By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.Hebrews 13:7
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21).
In this parable that Jesus told, the rich man made two key mistakes. He did not explicitly ask God for more goods or for more space, but in seeking more he neglected to offer thanksgiving to God for the abundance of his land. In fact, when he was on the mountaintop, he forgot that he still needed to remain dependent on God (Prayer, Woerner, 130). His second mistake is that he forgot that “created life is bounded by death, a reality that comes to bear whatever the quantity of one’s possessions” (FOTW C.3.314). When we make requests of God, or hope for things, or put our work into something, we need to do so while recognizing this unavoidable truth. Our requests should not be for we ourselves to store up excess so that we may feel secure. Our security should not be in excess, but instead in the provisions of God. If we know that our God is with us, how can we be afraid?
David E. Gray, Senior Pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Maryland, states, “The book of Hebrews was written partly to combat such melancholy and to encourage Christians who were having trouble holding onto hope when Christ did not return immediately after his resurrection” (FOTW C.3.330). He expands that concept: “Today’s Christians are not alone. The members of the early church also struggled with discouragement. What has helped God’s people deal with discouragement since the beginning is the knowledge that we are not alone. We follow in the footsteps of people from the earliest biblical times who were unsure of what the future held for them. We follow in the footsteps of saints who along the way chose to trust God anyway. We follow a God who does not abandon us in times of trouble. When we follow the path of staying focused on Jesus Christ our Savior, we are able to see the joy in life despite suffering” (FOTW C.3.352). A lack of joy and hope, and a presence of discouragement, plagues many of us today. It is a plague because it keeps us from God. The encouragement we find in turning to one of the main purposes of the book of Hebrews as well as finding consolation that we are not alone with the Christians who have gone before us, helps us to overcome that plague. The knowledge of this can encourage us to, like them, decide to trust God anyway, follow God anyway, and talk to God about what is on our mind. We cannot let discouragement keep us from engaging with God.
The city was running out of water. There were hostile armies all around. The situation looked bleak. The people of Jerusalem forgot who to turn to. They were only worried, wondering what was next. Out of the worry, comes a song: “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1). Really? What has God done for us lately? We are here struggling. Why should I shout for joy? Have you looked around you? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). This is what God wants the people to hear. But the people are busy bustling around and trying to find their own way through the crisis. They do not hear God say, “Open your mouth and I will fill it” because they are distracted by their worry and their many tasks. The people do not stop to listen. Does it seem familiar? Do not many people today have the same concern? Do you hear God saying, “I am your God; open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).
God longs for us to turn to God for refreshment. Though God said, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels,” God followed these words with, “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (Psalm 81:11-13). God is lamenting the broken relationship with God’s people. The people stopped making requests of God because they no longer saw God’s action in their lives. They stopped making supplications to God, and instead made them only to each other or to the idol Baal. We read from the prophet Jeremiah, “The rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesized by Baal, and went after things that do not prophet. … My people have changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jeremiah 2:8, 11). I can hear God’s hurt in these words. It’s as if a parent is saying, “My children have changed their focus to something that does not profit them; it weakens them instead of strengthens them.” But the parent is powerless to change it. Billions of people in the world today do not follow God; at least a billion more claim to follow God but do not call on God regularly if at all. God grieves our lack of supplication. He asks, “Why are you not listening to me? Why are you not focused on me? Why do you not talk to me?” Calling on God is the most important thing that we can do to grow as a believer and as a citizen of the kingdom of God. When we do not call on God, we wither and fade like a flower with no water. God grieves our lack of supplication. Perhaps our first supplication today can be “God, help me not to turn my back on you amid the distractions of today.” It is not putting our security in excess. It is not letting our discouragement get in the way of God. It is focusing on God and making God a priority in our life. “God, help me not to turn my back on you amid the distractions of today.”
Do you ever wonder what there is to ask God for? Are you afraid of asking God for the wrong thing? If you are, first, be encouraged if you are not asking for anything that takes your feeling of security away from God. You are not asking for wealth or power, which are two of the biggest distractions that place our sense of security in something other than God. You can ask anything on your mind that you believe will point you closer to God. And if you are still unsure, take a look at many of the examples that we find in the Bible. I recently read a devotion on the Lord’s Prayer which pointed out six different supplications within it: “In relation to God, we ask: 1) that His name will be honored, 2) that His kingdom will come, and 3) that His will should be done. In relation to ourselves, we ask: 4) that God will provide what we need, 5) that God will forgive our sins, and 6) that God will deliver us from evil.” The selection that we read today from Hebrews also has plenty of suggestions: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you yourselves were in prison. … Keep your lives free from the love of money. … Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:3, 5, 7).
I recall a story from the Holocaust. I do not remember where I read it, but it was about a faithful Jew who found strength even in the shocking trauma that he lived through. He once said, that while he was in the concentration camps, he did not request that God deliver them from the Germans, but that God would grant them the strength to get them through. He used the fourth supplication from the Lord’s prayer: that God will provide what we need. Perhaps that can be your prayer also. Ask God for strength. Ask God for wisdom. Ask God for courage. Ask God for peace. Whatever it may be, know that if you do not ask God for it, God may say that you have not listened to the voice and you seek your own way; God may not give you what you ask. But if you do ask God for it, you are actively seeking God. You are praying. You are engaging with God. And that is exactly what God wants to see.
What supplication do you want to bring to God? Has anything kept you from doing that? Can you bring it to God anyway, just as so many faithful have done when they are discouraged? Is it not for your gain, but for God’s gain? May you be blessed to have the confidence to bring your requests to God without shame, without regret, and with plenty of adoration for the God who has always been here for us. All Christians need these moments with God so that God’s glory is revealed in the world as well as in all of our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
81:1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
81:10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
81:11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
81:12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
81:13 O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
81:14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
81:15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.
81:16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
13:1 Let mutual love continue.
13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
13:4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
13:6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
13:15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;
14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.
14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”