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   Articles

The Disciple and a Cheerful Heart

Imanuel G. Christian

 

        The Word of God is very practical. It deals with the natural human emotions that we all experience in our daily lives. The Word encourages us to develop and cultivate good emotions like joy, contentment, etc., and gradually weed out the emotions that are harmful to our lives like hatred, bitterness, anger, etc.

         

          One of the good emotions that Solomon is advocating in the Book of Proverbs is cheerfulness, a joyful heart. That, I think, includes not just a momentary burst of cheer or laughter, but a cheerful and positive outlook on life, seeing the life as a glass half full rather than half empty.

 

          Listen to what Solomon says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit”. “All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast”. “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart”. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 15:13, 15, 30; 17:22).

 

          Read those verses again! Note what the opposite of a cheerful heart is. It is heartache, a crushed spirit, being emotionally oppressed and wretched, dried up bones! Who would want that? We all want a cheerful face, a continual feast, a joyful heart, a medicine that heals our inner being and nourishes the bones.

 

          How can we have that kind of cheerful heart? I think that is a gradual process which is the direct outcome of our relationship to, and time with, the Lord. Moses was in the presence of God for forty days and forty nights. When he came down from the mountain, “his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD” (Exodus 34:28-29). Similarly, in the New Testament, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That was after the resurrection; they had been with Jesus “over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3).

 

          For us, of course, it is not being in the visible and, in some sense, physical presence of God. We can be in His presence by being in His Word. It was the Word that was God that became flesh, and when we spend time in the written Word, we are spending time with the Living Word.

 

          Isaiah describes in beautiful poetry what happens when a person spends time in the Word of God diligently and carefully, and God’s intended result is accomplished, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). In the previous verses, the Word is compared to the rain and the snow that successfully produces grain. But it is not just the rain, but the hard work of the farmer along with the rain that produces the grain. Similarly, it is daily personal time and diligent study of the Word that produces the joy and peace. It takes commitment. It takes effort. It takes time.

 

          Now the second question. How do we display a cheerful heart? Actually, a cheerful heart is a byproduct of a good and pure heart which is the result of a regular time in the Word. True cheerfulness of heart is not just seen by a smile on the face, but by the goodness of the heart. Cheerfulness comes from inner goodness. I say this because, surprisingly, in Proverbs 15:13, 15, both places the Hebrew words for “cheerful” are tob and yatab, which mean good, moral goodness. So when Solomon says, “The cheerful heart has a continual feast” (15:13), he is saying, a heart that is morally good is always filled with joy.

 

          The opposite is also true as David says from his own experience, “When I kept silent (about my sin), my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. …my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). So, cheerfulness is first of all displayed in our good, upright and moral character. Without that our cheerfulness would be only on the surface.

 

          Secondly, cheerfulness of heart is displayed in our attitude of gratitude even in difficult and unpleasant circumstances. A positive attitude towards life is what makes the heart cheerful even when going through difficult circumstances. That positive attitude is developed by having faith that comes from a consistent time in the Word. Paul, while himself in a difficult situation, commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” And, “…with thanksgiving present your requests to God”. And the peace of God...will guard your hearts and minds” (Philippians 4:4-7). A cheerful heart means being thankful rather than bitter and complaining.

 

          Thirdly, cheerfulness of heart will be displayed in our relationship with others. Not only will we always be in a cheerful mood brightening the atmosphere around us wherever we are, but we will also have a positive outlook towards others. We will be building them up instead of tearing them down. We will be affirming them instead of criticizing them. We will be understanding, instead of finding fault.

 

          The Book of Hebrews brings this out clearly in 10:19-24 using “let us” three times. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart” (V. 22); that is personal moral purity. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (V. 23); that is faith that does not waver in difficult circumstances. And, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (V. 24); that is loving and building up others. And we can do all these three things because we have a relationship with the Lord and have entered into the presence of God (Vv. 19-21).

 

          So, remember, “A cheerful heart is good (yatab) medicine” (causes good healing), not only to yourself, but also to others around you. Not only our own joy, happiness and health depends on it, but also our testimony and impact as believers depends on it. And remember, a cheerful heart is a result of our consistent and diligent time with the Lord in His Word.

 

          I think a banner of a believer should be a good, happy and joyful demeanor, a broad happy smile on his or her face! Don’t let anyone see you without a smile that is the product of the goodness of the heart. And always give your smile especially to someone who does not have one! Let your cheerfulness be good medicine for someone else.

 

          The Psalmist says in 126:2-3, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. (Are they?) Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them!’ (What a testimony!) The LORD has done great things for us (Hasn’t He?), and we are filled with joy”. (Are you?

  

The Disciple and the National Day of Prayer

(Message delivered at a National Day of Prayer Breakfast; May 6th)

Imanuel G. Christian

 

May 2010

        The Second Thursday of the month of May has been declared the National Day of Prayer in the United States. Recently a federal judge declared it unconstitutional. But there is nothing unconstitutional about the people of God praying for the blessing of God on their nation. No president, judge or any other human authority can stop them from doing that.

          Some 3000 years ago Solomon was doing just that at the dedication of the Temple. God’s response to his prayer was, “…if my people pray…I will heal the land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). There is a certain promise here: “I will heal their land”. But this is a conditional statement, “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray”. The obvious question is, Do we pray? Yes, we do pray. But the other question is, Who do we pray for? For ourselves! What do we pray for? For our individual needs. Maybe we also pray for our friends and relatives. But, again, what do we pray for them? The same things that we pray for ourselves: jobs, healing, some other concerns for our day-to-day life on earth. Do we ever go beyond that? In our prayer life we usually have a frog in the well attitude that is happy in its little circle and wants to live an undisturbed and comfortable life and has no idea of the vast world outside.

          The Book of Habakkuk presents an ideal that we can follow, not only for the Day of Prayer, but for every day of our life. The book begins with a prayer, actually with the prophet’s complaint to God. But he is not concerned for himself or for any of his needs. He is concerned for his nation. He is concerned for God’s honor and for God’s glory. His complaint is, Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:3-4).

          Wow! What a contemporary picture! The Word of God, no matter how ancient that may be, is always contemporary. The prophet lived in a situation that is very similar to ours today. He saw violence, injustice and evil all around him, and he took his complaint directly to God in prayer.

            God answered the prophet’s prayer. God told the prophet, just look around you and you will see that I am not inactive. “Look at the nations and watch… for I am going to do something in your days” (1:5). “I am raising up the Babylonians” (1:6) who will tear your nation apart. That is like saying, “I am raising Al Qaida that will destroy the United States”. Think about 9/11 and how it has impacted our normal lives. That hardly answers the prophet’s complaint. “How can you allow those who are even more evil to succeed?” he asks. God answers his second question that satisfies the prophet and he ends the book with one of the strongest statements of faith found in the entire Bible (3:17-19).

          What moved the prophet from the depth of despair to the mountain top experience? First of all, the prophet becomes freshly aware of God’s sovereignty. Evil, although it may seem rampant, is under God’s control, and He is using it to accomplish His plan and purpose. God’s ultimate purpose is, “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11; Cf. Psalm 2).

            Secondly, like Job in his utmost distress, Habakkuk saw the glory of God. “His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth” (3:3). It made a deep impact on the whole being of the prophet. “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (3:16). Evil exhausts itself for nothing and its labor is only fuel for the fire that will consume it. But, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:12-14).      

            So, the prophet’s only response, and ours too, is, “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us” (3:16b), the day when God will take care of the evil and establish His righteous rule. Until then, “…the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4); live life totally pleasing to God no matter what. And so the book ends with the most beautiful and strongest statement of faith.

            How can we have that kind of faith. Three things. First, we have to be people of the Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17; NASB). Nothing else gives us the solid foundation for our faith. “On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand”, said the hymn writer Edward Mote (1834). Through our regular time in the Word we come to know God, His nature and character, see His glory and realize His plan and purpose, and develop that faith like Habakkuk that cannot be shaken. What this nation needs is people who are grounded in the truth and living it out in their daily lives.

            Secondly, we have to be people of prayer; not with the frog in the well mentality, but with a global perspective, praying that God’s plan and purpose will be fulfilled. Pray for our nation. Pray for our leaders that God will guide them and use them to accomplish His plans and purposes. Pray for world leaders. Pray for missionaries working in every part of the world spreading the good news that the solution to all the problems in the world can be found only in the King of Peace.

            Studying the Bible may be prohibited in the public schools. Prayer may not be allowed in public places. And the National Day of Prayer may have been declared unconstitutional. We may complain about all that. But what prevents us from studying the Word and praying in our homes? We have no right to complain about the absence of prayer and Bible studies in public places if we are not using that privilege in our homes. Are our children being raised in Christian homes today in a way that they will become God-fearing leaders of our nation tomorrow, leaders that will change the culture of our nation?

            Thirdly, we have to be people who show their faith through their good works. As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We have to be light in this dark world and salt that prevents the decay in our culture. We need to get involved in groups and activities outside our narrow circle of friends.

            God’s promise on this National Day of Prayer is very clear, “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

            The promise is certain. But the conditions must be met!  

 

Kibroth Hattavah

Imanuel G. Christian

    Kibroth Hattavah! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Naturally! Because these are not English words. No, not Gujarati either! These are Hebrew words transliterated, not translated, in most of our English versions, with the meaning provided in the marginal note. Kibroth means graves, and Hattavah means craving. Kibroth hattavah means graves of craving. It was the name of a place. Numbers Chapter Eleven provide the history behind this name. The Israeli people were passing through the wilderness. They numbered more than 3 million. How do you provide food for such a large number of people? If you have ever been involved in arranging a party even for 200 people, you would have some idea of how difficult it could be to provide food for such a large group of people. And that too not just for one meal, but breakfast and lunch and dinner, and not only for a day or two but almost forty years. That too in the wilderness. That would need a miracle. Only God can do that. And God surely did! And what kind of food! Heavenly Manna! It rained every morning from the sky. People can gather whatever amount they wanted. Eat as much as you want! No problem of saving for the next day. Fresh every morning! You can boil it. You can fry it. You can mix it with milk like cereals or you can make a spicy mix. Make whatever you want to out of it!! (Num. 11:7-8).

    But the strange thing was that the people were not happy with it! They started grumbling! They were not satisfied with the heavenly food! They started wailing, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:4-6). What can poor Moses do? Whenever something like this happened, he would go to the Lord. Here are Your people! You take care of them! I can’t handle them! I am really tired of them! They are asking for meat! Where can I get meat for them? I cannot handle them! They are just too much for me! I would rather die! (Num. 11:11-15). But the Lord told him, Don’t worry! Do they want meat? Meat they will get. And that too not for a day or two or a week. Thy will get it for a whole month. Until it comes out of their nostrils and they loathe it! (Num. 11:18-20). And that is exactly what happened! Quails came down from somewhere. Lots and lots of them! It was all around the camp. The people went crazy! They got busy gathering them. For a day and night and all the next day, for 36 hours, they kept gathering the quails. Did not sleep at night nor rest during day! Gather as much as you want! Eat as much as you want! No limit! They even cut the meat into strips and laid down in the sun to dry so they can store it for months to come! (Num. 11:31-32). But then what happened? “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other things” (Num. 11:33, 34).

    Kibroth Hattavah means graves of craving. Graves of craving does not mean graves where their craving was buried, like for example, when we say this is a grave of my grandfather, which means here is where my grandfather was buried. But in those graves of craving, the people who craved were buried. Their craving buried them and those graves became their monuments. These people became the objects of God’s wrath because of their craving and died in the literal sense. In the town named Kibroth Hattavah, there did not live any living person. The residents of that town were the graves of the people who had died because of their craving. But how often the residents of the town of Kibroth Hattavah are not the people who have literally died, but are the people who do not really experience the life in its fullness because of their craving of life under the sun!

    Running after the things of this world, instead of the eternal things; enjoying the life here and now, instead of spending time, energy and resources on things that really matter. Buried alive in graves of craving! No joy in this life and nothing gained at the end of life (Eccl. 2:4-11). I suppose all the people reading this article, do not have that problem, do you? But we all can do little better. How about simplifying our lives so that we are not buried under the clutter of the material things and busyness of activities and can enjoy the life that is life indeed? How about spending more time with the Lord in prayer, in studying His Word, in knowing Him more and in giving up some of the unnecessary things and activities that hinder us in our goal of enjoying Him and glorifying Him alone? Most of the things, I suppose, we are involved in are good. But sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. There is always a craving or two that can burry us, if we are not careful. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul gives a personal application from this Old Testament event; They “were all under the cloud, and all passed though the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved” (1 Cor. 10:1-6, NASB with emphasis added). Their craving buried them. But what if they had buried their craving instead? Then it would have been graves of craving in the real sense. The best way to avoid being buried in the graves of craving, is to burry the craving in its grave. Either we burry our craving, or our craving burry us. No other alternative. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV), because he would not have been buried in his Kibroth Hattavah.

 

Eating Honey

Imanuel G. Christian   

    While growing up in a small village in India. I and my older brother used to roam for hours in the farms and fields; sometimes going around collecting fallen mangoes from under the mango trees and sometimes collecting firewood in the forest. Many a times, especially while collecting firewood, we would come across a small honeycomb. We would shake the branch with the honeycomb to shake away all the bees and then grab the comb and eat honey directly from the comb. That honey was so different from the bottled honey that we get in a grocery store today. This honey we can chew and savor its sweet taste for a long time. Recently I was reminded of that sweet experience while reading a portion of the Scripture. Did you know that the Bible advises us to eat honey; honey from the comb? Read proverb 24:13; “My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.” It even speaks of eating “honey from the comb.”

    What I did as a boy growing up in rural India is very commonplace experience of every boy growing up in those environments. Similarly, it was, and most probably still is, very commonplace experience for the people in the Bible land. For example, Jonathan poked a stick into a honeycomb and licked some honey (2 Sam. 14:27). Samson while walking on a trail through wilderness finds honeycomb in a dead lion’s carcass and picks up the comb and eats it (Jud. 14:8-9). In the New Testament wild honey was a part of John Baptist’s diet who lived in the wilderness of Judea. Honey in Israel was considered something special and was a symbol of best and most satisfying food. When someone went to visit an important person he would take honey as a special gift to honor that person (Gen. 43:11; 1 ki. 14:3; 2 Sam. 17:29). It was a symbol of prosperity and having everything in plenty. That is why the promised land is described as “a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8,17; Lev.20:24; Num. 13:27; Deut. 6:3; Josh. 5:6; Jer. 11:5; Eze. 20:6,15; etc). It was a symbol of best and most satisfying sweetness. Therefore a lover would compare his beloved with honey; “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue (S.S.4:11; also 5:1). For this very reason Solomon advises to eat honey in Proverb 24:13. However, when he advises to eat honey, he is not really speaking of the literal honey found in a forest. See the context of that verse. Read the next verse; “Know that wisdom is thus for your soul” (Prov. 24:14). What Solomon is saying in these two verses is that if you have ever tasted honey from a comb, you would have some idea that just as the honey from a comb is sweet to your taste, wisdom is important for your soul. Just as honey is a delight to the taste and satisfies man’s physical hunger; wisdom satisfies your soul. Just as you would look for the best food to satisfy your hunger, you would do well if you would strive to achieve wisdom to satisfy you soul. And so the Scripture compares the Word of God, the source of true wisdom, with honey, even honey from the comb.

    David who has tasted the Word of God writes from his own experience; “The judgments of the Lord are more...desirable than gold, yes than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:9-10). Also, “How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps. 119:103). When the prophet Ezekiel ate the scroll of the Word of God he says, “it was sweet as honey in my mouth” (Eze. 3:3). Actually, the Word of God is far more satisfying than honey, than anything else that we can find under the sun. With the honey too much of it and you would loathe it; “A sated man loathes honey” (Prov. 27:7); and, “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, lest you have it in excess and vomit it” (Prov. 25:16). And so Solomon says, “It is not good to eat much honey” (Prov. 25:27). However, with the Word of God, more you eat, sweeter it gets; more you devour it more you would want it. Also, honey or nothing else can compare to the satisfaction, joy, fulfillment that we receive from the Word of God. The blessings of the Word of God is from out of this world ..literally! God blesses us with every good thing of this world to satisfy us (Ps. 104:28; 81:16; 114:14). However, nothing can satisfy us like the Word of God, the fellowship and communion with God through our time in His Word. As David said, “O God, you are my God. I shall seek you earnestly; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” And he says, in God “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:1, 5).

    The temptation is always there, even for us who would consider ourselves as mature disciples, to seek satisfaction in the things of the world; to consider ourselves “blessed” when God provides us with far more than just meeting our needs. We too need to respond the invitation; “why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Is. 55:2). My prayer, and your prayer, like David, should be; “O Lord...deliver my soul...from men of world, whose portion is in this life; and whose belly Thou dost fill with Thy treasure; they are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes. As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake” (Ps.17:13-15, NASB) “Eat honey, for it is good, yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste,” because if you have tasted this honey, you would know how satisfying to your soul it is.

    Are you eating this honey? You can never have enough! I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I’d rather be His than riches untold. He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom; He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb. (Rhea F. Miller, 1922)

 

    God has given God has given us the world as our playground. God has given us the opportunity to find out who we are. Like children, we find out who we are by experimenting with different aspects of who we are not. We are allowed to roam free doing as we choose, but after traveling in circles, our spirit speaks. With its soft gentle urgings, the soul motivates us to step up to the next level. We wish to be enlightened and guided as we seek personal growth, but we get angry with God for not providing us with the proper directions. When we open our eyes we will see the many guideposts God has placed along our path. These guideposts can be people, books, movies, songs, etc.; yet they will only come into focus once our perceptions have changed. By providing us angels, God has given us the ability to reach our true potential. Great men and women have walked the earth trying to show us the way to the mountaintop. Most of us attempt to blaze our own trail up the peak, refusing to follow the paths of these angels. After many failed attempts, we usually look for a guide to show us the way. Why do we delay in seeking direction? Must we suffer the pain and humiliation of repeating the lesson? We are like spoiled children who go kicking and screaming until they get their way. When we let go of our own pride and are able to ask for help, then the answers are provided. God has supplied us with all we need, yet our perceptions keep us blind to the truth.

 Gary Barnes

 

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