What does it mean to cry out to God? The Hebrew wordpaints a colorful picture of what goes on in the hearts and minds of those that have cried out in the past, but before we look at the meaning— here are three examples found in scripture.
“Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God.”
“The Israelites cried out to the LORD because of Midian”
“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.”
The word is זָעַק (pronounced zaw-ak’) and it means, “to proclaim/summon together.”
It’s interesting to note that when God’s people cried out to Him in the examples given above, as well as on many other occasions, God brought salvation.
From the definition, we can make at least three practical applications.
God brings positive and radical change when His people cry out in a unified manner. Many congregations assemble each year to have special services dedicated to prayer. Some may not appreciate the power and potential these kinds of events can bring about.
We can move God to action by summoning Him. There are countless testimonies of desperate prayers answered by those who turned to God for answers. There’s always a need to be reminded that talking to God is not simply talking to yourself or yelling into a void. Pray often.
God returns to His people when His people return to Him. In the Bible we often see a unified cry to the Lord take place, once His people have hit rock bottom. From that we learn that God hears the prayers of the distressed— but we also see that being away from God is distressing. The moment God answers, they’re free from captivity. Sin has taken many captive and some feel that God is One who enslaves with Law and commands, but the opposite is true. Freedom is found in Him and He’s faithful to the faithful.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
In the next several weeks at Lehman Avenue church of Christ, there are several big events occurring. In two weeks, we’re having our Vacation Bible School (which we’ve even advertised on TV). The following Sunday is our “Friends And Family Day.” Then, a couple of weeks after that, we’re having a “Widowhood Seminar” with Dean Miller. A month after that, we’re having our Fall Gospel Meeting with Robert Hatfield. There are other things that affect part of the congregation during this time, but it all makes the point that these are potential opportunities to be involved, to invite non-Christian friends and family, and encourage our immediate families.
The apostle Paul asks the church at Galatia to consider each other within the body of Christ. They had a responsibility to help pull each other out of spiritual darkness (Gal. 6:1), to support each other (Gal. 6:2), to strengthen his or her own faith (Gal. 6:4-5), to support Christian teachers and preachers (Gal. 6:6), and to sow the right kind of spiritual seed (Gal. 6:7-8). They were not to lose heart in doing good (Gal. 6:9). It is in this context that Paul makes this statement: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). In this short statement, Paul shares six truths about opportunities.
Opportunities Are Conditional. Paul says, “As we have opportunity.” When should we walk through doors of opportunity? When they are open. Don’t force something that is not there, but don’t shun or avoid what is placed before you. Consider that this might well be the providence of God.
Opportunities Are Communal. “As we” implies that God wants His people working together. He does not desire one or a few to be involved in any area that He has designed the church to do. While opportunities are also personal, and each of us must seek opportunities. But, from the beginning, we see the church working together (Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 12:3ff).
Opportunities Are Tangible. An opportunity is an event, a person, a place, a need, etc., that can be weighed, evaluated, and engaged in. It’s not a wish, hope, or idea per se. It’s something you can put your hands on.
Opportunities Are Practical. Seeing the opportunity, we are to “do.” Engage your brain power, think it through, seek counsel, and the like, and put them to work. In the end, it will not be “well said” or “well intended,” but “well done” (Mat. 25:21,23).
Opportunities Are Impartial. Let us do good to everyone. That’s people like us and people nothing like us. It’s for people easy to serve and people difficult to serve. God demonstrates impartial goodness and kindness (Acts 10:34-35; Mat. 5:45; Acts 14:17). That’s what He wants from us.
Opportunities Are Special. We are to exercise opportunities “especially to those who are of the household of faith.” God wants us to focus on helping our brethren in a special, prioritizing way in the midst of our searching for opportunities. Don’t neglect opportunities with those in the world, but keep your sharper eye on helping your spiritual family.
In the light of all that God is affording us the opportunity to do in the near future, let’s consider what Paul says in this text. Apply it to your situation, wherever you are and whatever is going on. God doesn’t expect you to do it all or more than your fair share, but He makes clear that He has expectations of you in this realm of opportunities. Who knows what good thing He will do through you, if you are ready to meet the opportunity head on.
“This chapter is one of the most excellent in all this book, both for argument to persuade us to be religious and for directions therein,” Welsh Nonconformist theologian and commentator Matthew Henry said of Proverbs 3.1 I agree that it is a practical chapter. And a couple of verses of this section land on my toes. However, Proverbs 3 contains surprises for everyone, such as one verse that tells us that Jehovah has a school. This phrase is used in verse 11 by Lutheran commentators Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch. 2
I’ve seen different plans for Proverbs 3, but the one I like best right now is to divide the chapter into 8 points. Lady Wisdom tells her students to do the right thing first (1-4). Next, she advises students to believe in God’s plan (i.e., Providence; 5-10). The student is then told by Lady Wisdom not to look down on the “school of Jehovah” (11-12). After that, Lady Wisdom will offer a discourse about the practical applications of wisdom in our lives (13-26). Then, in verses 27 and 28, Lady Wisdom tells people not to put things off. (There go my toes!) Lady Wisdom then tells students to love each other and be patient, and then she tells them not to feel sorry for bad people who get what they deserve (29-32). Finally, lady Wisdom ends by comparing the house of the wicked to the home of the humble and wise (33-35).
However, those who do the right thing will avoid many pitfalls into which the foolish repeatedly fall. Sin can have both natural and long-term consequences. Sexually promiscuous people are at risk of contracting a disease. A car accident may kill a drunken driver. When a curious teen tries illicit drugs for the first time, he or she may overdose. Those who do the right thing will avoid these scenarios. Those who do good will also have peace of mind. Their conscience does not interfere with their sound sleep. They also have peace because they have a good relationship with God. Before I go, I’d like to make one more point. Doing the right thing gives someone a sense of purpose (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). That certainly adds to the quality of life.
Lady Wisdom advises us to put our trust in God’s plan (i.e., Providence). Following God’s plan leads to our greater industry and avoiding the previously identified pitfalls. Lady Wisdom says wealth results from working in concert with God’s Providence, as opposed to the prosperity gospel’s teaching that faith alone can produce wealth. We trust God for the increase, but we contribute by working. Unlike those who make rash plans, we pray for God’s will to be done (cf. James 4.13-16). We have faith in God’s wisdom.
We are now at the text portion where Lady Wisdom enrolls us in the “Jehovah’s school.” Interestingly, this passage shows that Keil and Delitsczh change God’s “chastisement” to His “school.” According to their understanding of Hebrew, the word in the original text means “taking one into school.” 3 But isn’t that in line with what God says about His correction elsewhere in the Bible? He corrects us through His love for us to share in His holy nature and bear righteous fruit (Hebrews 12.1-13). Of course, God could let us go without discipline, but that would not be in our best interests.
Lady Wisdom describes the practical benefits of wisdom obtained through diligence after we enroll in Jehovah’s school. On a much smaller scale, the person willing to apply himself or herself can receive the same information God used to create and sustain the cosmos. No, our wisdom will never be as great as God’s (Isaiah 55.8-9), but it can be significant enough to serve as a badge of honor. Wisdom, once established, also provides a peaceful life. It’s worth noting that Solomon mentions peace twice in Proverbs 3. We could say that wisdom makes life easier, which leads to peaceful outcomes.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, what do you do? Anxiety and fear fill your heart. Those thus afflicted shut down and cannot process rational thought, and there is no peace. I jokingly referred to this phenomenon as “panic logic” to my speech therapist. In other words, one loses reasoning and follows the first impulse that comes to mind. I told her about when I stepped into a fire-ant bed as a kid. The ants were already halfway up my leg and stinging when I realized what I had done. My rescuer was watering his garden when he ran over to me with the garden hose. Rather than spraying my legs with water and sending the ants flying, as would have been more logical, he began swatting them away with the hose itself—what a way to add insult to injury. So, I had to contend with stinging ants as well as stinging blows from a rubber hose. A person who follows Lady Wisdom not only has peace of mind because of his relationship with God, but he can also keep his cool in worldly dealings because he “knows stuff.” It’s no surprise that wisdom is valuable!
And now we come to the part of Proverbs 3 that I need to remind myself of daily. Lady Wisdom instructs us not to procrastinate by using a benevolent illustration. If we are in a position to act and have the resources to do so, we should act immediately. Why? It is because we are easily distracted. Remember how Joseph predicted in Genesis 40 that an imprisoned servant would return to serve the pharaoh as a cupbearer? Joseph requested that the cupbearer communicate his plight to the pharaoh since he had his ear. But the cupbearer managed to forget Joseph. Was it because he was a bad guy? No, not necessarily. We can get caught up in the minutiae of life and lose sight of our responsibilities or promises. Or, if it is a matter of money, it vanishes (Proverbs 23.5). You may intend to assist someone with his financial burden “tomorrow,” but tomorrow arrives with an illuminated check engine light. So, whenever the opportunity arises, do good (Galatians 6.10).
Outside of the example of benevolence, how does this relate to the overall procrastination problem? When given a deadline or promise to do something, it is easy to become distracted by other things or waste resources, such as time. As someone who has written many term papers in the final hours before they are due, I can tell you that procrastination is not a good idea, even if you claim that you need the adrenaline rush to finish projects!
At the end of the chapter, our other lessons from Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 3 now flow together. Solomon says God gives people what they deserve and sometimes uses men in His Providence. As a result, we can be blessed by others while also becoming a blessing to others. We should maintain good relationships with others and avoid arguing with anyone without justification. When we come across someone who is suffering as a result of his foolishness, we are to leave him alone. That may appear harsh, especially considering Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10). However, God explains it to us by making it clear what He means when He speaks of the fool. Remember that a fool is someone who lacks moral character. As a result, a fool is rebellious and stubborn. When people rejected the message, Jesus told His disciples in the limited commission to shake the dust from their sandals and walk on (Matthew 10.14). So, we preach the Gospel to the world (Mark 16.15-16), but we recognize when it devolves into throwing pearls before swine or giving holy things to dogs (Matthew 7.6).
Finally, there is a clear distinction between these two paths. Those seeking wisdom live in homes where God’s grace has healed their wounds and declared them righteous. The foolish scoffer will live in the filth of his own dishonorable home. God will laugh when he sees his house. Are you paying attention to Lady Wisdom? Do you refrain from disparaging Jehovah’s school? All the decisions you make today and the effort you put in to become wise will make all the difference.
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul reveals to us what a true Christian looks like. He gives a list of actions we should always strive to accomplish. This list is totally different from the message we hear from the world. The apostle tells us that as true Christians we:
Have genuine love
Hold on to what is good
Love one another
Outdo each other in showing honor
Have a Fervent spirit
Serve the Lord
Rejoice in hope
Are patient in tribulation
Contribute to the Saints
Bless our persecutors
Do not curse our enemies
Rejoice with those who rejoice
Weep with those who weep
Live in harmony
Associate with the lowly
Don’t think too much of ourselves
Don’t repay evil with evil
Do what is honorable in the sight of everyone
Don’t take revenge
Care for our enemies
Don’t let evil overcome us
Overcome evil with good
That’s a whole lot to remember. But if we love God, we will try our best to follow these commands. Christianity is practical because it gives us the best life on this earth and the one to come.
We know what’s truly important. We have a purpose and we know how we are to act, speak and think. We know why we’re here on earth and we know where we are going if we are faithful to God’s word. This list in Romans 12 gives us practical tips on how to handle the situations that come up in life. We have the key to a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life. We follow the Bible because it is practical. It contains wisdom and knowledge that is found nowhere else on earth. It provides a map to salvation and it gives us the answers to life’s problems.
The story is told of an old man who was wandering in the desert looking for water. He approached an old shack and on the porch area he found a water pump.
Next to the water pump he saw a one gallon jug. A note on the jug said, “Use all the water to prime the pump.” The man’s instincts said to drink the water and not trust the pump. Nevertheless he poured the water into the pump and began pumping until an abundance of cool water came to the top. The Bible is like the note on that water jug. Sometimes the instructions contained in the Bible do not make sense to us, but it is always right. The commands given to us from God are practical. He knows what is best for His own creation. They help us in our decisions, and they teach us how to act and think. We can have confidence in knowing that our lives are based on the perfect commands of Scripture.
Samuel is nearing the end of his life by the time you read 1 Samuel 12. He gives a speech to all of Israel and there are several chilling statements that force us to consider our own spiritual standing. Samuel seeks the counsel of the Lord and asks Him on behalf of the people for an earthly king. God had established the Judges to rule them rather than a king which was typical for the time period. God grants their request, even though this kind of leadership was bound for failure. He handed Israel their shovel, and they began to dig. Here are some of Samuel’s final words.
“Then Samuel called on the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish” (18-25).
Here are five quick observations and practical truths based on Samuel’s speech.
We should never let our previous sins hold us back from pressing forward. Samuel tells the children of Israel not to let the evil in their recent past keep them down— but he doesn’t pretend as if they hadn’t sinned against God.
Samuel reminds the people that God is quick to forgive.
It’s interesting that Samuel says that his failure to pray for God’s people would be a sinful thing for him to do.
Samuel tells the people to fear the Lord AND remember what He’s done for them. God could have wiped them out. He clearly had the ability as he demonstrated His power over nature in the beginning of this section.
It was true for the children of Israel and it’s true for us today. If we persist in doing evil, we will perish.
The Old Testament is filled with relevant applications for us today. Let’s learn from the past, and like Samuel said— let’s not let our past failures keep us from moving forward.
The Bible is filled with so many helpful verses on daily living. Many of us can find it difficult at times to work with people, especially if we’re having a stressful day. Here are eleven practical passages that will help us in our interactions with others this week.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1)
The wise of heart is called perceptive, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness (Proverbs 16:21)
Be gentle and show courtesy to all people (Titus 3:2)
Do good to everyone (Gal. 6:10)
Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31)
Discern your own thoughts, identify your intentions (Heb. 4:12)
Treat others like you would treat Jesus. How would you interact with Him? (Matthew 25:40)
Season your speech with grace. It’s the Savior’s All-Spice for every relationship-building goal (Col. 4:5-6)
Praise God and be joyful, it attracts people (Psalm 100:1-5)
Be ready for every good work, speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, show courtesy to all people (Titus 3:1-15)
One thing you might notice about these scriptures is how many of them deal with our speech. According to the book of James, the tongue is incredibly difficult to tame. Reading these verses, it becomes clear that there are several advantages of placing the bridle over our lips.
We are supposed to be disciples. Discipleship is a mark of a healthy church. If we want to be true disciples, we must simply love God and we’ll know what it means to be disciples. Be a disciple. Discipleship is good.
You’ve heard these statements before. They go along the same lines as, “We need to love God,” or, “We need to be godly,” or, “We need to be good Christians.” These are all true statements, but – at best – are greatly impractical and – at worst – are greatly discouraging. Ambiguous statements with no specific instruction will never accomplish anything.
So, what is a disciple? The word used in the New Testament is μαθητής (mathetes). It describes someone who “engages in learning through instruction from another” and “who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or particular set of views” (BDAG 609).
A disciple is someone who passionately pursues something or someone in a specific subject field. A passing interest in pulmonology does not make one a pulmonologist. We know this. A passing interest in Christianity does not make one a Christian.
If we’re there every time the doors are open but our Bible knowledge is lacking, we are not disciples. If we claim the title “Christian” but the foundation of our faith is a political viewpoint, we are not disciples.
A disciple passionately studies. A disciple is an exegete. Disciples passionately incorporate and live out the teachings of scripture, which they get from their study. If we are as enthusiastic about our faith as we are about our hobbies, we are disciples. If we want to be called disciples, we must also be considered dedicated students of the word and of the One.