Prayer’s Object

God

Daniel 9:4 “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands…’”

Daniel refers to the God to whom he was praying as the LORD. If you check in your Bible, this is spelled in all capital letters. This is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush: the “I Am” God, “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” if taken letter by letter from the Hebrew.

This name was important for a couple of reasons. It was this name especially by which God distinguished himself from all the false gods. The God of the Bible has always insisted that he is the only God there is. Praying to any other god is a complete waste of time.

We might compare it to praying in Jesus’ name in our day. Since Jesus has come, we know that it is only through him that we know the true God. We even have his promise to give us what we ask in his name. When we pray to or through Jesus, we are praying to the only God there really is.

Now not every prayer has to include the letters J-E-S-U-S out loud to be “in his name.” But prayers which purposely exclude Jesus to avoid offense, or because they are offered by non-Christians, go nowhere. Offered to any other god, they are a complete waste of time.

Getting the object of our prayers, the true God, right was important for another reason. By his name the LORD God revealed some very important truths about what kind of a God he is. To put it in his own words, he is “The LORD, the LORD, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” Knowing that he is a God of grace, compassion, forgiveness, and love, encourages us to come to him in prayer often.

So do Daniel’s descriptions of him. “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands…” When we believe in God and go to him for help, we need to know that we are praying to more than some little sprite like the tooth fairy, who isn’t good for much more than a couple of quarters under the pillow. He is the great and awesome God who fills all things and holds all power. We can share the confidence of our children who have learned to sing, “My God is so great, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”

Then we can be sure that he is the God who “keeps his covenant of love,” the God who keeps all his promises. That was a special comfort for Daniel here. He was praying about the seemingly impossible return of his people to their homeland. Who was Israel now but a defeated little ethnic group without a country of their own? What favors could they expect from the great Persian Empire? But Daniel knew that God had promised through Jeremiah this would all end in 70 years. Daniel knew that our God keeps his promises.

Doesn’t that help to inspire our prayers? And doesn’t that encourage us to get to know more and more about the God to whom we pray, so that we can know his promises and be sure of his blessings?

Prayer’s Posture

Praying Kneeling

Daniel 9:3 “So I turned to the Lord and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”

The way that Daniel describes his approach to God tells us something about his posture on the inside. Daniel came with a humble heart. He “turned to the Lord and pleaded.” In other words, Daniel realized his own talents and resources were not going to solve his problem. Daniel was confessing that he really needed God.

When we look at the wider context of Daniel’s problem, we might be tempted to say, “Well of course! Daniel was praying about the release of his entire nation from their 70-year exile in Babylon. There was no way this one man all by himself could do anything about that. He really did need God!”

But are we any less needy than Daniel, any less dependent on the Lord? Even the simplest and most commonplace details of our lives rely on him. We could not draw our very next breath without God’s help and blessing, much less accomplish anything else we ever do.

Perhaps we don’t like to regard ourselves so helpless and dependent, but this is what we are. Too often we set out on some project, great or small, thinking we can lick it all on our own. And sometimes in his grace the Lord lets us get away with this for a time. But we are deceiving ourselves and insulting God if we think we reach the goal alone. Daniel teaches us we need God, not just for a little help, but for every little detail that makes our lives possible.

Daniel expressed this kind of humility by his external posture, too. “I turned to the Lord and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth, and ashes.” Fasting, sackcloth, ashes–these were ancient ways of expressing great sadness and grief. Fasting–giving up food for a time–wasn’t practiced as a way to make God happy or to mystically get closer to him. It was a vivid way of saying, “I’m so upset or concerned about this that I don’t want to eat.” Sackcloth was a dark, rough and cheap cloth of such a poor quality and appearance that it almost wasn’t suitable to be worn. Wearing it was a way of saying, “I am so disturbed that I don’t even feel like getting dressed and making myself presentable today.” Ashes communicated a similar message.

Do these have any place in our prayer lives? Here we need to be careful. Americans are very hungry for spiritual experiences. They have become bored with the gospel of God’s love in Jesus, and so have gone looking for others ways to “experience” God. Some have latched on to fasting as a mystical way to get closer to God. It often loses its character as a heartfelt expression of sorrow over sin, the way God’s people used it in the Bible.

But we would be just as mistaken to dismiss these things altogether. We are not bound to fasting, sackcloth, and ashes, but they remind us our body language still reveals something about the attitude with which we pray. It can be used as a teaching tool, too. Look at the practices with which we are more familiar. When we fold our hands, we are confessing our helplessness and our need to God. It’s not these hands which will ultimately solve our problems. When we bow our heads, we are humbling ourselves as we come to God, recognizing that we are sinful and unworthy, and he is great and gracious. This is perhaps impressed upon us, or expressed by us, even more when we do something that seems to be increasingly rare–literally get down on our knees before God when we pray.

These postures also express something about our regard for the God to whom we pray. He is the God of grace. He taught us to trust him for the entirety of our salvation. He has taken care of dealing with our sins from beginning to end. We made no contribution to Jesus work at the cross other than the sins for which he suffered. We make no payment to receive his forgiveness today. All is done.

Likewise, we can trust him that he doesn’t need our help with the daily crises we face. That’s not to say we become passive in addressing them. It is to say we trust the Lord who loves us fully to handle today’s urgent need.

Is our posture in prayer simply a matter of habit, or a sincere demonstration of the attitude of our hearts? Daniel teaches us that prayer’s posture is another way we talk to God.

Christ’s Ambassadors

Flags at UN

2 Corinthians 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

An ambassador is not an entrepreneur. He is not self-employed or self-appointed. He serves under the authority, and acts by the authority, of someone else. So it is with Christ’s ambassadors. As ambassadors of Christ, we serve on his behalf, under his authority. Perhaps that seems obvious. Whom else might we look to as our authority? Our churches? Our communities? Ourselves?

It is true that we serve our Christian brothers and sisters in the faith. We should receive their advice and counsel and work together with them as a team, even receive their loving rebuke if called for. But we are Christ’s ambassador. We work for him, because he is our authority.

Nor is our authority those people Christ calls us to reach. In order to reach them we need to get to know them, immerse ourselves in their culture, and build bridges with them so that we clearly communicate the gospel.

But it would be strange, wouldn’t it, if the U.S. Ambassador to China began to support and promote the positions of the government of the People’s Republic of China instead of the United States? Isn’t that backwards? Doesn’t that make the ambassador more or less useless? In the same way we can never win the lost by adopting their lost positions. Then they have won us. Live with the people God has placed in your path. Learn from them. Love them. But don’t forget that you are Christ’s Ambassador to them, and he is your authority.

As ambassadors, what is the message Christ wants us to deliver? “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Paul’s own delivery of the message was filled with urgency. “We implore you,” he says. He is pleading, begging. That’s because the gospel we’ve been given is not just information. We aren’t reciting a list of neutral facts, like a person reading definitions out of a dictionary. We are all about the greatest issue of all time. The eternal future of the people who hear us hangs in the balance. The message we have been given is more than a matter of life or death. It is a matter of heaven or hell.

Deliver that message with passion. Urge people. Plead with them. Implore. Assert. Let them see that it is your cause. I’m not suggesting that we need to take on a different personality when we talk to others about Jesus. Urgency can be communicated in a low-key way, too. But since we are Christ’s Ambassador, let his message be our cause.

When we consider its contents– Jesus’ gracious work for us– can it be anything else? “Be reconciled to God.” If those words were a command to us to make amends for our past and convince God to take us back, they would be depressing. Who would be equal to such a task? We would all remain his enemies.

But these words communicate something real, accomplished, and available, not just possible or potential. They assume Jesus’ saving work just verses before, “…that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” Being reconciled to God is not about us convincing him to change his mind about us. It is about Jesus giving us a new status, a new identity before God. The very Son of God loved us so much he gave up heaven to become one of us and live in our world. He gave up his own life to pay for the sins that we have committed. Our sins no longer count against us. With our sins forgiven, God has nothing left to be angry about. He hasn’t changed. He never does. But Jesus’ work changes how we look to him. God is smiling on us because we look sinless to him now.

Someplace in his introduction to The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis writes that he was not gifted with extraordinary insights into human sin and temptation when he wrote about them, as some people assumed from the book. He needed to look no further than his own heart for examples. On the gospel side, the more that our own hearts have seen Christ’s work, have tasted the sweet peace of reconciliation with God, the better ambassadors we will be of the message he wants proclaimed.

I once heard about a church whose motto was, “We’re all about the people.” I don’t want to be hypercritical. The motto could be understood in a proper way. But isn’t there something more important that we are all about? We’re all about the Savior. And we will continue to be, so long as we are Christ’s Ambassadors.

Lean on Him

Leaning

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Do you ever find what you think and what God says going in opposite directions? Sometimes we look at God’s way and think to ourselves, “That’s not going to work.”  Bible history is filled with examples: the people who lived in Noah’s neighborhood while he was building the ark; the children of Israel waiting on the shores of the Red Sea; the people of Jericho while the children of Israel were marching around their city walls each day; Jesus’ own disciples just before he took five little loaves of bread and two small fishes and started passing them out to over 5000 people. But God’s way does work, doesn’t it, even when it seems to defy our common sense.

Sometimes we want what we want so badly that we tell ourselves, “It won’t hurt anything,” even when God warns us not to. Again, the Bible is full of examples: Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit; Lot’s wife turning around to take a look back at Sodom and Gomorrah; Israel worshiping the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai; David committing adultery with Bathsheba. But ignoring God’s warnings always has consequences. We lose his blessings and invite his judgment– not just now, but forever.

This “Trust in the Lord” approach, then, will be tested in our own lives in many ways. If a financial crisis strikes, will you lean on your own understanding and give in to worry, or will you trust in the Lord and his promise to provide your daily bread? As you arrange your priorities, will you lean on your own understanding and arrange your life to maximize your personal comfort and enjoyment, or will you trust in the Lord and put him first in how you budget your time and other resources? As you raise your children will you lean on the understanding of so many others that the best thing you can give them is every toy and gadget that comes along, participation in all the music or athletics they could ever want? Or will you trust in the Lord and make sure they receive God’s word above all else, and loving, godly discipline next to that?

The Lord has earned our trust in all these little details of our lives by his handling of the one great issue we had. If we were to lean on our own understanding in dealing with our sin, we would try to pay for it ourselves. We would try to earn God’s love and acceptance. And we would fail. But the Lord has that covered for us, too. Who would have thought of asking God to save us from the sins we had committed against him himself? But that is just what he has done. Who would have thought of asking God to sacrifice the only Son he had to pay for those sins? But that is what Jesus was doing when he died on the cross. Who would have thought of asking God to make forgiveness and eternal life a free gift? But that is just the gift he has given to us.

The gift of God’s Son inspires us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and lean on him, not just with our soul’s salvation, but in all the little details of life as well.

Ready to Answer

Teach

1 Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

What our translation calls an “answer” is literally a “defense.” Peter was writing for people whose faith regularly came under attack in the form of persecution. When people asked them about their faith, it was often to challenge them, ridicule them, or condemn them. Peter wanted them to be ready with a defense of their beliefs when such times came.

We may not face the same kind of hostility when we share our faith today. People who ask us what we believe may not be looking to put us down or contradict our position. But every presentation of Bible truth still has a certain defensive characteristic, even if I’m simply telling someone the story about Jesus for the first time.

You see, every one of us, Christians included, is a skeptic at heart. By nature we can’t and don’t believe what God has to say about salvation. It seems unreasonable, foolish, impossible. Remember what Paul told the Corinthians? “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Though you have the Spirit, don’t you find a voice inside of you still questioning much of what God has to say? “How can that be?” “That doesn’t make sense.” Or “Why should I care?” “What difference does it really make?” “That doesn’t seem very important.”

When I write my sermons and prepare my Bible classes, I write with the skeptic in mind. I need look no further than my own perverse heart to find the challenges to God’s commands and God’s promises that haunt every human heart. I need look no further than God’s word to find the answer to, the defense for, those challenges.

If you are a Christian, you are going to have opportunities to defend your beliefs. Be ready to answer the questions that come your way. I probably don’t have to tell you that. In my life I have had real opportunities to explain my beliefs on the swing set and in the sandbox in the backyard of the home in which I grew up, while assembling doors for electrical enclosures during my college years, talking with the person sitting next to me on the airplane, mingling with the customers at my wife’s garage sales, watching my children take swimming lessons, sitting in the waiting room while my son was undergoing surgery, riding in golf carts, attending wedding receptions. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences.

How can you be ready to answer the challenge of witnessing in those situations? “Always be prepared,” Peter urges. Know your Scriptures. Study them. Think about what they mean to you. And don’t be afraid to say what you know.

Even more, live in the gospel. Read and think about God’s grace in Christ often. Know that you are forgiven. Meditate on it. Nothing so changes our hearts and fills them with fresh expressions of God’s powerful love than the words that claim us as his children, assure us of our salvation, and tell the story of Jesus and his love. Then, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).”

I’m not a particularly quick wit. Snappy comebacks are not my strength. Sometimes I’ll think of a great comeback hours later, and all I can do is hope I’ll remember it if ever the chance to use it comes again.

Don’t rely on quick wits when it comes to the challenge of witnessing for Jesus. Give Jesus first place in your heart. Give his word first place in your mind and thoughts. Then you’ll be ready to tell others about your hope.

Set Christ Apart

cross heart

1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord.”

What does it mean to set Jesus apart as Lord? The word “set apart” is the same word we often translate “make holy” or “sanctify.” When God sanctifies us, he lifts us up above the rest of the world and gives us a privileged position in his family. We are no longer ordinary, just another face in the crowd, part of a mass of sinful humanity for which he has little use. By the forgiveness of sins we are holy and perfect. By the faith he plants in our hearts we become eminently useful to him. He treats us as dear children and an indispensable part of his plan to save the world.

Of course, we can’t make Jesus any holier than he already is. But just as he has lifted us up to a special place and value in his heart, we can give him a special place in our hearts. We can lift him above all our selfish goals and plans. We can lift him above our investments, bank accounts, and tax sheltered annuities. We can lift him above our dream homes, our fancy vacations, and our 32-valve, leather-trimmed, high-performance vehicles. We can lift him above the manager we kiss-up to, the buddies we hang out with, the children and grandchildren we dote upon. We can set Jesus apart, set him above it all, by giving him first place in our hearts.

The position Jesus then occupies in our hearts is the position of Lord. Now a Lord has two things: authority and power. Our Lord has the authority to set the standard for us. He calls the shots. He makes the rules. With his authority our Lord describes for us what a Christian life will look like. Regardless of your personal gifts, it will look a lot like love, kindness, compassion, humility, and gentleness.

Our Lord also has the power to turn this kind of life into a life of witness for him. Now if he were an earthly Lord or master, that power would come from the outside in the form of threats and force. But Christ is the Lord of our hearts. It was his love that won control of our hearts, and it is that same love that puts the gas in our engine, the wind in our sails, and gives us the power to live in a way that gives a good witness.

At this point someone might ask, “But didn’t Jesus become the Lord of our hearts when we came to faith? Why make the command now?” It is true that he became our Lord when we came to faith in him as our Savior. But each of us also knows that there are ever-present challengers to him for first place in our lives. Nothing wrestles him for first place in my life harder than my own sinful nature.

That means that every day I need to repent and in my heart set apart Christ as Lord. Every day I need to hear a healthy dose of his love and forgiveness by which he made himself Lord of my heart in the first place. Every day I need to have the cross lifted before my eyes, and the hope of the empty tomb, and the power of Jesus’ ascension, so that my heart will be ready to live for him, and be an ambassador for him to others.

Not Our Righteousness But His Mercy

Mercy

Titus 3:3-4 “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

Sin enslaves. It enslaves us to our own passions and pleasures. Since our passions and pleasures look so appealing, because they are simply what we want, we aren’t even aware of our slavery.  How often doesn’t the advertising we see invite us to make our passions and pleasures the focus of our lives? How often doesn’t the “pursuit of happiness” become people living in slavery to self? How much doesn’t “being hated and hating one another” describe the polarized society in which we live—right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, people of faith vs. secular elitists, all screaming at each other and writing nasty things about each other online?

This slavery involves more than greedy or hurtful things people do. It taints our good behavior, too. That’s why Paul must exclude “righteous things we have done” from the salvation formula. More than God is concerned with our outward behavior, he is concerned with the attitude behind the action. Keeping his law has more to do with love than keeping in step with the right rules. Look at the “righteous” things people do. If there is not first faith in God, then the actions reveal no love for him, no matter how good they look. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the Bible tells us. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” is the first and greatest commandment.

Doing good things to win God over further sullies our motives. If we do good to pay for our sins and earn a place in heaven, how does that show any love for the Lord?  How does that show any love for people we may be helping?  Aren’t we just loving ourselves? The crook pays off the authorities so that they will look the other way when he is doing his dirty work. Christians can fall into this same “dealing” with the Authority, trying to trade three good behaviors for permission to keep one evil one. Using God while we are looking out for our own selfish interests isn’t “righteous.” We see, then, that there is no possibility of doing anything truly righteous, moved by pure love for the Lord, until he has taken care of this matter of salvation. Only after his love, grace, forgiveness, and eternal life are an established fact he has given us as a gift, do we stop trying to selfishly earn them on our own.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…”  This salvation is all God’s work. It appeared when Jesus did. The Lord has taken everything Jesus did and made it mine. He has taken everything I have done and made it Jesus’ own. Jesus lived the only truly righteous, pure, and loving life the world has ever seen. His life counts for me. To God none of my faults and failings are visible anymore. Jesus died in payment for my sins. I died with him there. His death counts for me, and I will never need to make that payment again.

This salvation is more than a mathematical formula in God’s great accounting system.  Paul says that here God’s kindness and love appeared. He did this because of his mercy. More than cold, hard facts, these are warm and living proof God’s care for us is deep and heartfelt. Here we find the faithful Friend who will never turn away from us. Here we find the Savior whose love is so great, patient, and free nothing could ever stop it. He makes no external demands on us. He sets up no criteria we must first meet. He requires not one single thing to make us worthy. Purely out of his love, kindness, and mercy, he gives us salvation. He gave his very self for it. He left us nothing more to do.

Sin enslaves, but God saves. It is all a matter of his mercy.

Serving Strangers

Suitcase

3 John 1:5-6 “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love.”

We Christians don’t give the Apostle John’s third letter much attention. Chances are, you never memorized any passages from it. The whole thing is only 14 verses long. They form a personal letter from John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, to a dear friend, a lay person named Gaius. It seems Gaius had both a deep concern for the truth and a heart for mission work. If he did mission work himself, we don’t hear anything about it. Rather, John commends him for his faithful service at home. Gaius was supporting travelling missionaries by taking care of their day to day needs.  When they were in the area, he opened his home to them. When they left, he sent them off with food, money, or whatever else he could provide.

Gaius did this for them even though they were strangers. He may have known a few things about them. They had the Apostle John’s recommendation. They were full time workers in God’s Kingdom. He shared a common faith with them. But they were not people he knew deeply on a personal level.

We still work together in God’s Kingdom with this kind of faithful service at home. You likely support missionaries and teachers around the world through your gifts to your congregation, though you have never met most of them personally. They do the Lord’s work in places you and I are unable to go. Sometimes it may pinch a little to support training schools and missionaries. But let’s not become so concerned about the work at home that we forget about spreading the Gospel around the world. Even in our mission work, a selfish spirit can creep in. We want to see big things at home. We want to be served at home. We feel less concern for billions of souls around the world who need the gospel, too. John would still say to Christians who support gospel workers they never met, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you.”

John would say that especially because of what it reveals. “They have told the church about your love.” The men Gaius’s supported recognized it wasn’t mere duty or obligation that moved him to do so. This wasn’t a stunt to win them as friends or a ploy to make them indebted to him. He wasn’t trying to make himself look good in the church. Gaius’s support was a product of love. His faith was expressing itself in acts of love.

That is not a purely natural thing. Faithful support of the strangers spreading God’s love in other places isn’t the result of heredity. Merely educating people won’t make them so smart they choose to do this. Naturally selfish people don’t fork over their hard earned dollars to support people they have never heard of. They want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

That was never Jesus’ question. He simply loves us. He didn’t live among us because there was something in it for him. He didn’t trade places with us and die for our sins because it was the natural thing to do. It was purely an act of unselfish love. He doesn’t continue to forgiver all our sins every day because he is somehow indebted to us. The debt runs entirely the other way. Yet he freely and willingly loves and forgives.

This love has the power to take hold of us. It transforms and leads us to do things we otherwise would never do. Now that Jesus’ love has set up housekeeping in our hearts by faith, we live for him. Gaius knew Jesus’ love. It gave him such a love for the Gospel that he opened his house to strangers who were leading others to Christ. He supported them from his own pocket.

You and I know Jesus’ love. It leads us to look beyond the narrow confines of our church’s walls. We work together with sister churches across our country and around the world.  In doing so we are participating in a world-wide mission even from home. Serving and supporting such strangers makes us missionaries with them, working together for the truth.

His Testimony In Your Heart

heart key

1 John 5:10 “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

Every moment of a Christian’s existence his faith is under attack. The attack is unrelenting and takes many forms. It is such a constant feature of our existence that sometimes we hardly notice it. But from time to time something happens to make us feel the attack again. We become deeply aware of how hard it is to hold on to our faith.

This is a major side-story of the Easter account. It is important enough, and urgent enough, that sometimes it may seem as though it is the main issue. Is it possible to believe Jesus rose from the dead? Just hours after it happened Jesus’ enemies were spreading rumors about his disciples stealing the body. They paid good money to make sure that their version of the events got air time around Jerusalem.

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t find it any easier to believe he was alive again. Ten of them refused to believe the women when they came back with the first report from the empty tomb. Thomas held out a week longer in spite of the growing number of witnesses who had seen Jesus alive.

The onslaught against faith isn’t limited to Jesus’ resurrection, or even the Bible’s claims of supernatural events. Those seem to offend against science and reason. People also make moral objections to Christian teachings. Isn’t spanking violence against children? Doesn’t respect for authority contribute to injustice and neglect of the poor? Isn’t traditional marriage teaching unfair, even mean, to those with same-sex attractions?

Then there are the questions and problems with the goodness of God. If God loves everyone, then why are some saved, but others are lost? Why is faith in Jesus necessary? If God is kind and merciful, then why does he allow so much suffering–hunger, disease, poverty, war, or natural catastrophe? These are often not theoretical questions. They come from the personal experiences of our own lives. I am not suggesting that it is wrong to wonder about these things. I am saying that the conclusions to which many people come are hostile to Christian faith.

Can faith survive? The good news about God’s Son is more than an offer of grace. It is the gift of grace. It does more that invite us to believe. It grants, it plants that faith deep within our hearts. I have read many stories I loved because they excited me, moved me, even inspired me to change. Sometimes they play my emotions like a cheap violin. Still, none of them are like the testimony God has given about the life and love of his Son. This has embraced me, possessed me, and now inhabits my heart and soul in a way that has made, and is still making me, a different man.

That is why John can say, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” I don’t understand everything God demands or promises. I may still struggle to agree with it all. There are certainly things I would do differently if I were God. But I can’t shake the inner conviction that says, “Jesus is your Savior, and God’s word is true. Trust him. Follow him.” It is not my own inner voice. God’s testimony often contradicts and corrects the voice inside me. It exposes my inner rebel and puts him down. Even more, it invites me, it leads me to the certainty that I live in a perpetual state of forgiveness. Love is always where my Lord stands with me. His way is good, if not always easy or pleasant, and he won’t steer me wrong. Listen. Believe.

This sometimes makes giving my testimony of faith to others frustrating. John also describes the skeptic who does not believe: “…(He) has made (God) out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” “Prove it!” the skeptic says. “Prove that Jesus lived, died, or rose. Prove he said this or that. Prove his demands. Prove that he saves.” I would love to. I have only the story, the word, the testimony God has given. The skeptic thinks it is all a lie. But it has conquered my heart, and I know that all of it, all of it, is true. I can only repeat the testimony God has given. I can’t make you believe. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s the sum of the matter.

Our faith is always under attack. But God has given us his word to defend it, to feed it, and to make it live and flourish. Listen like the little children. Believe like them, and keep your heart of faith.