Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Psalm 25:8-11
Modern media feeds us a steady diet of big sins—leaders brought down by scandal, business people who break the law for financial gain, celebrities who wreck their lives with destructive habits, not to mention the immorality and violence littered throughout most of today’s TV and movies narratives. It is easy to observe the big sins of others and think “it’s a good thing that God can forgive great big sins because there are some people out there with some real whoppers!”
If you think yourself clear of big sins and unconcerned by little sins, consider the account of Cain and Abel. We might deem Cain a “big sinner,” after all he was humanity’s first cold blooded murderer. But notice, God approached Cain before his evil deed and said to him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain failed to offer a sacrifice to God in faith (Hebrews 11) and instead sought God’s acceptance based on his own good works. God’s disapproval did not cause Cain to repent, instead he grew angry and bitter. “So what?” one might say, everyone gets angry. Besides, Cain was trying to do a good thing and sacrifice to God!
God, in His wisdom, recognised that Cain’s hardness of heart and unwillingness to see his own fault opened the way to greater evil. God, full of compassion for Cain, attempted to warn him of the subtlety and power of sin. Unfortunately, Cain refused God’s advice and in the end, murdered his brother (Romans 8:6-8).
In the same way, we also can overlook the “little sins” in our lives, thoughts or acts that might even be masquerading as something good. One might say, “I’m not a workaholic, I’m just productive” or “I’m not ungenerous, I’m just thrifty.” What are your little sins?
Paul points out in Romans 5 and 6 that the grace provided to us through Christ’s death negates the sting of sins large and small. Therefore, sin should no longer have any place in our lives, not sins large, nor sins small.
Let us say no to big and small sins by:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:15
This past weekend, I taught my son to ride his bike! Or rather, putting my paternal pride aside, my son Zachary learned to ride his bike with no training wheels this weekend! (I guess there’s still a father’s pride in that statement too, but the better kind.)
He loved the rocket metaphor where we’d countdown 3-2-1 and then I’d give him a push and say, “Blast off!” It was a great feeling to watch his progress from going barely two metres to riding and staying upright for a full minute. His attitude changed from, “Aww, why do I have to learn to ride a bike?!” (same tone of voice rolled out when whining about having to eat tofu or tomatoes or having to turn off the computer or TV) to “This is the best day ever!”
But he came close to quitting and almost didn’t get to experience that best day ever.
There was a lot of crashing into bushes, steering into walls and falling and failing at first. There were many moments when he just wanted to pack it up and go home. As a parent, my job was not so much to teach him, but more to make him stick with it and give him encouragement and affirmation to help him persist.
Because there’s only one way I know of to learn to ride a bike: pedal, wobble, struggle, fall; pedal, wobble, struggle, fall; learn to catch your fall so that it doesn’t hurt so much, and repeat. And repeated enough times, the struggle magically leads to the exhilarating moment when you don’t fall: you’ve found your balance and will never forget it.
There are so many lessons in life which you can only learn by doing, falls and all. Those are the most valuable lessons, the ones where we need to accept the entire progression that comes with and leads to the desired ability.
Sometimes when we make our petitions to God, we just want the outcome, we want to fast-forward to the result and skip all the stuff in between. But the “in-between” is where character is developed, and ability without character is not complete.
Yes, our Heavenly Father could simply answer our prayers, but if it means missing steps of growth, He would be giving us far less than the best. More than just granting our requests, He wants to form Christ-like character in us through growth and maturity. And those are only learned when we accept the whole process, the wobbles and struggles and falls.
Like the parent running alongside the bicycle, through our growth and all the lessons of life, we have the assurance that our Heavenly Father is there ready to catch us.
Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:24
You are not alone.
Let that sink in for a moment. Meditate on that thought for a while. Think about it…for just a moment.
You are not alone.
We live in a very performance based environment where weakness is not often celebrated. Most of the time we live our lives projecting a sense of emotional stability that is only a thin veil of what’s really happening in our lives. But sometimes life hits hard and knocks us off of our feet. Sometimes we are fighting a battle that we feel we can’t let anyone know about. Because of this, sometimes we feel very, very alone.
You are not alone.
We see in scripture that the trials we’ve experience have been felt by many before us. Even Jesus. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). It is also encouraging to know that throughout scripture, we have permission to feel real feelings and cry out to God when we feel alone. Like David…
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
- Pslam 142:4-6
I FEEL ALONE! David cries. GOD, PLEASE LISTEN TO ME!
You are not alone, David.
YOU are not alone.
God tells us: “Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you; don’t be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I’m truly helping you. I’m surely upholding you with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
And not only is God with us…our community is with us.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We find strength and comfort in God. We find strength and comfort from our brothers and sisters. We know there are trials in life and things can get really hard. Just remember: You are not alone.
You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. James 4:2-3
I think many of us would agree that it is difficult to form new healthy habits. Whether we are attempting to exercise more, eat less, wake up earlier, or develop a spiritual discipline, there are various impediments that prevent us from doing so. It is not lost upon me that the heading of this post is “Prayer Thoughts”, but as the title of this particular entry implies, I still wonder how many of us are in the habit of spending regular time with the Lord in prayer. This entry is not meant to be judgmental or to create a sense of shame or guilt. There have been many seasons in my own life where praying has felt mechanical, boring, and unfulfilling. And as a result, I would often stop praying for long periods of time.
Prayer can be a complex topic, as indicated in James 4:3 regarding unanswered prayers. However, issues such as motives will be left for another time. Instead, if you can currently identify with the title of this entry or if you have never had a prayer habit, I would like to share one idea to help develop (or redevelop) a prayer routine.
The goal is as follows: (i) pray for one minute a day, (ii) for the rest of October and (iii) keep a list of those daily prayer/praise items.
Philippians 4:6-7 promises us the peace of God when we present our prayer requests to Him. That passage has provided me with much comfort through the years, and perhaps it can serve as one of your anchor verses as you begin your new prayer habit this month.
Let us put this into action by:
Do you know of friends who would come to you and say something like, “I was having this trouble, it was so challenging; then, as I prayed, a Bible verse came to mind, as if a light bulb has been lit up above my head…”
Then, you thought to yourself, “Why does my light bulb rarely light up?”
We long for God’s guidance. We long for God to speak to our hearts and minds. We long for a close, intimate, and even direct relationship with God. In fact, believe it or not, God longs for such a relationship between Him and us too!
James, the half brother of Jesus says, ’Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." (James 4:8).
One of the things that many find helpful is to commit the Word of God to memory. As a starter, it is good to start memorising some shorter verses.
Do you know why your friends’ lightbulbs lit up when they need it? Because they already have the Word of God in their hearts and minds. When the time of need comes, the Holy Spirit will take the Word of God that is already there and bring it up in their minds.
Commit the Word of God to memory. Begin with some simple ones. Some do it during their quiet time. I do it while I am doing my morning walk or taking the MTR.
When you have the Word of God in your memory, you can recall it and meditate on it. Psalms 1 says, the one who meditates on the Word of God day and night:
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3).
I want to be like that tree!
We all know the principle that you reap what you sow. Choose what you will invest in now, and you will receive the corresponding dividends later.
If you are willing, why don’t you start by memorising this easy one:
’Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." (James 4:8).
If you want more, see my blog for 10 more verses that I find helpful for myself.