Prayer: Communing with God in Everything (2016) Moody Publishers, p. 166.