Thanksgiving At Meals

By E. J. T.

Who Is The Giver?
Why have so many Christians, on sitting down to meals, begun by praying? The appropriate response to accepting a gift is to give thanks. The Christian recognizes God as the giver of his food, and therefore should render thanks to Him. This indeed is consistent with Scripture: “Meats … God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them who are faithful and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3 JND).

The man of the world regards his food as the product of a machine or institution, which he calls “Nature.” The Christian goes behind this and recognizes the Creator of the entire system of nature. Furthermore, he not only believes that there is such a Creator, but he knows Him and is actually in communion with Him “by the word of God and prayer” (v.5 KJV). The Darby translation of this phrase is: “By God’s word and freely addressing [Him].” In an illuminative note of the whole subject, Mr. Darby wrote: “This I believe to be the sense here: enteuxis implies interaction with a person, then petitions and intercession; one person speaking personally to another … I believe the creature, fallen through Adam, belongs to the faithful and those who know the truth, by God’s speaking to us and our freely speaking to Him. This has set all on a new footing, because we have met God again, the Word of God having put us into communication by grace. The faithful and those who know the truth, who have availed themselves of it, come and enter into an interaction. It is no longer by nature, but by the Word of God.”

A Prayer For The Meal?
Scripture says, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (vv.4-5). The current idea is that each meal needs to be prayed about before it can be properly partaken. But the contrary is the truth. It is sanctified, or set apart, by the fact of the new position in which the Christian stands: “the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours” (1 Cor. 3:22). Scripture directs with authority that the action on our part should be not prayer but thanksgiving:

  • “If it be received with thanksgiving …” (1 Tim. 4:4).
  • It is “created to be received with thanksgiving” (v.3).

Thus the Christian’s meal table becomes an altar of praise; the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.

Using A Prayer Formula?
How different from the dead formula which some of us have had to listen to with pain: “Sanctify, we beseech thee, O Lord, this food to our use, and us to Thy service, for Christ’s sake. Amen.” Not a word here of thanks to the Giver of all good for His bounties spread on the table before us. This oft repeated prayer is out of place, seeking that God would do something which He has already done, and for which He expects thanksgiving or praise from loving hearts which know Him.

Even where formulas have long been laid aside, one often hears what is really only an expansion of the gloomy one just quoted. We hear a prayer about our food, ourselves and our service, but never a note of praise to our God for His creature-gifts! Prayer is very, very blessed, but also in its place is praise. Not only does it react upon ourselves, but it glorifies God. “Whoso offereth praise [or, “thanksgiving,” margin] glorifieth Me” (Ps. 50:23). At a meal table it is sometimes said, “Will you ask a blessing?” The appropriate reply would be, “No; the food is already blessed; it is sanctified to our use; but for this food, which is already blessed, I will cheerfully give thanks.”

What Is The Basis Of Giving Thanks?
A precious thought in connection with the meal table is that the thanksgiving is on the basis of redemption. We do not receive God’s gifts on the original ground of creation, but because of the cross of Christ. God could not, being righteous, bestow the smallest benefit upon a sinner unless His righteousness in doing so was satisfied. Therefore it is on account of the propitiation of Christ, or the satisfaction God has in Christ, that our daily mercies come to us and, indeed, to the world. This is the basis on which God “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45).

The man of the world little dreams that he owes his food, clothing and every good that he enjoys to the despised atonement of Christ; but God would be exhibiting indulgence to sin if it were otherwise. It is in this regard that “Christ … is the propitiation … for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). Men continue to live on the earth and are afforded the free use of God’s magnificent – though marred – creation because of the propitiation of Christ. It is in this sense that God is Savior and Preserver of all men, especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10). Let us carefully note that this text refers to temporal salvation from day to day, not eternal salvation.

Should I Give Thanks In Public?
If we understand now that the offering of thanksgiving glorifies God, should we refrain from this when we are in public, say at a restaurant? No doubt this is often a trial to the flesh. It is an open confession of Christ, which the natural heart would willingly evade. However, we need to recall to our minds the Lord’s precious words: “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God” (Lk. 12:8) and, “Them that honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30). Paul, on board a ship, “took bread and gave thanks to God, in presence of them all” (Acts 27:35). Daniel kneeled and prayed at his open window as he had done previously, three times a day, at the penalty of death (Dan. 6).

Thus this slight matter of thanksgiving at meals may afford to us a test of where we really are as to the power of God in our souls. “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will,” Paul said, “and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:19-20).

His Own Servants

“If any one serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there also shall be My servant.” — John 12:26 JND

By Robert J. Costen

Everyone who has experienced a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ is His servant, and if we desire to serve Him, we must follow Him! He was God’s perfect Servant, and if we wish to serve acceptably then let us trace His service in the Gospels as He went about doing good. Consider some of His traits:

  1. He waited on God’s time (Mk. 1:14-15).
  2. He started serving where He had been brought up (Lk. 4:16).
  3. He identified Himself with others (Mk. 1:16-20).
  4. He taught with authority (vv.21-27).
  5. He spoke gracious words, yet with power (Lk. 4:22,32).
  6. He made Himself accessible to all people (Mk. 1:32-34).
  7. He moved in the circle of those who loved Him (vv.29-31).
  8. He was dependent upon God in prayer (v.35).
  9. He refused popularity and did not seek His own glory (vv.37-38).
  10. He had compassion and personal contact with those who were in need (vv.40-42).

How good that Christ has left us an example; we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). Once we were servants of sin, but now, being His own, we are His servants and servants of God, devoted to do His will. The Lord is coming soon. Let us be good and faithful servants!

Be Thou the object bright and fair to fill and satisfy the heart;
My hope to meet Thee in the air, and nevermore from Thee to part;
That I may undistracted be to follow, serve, and wait for Thee.

—George W. Frazer (1830-1896)

Dependence And The Father’s Business

By Klaas Rot

“And He withdrew Himself, and was about in the desert places and praying.” — Luke 5:16 JND

Prayer in the life of the Lord Jesus here on earth shows us His perfect dependence on the One who had sent Him to accomplish the work of salvation. Right from His childhood it was His desire to be occupied with His Father’s business. The Lord Jesus demonstrated what true dependence is throughout His whole life. He willingly emptied Himself and took a bondman’s form. Yes, the Lord Jesus appeared in this world which is full of corruption and selfishness as the Girded One (Jn. 13:4); He came to serve.

Sometimes people in need sought His service, as we read in Luke 5:12: “And it came to pass as He was in one of the cities, that behold, there was a man full of leprosy, and seeing Jesus, falling upon his face, he besought Him saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou are able to cleanse me.” The man full of leprosy sought out the Lord to cleanse him from this terrible disease. In grace, the Lord exercised His authority over sin and said, “I will; be thou cleansed” (v.13). Of course our blessed Lord was God manifested in flesh (1 Tim. 3:16), yet how beautiful it is to see this same One as a servant exercising His divine power by being dependent on the Father.

Immediately after this incident the Lord withdrew and was in the desert alone to pray. He felt the need after service to be alone with His Father in communion. Often we are fervent in prayer prior to a particular service we are called to perform for the Lord, but true dependence commits our service into the hands of God after it is done as well.

Soon after this the Lord Jesus was occupied with teaching, and the Lord’s power was there to heal them. This is a practical lesson for us. All our service must flow from hearts dependent on Him. Without Him we can do nothing. Let us take an example from the prayer life of the Lord Jesus as He lived and served on earth.

A Life That Magnifies God

“I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.” —Psalm 34:1-3 KJV

By Timothy P. Hadley

Magnify means to make large, praise, honor, boast about, lift up, promote and declare great. So what does it mean to “magnify the LORD”? How can we make God large?

Consider two different ways to view the word “magnify.” One is to compare it to a microscope, which makes a tiny object appear larger. The other comparison is to a telescope, which takes what is far away and extremely large and brings it near. A life that magnifies the Lord does just that; it is a life that brings God near to those with whom it comes in contact.

The Life Of The Lord Jesus
That is exactly what the Lord Jesus did. His was the perfect life that glorified and magnified God. In Psalm 69 we read of the inner feelings and sufferings of the Lord Jesus (vv.2-4,7-12,20-21). We also see what such a life accomplishes for the glory of God, when the psalm prophetically speaks of the Lord: “I will praise the name of God with a song, and I will magnify Him with thanksgiving” (v.30).

In Hebrews 10:5 we see that the Lord Jesus was the instrument that God used to bring Himself near to us. We read: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me” (NKJV). This is quoted from Psalm 40, a psalm that speaks of the Lord as the burnt offering. It goes on in verse 16 by declaring, “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The LORD be magnified!’” This is what the life of the Lord Jesus did. He glorified God in every way, and in doing so He brought God near to us.

Scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory … full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1,14). In John 14:9, the Lord Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” He magnified God, being “God … manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). The Lord brought God near to us that we might behold His greatness.

Our Lives
Our lives ought to magnify God as well. I believe Scripture teaches us that our entire being – body, soul and spirit – ought to magnify God. Consider Mary’s declaration: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:46). The soul is the seat of our emotions, so her innermost being wanted to magnify her God. John the Baptist had the same desire when he said of the Lord Jesus, ”He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).

This should be our ambition too, through our body as well as emotions. Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). He also urged, “I beseech you … brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).

Examples of such a life are found in Daniel 1:8 and 3:28. The individuals there purposed in their hearts to live for God only; they would not bow down to any other. In a very practical way, their lives brought God near for all to see!

Paul was willing for his life to bring glory to God. In fact, he desired to magnify the Lord in life and death. Read what he wrote to the believers at Philippi: “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (Phil. 1:20-25). Paul wanted to go to be with Christ, but he also wanted the saints to grow in their spiritual walk with God. It was his desire that their lives would bear fruit for the glory of God and their faith would be full of the joy which comes from living for Christ. Therefore, whether by death or by life, he desired to magnify, or bring, Christ near to them!

At the end of his life Paul truthfully said, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul magnified Christ.

Oh that our lives would bring God near to those we touch. Instead of seeing us, may they see Him whom we desire to magnify!

Thoughts As To Shepherding

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” —Psalm 23:1 KJV

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you … all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers … to feed the church of God.” —Acts 20:27-28

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” —1 Peter 5:1-4

“He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” —Isaiah 40:11

The following lines are thoughts shared by an older brother in the Lord who had been given the gift of shepherding. During his decades of caring for the flock of God, he served in a very self-sacrificial way, giving glory to God.

The above opening precious statement of Psalm 23 is essential. He is my possession, ever filling all my needs. It is only then that we receive all the counsels of God.

The charge begins with an exhortation: Take heed to yourselves first and then to all the flock. Be sure to notice this: It is the Holy Spirit who makes us or sets us up as overseers! A note by the well-known Bible scholar J. N. Darby (1800-1882) on shepherds is very vital: “They are to act in this character, or have it by acting!” It is not simply an exhortation to do it, but to acquire that character by doing it – to be so characterized. Be shepherds.

The elders are addressed in 1 Peter 5. They are mature in serving God in the God-given capacity that is according to 1 Corinthians 12, one of the many spiritual gifts that He has bestowed on His redeemed people, “the sheep.” God knows that the sheep need oversight and feeding, with rich up-building while strengthening Christ-likeness. The feeding, or rather the service of it, is not by constraint, but by wholehearted willingness and “of a ready mind.” The passage goes on to warn against human means of dealing with God’s people, instructing elders to be examples to believers, the flock.

The foregoing, may I suggest, is the means to an end, namely to train “the younger.” They are written about in 1 John 2:13-14: “… Young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one … Young men, because ye are strong and the Word of God abides in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” This work must be current and ongoing, to be given up totally and unreservedly in service to the Master, who came not to be served but to serve! Through 1 Peter 5:4, the elders are exhorted to feed the flock of God, taking oversight willingly, being of a ready mind and examples to the flock. But in verse 5, Peter commands, “Ye younger likewise submit unto the elder and both to each other, yes to be subject one to another clothed with humility.”

This is the preparation of a vessel, or servant, called by God to be with the sheep like the shepherd David of old. All of the foregoing has instructions for the welfare of the souls. Isaiah 40:11 speaks of the love and care of God for His people Israel, yet it is very practical and an example to us in relation to families, households and assemblies.

In closing I would just like to refer to Abel and Enoch. Abel was a keeper of sheep. In Genesis 4 we read of Abel’s flock of which God had respect, that is, unto Abel and his offering.

Abel walked with God. Then we read twice in Genesis 5 that Enoch “walked with God” (vv.22,24). “Enoch walked with God and he was not; for God took him.” May we be of like faith – ever walking with God!

What Does The Bible Say About Fasting?

By Timothy P. Hadley

We often hear of people fasting in protest over something, refusing to eat while demanding that a perceived wrong be corrected. But what does the Bible say about fasting? Is fasting something for Christians to do today?

Fasting is mentioned many times in both testaments of the Bible. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28). Hannah fasted when she wanted a son from God (1 Sam. 1:7). David did so on several occasions (2 Sam. 1:12, 12:22). The entire nation of Israel fasted on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27). The Lord Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Mt. 4:2). John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast often (Mk. 2:18; Lk. 5:33), but the Lord Jesus was criticized because His disciples did not fast as frequently as others thought they should (Mt. 9:14; Mk. 2:18-19; Lk. 5:33-35).

Anna served God in the temple by fasting (Lk. 2:37). Paul fasted following his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Cornelius fasted before receiving a vision from God (10:30). The church at Antioch fasted when Barnabas and Saul were sent out on their first missionary journey (13:3). On his way to Rome, Paul abstained from food for 14 days (27:33).

There were also calls to fast such as those of Esther (Est. 4:16), Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20:3) and Ezra (Ezra 8:21). These took place in relation to a specific burden. The fasts were linked to much prayer before the LORD (see Ps. 35:13; Mt. 6:5-18; 1 Cor. 7:5).

What Is Fasting?
Fasting is to put God first, wanting Him and His desires, will and mind more than food, social activities, sleep or day-to-day business. It involves not gratifying physical appetites while being persistent in fervent prayer. The widow of Luke 18:3 probably set aside many things while she pleaded repeatedly before the judge.

Fasting is the planned clearing of the way for prayer by laying aside all weights and hindrances (Heb. 12:1-2), and it is proof of our earnest fervor and faith. Faith is required, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6 NKJV). When we fast, it ought to be a spiritual exercise between us and the Lord.

Does The Bible Command Us To Fast?
Scripture does not command Christians to fast; God does not require or demand it of them. At the same time the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable and beneficial – and what could be better than to take our eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God?

Anyone can fast, but some, such as diabetics, may not be able to abstain from food. So even though fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus our attention on the Lord can be considered a fast (Ex. 19:14-15; 1 Cor. 7:1-5).

Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Scriptural fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, and it should not be considered a dieting method. The purpose of a biblical fast is not to lose weight but to gain deeper fellowship with the Lord.

Exercises And Benefits
Help in a time of trouble often comes from fasting and prayer. God said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Ps. 50:15). Joshua experienced this when prostrate, having fallen “to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening” after the nation was defeated by the men of Ai (Josh. 7:6). It was a time of distress and defeat, of shame and fear! But when he and the elders of Israel fasted and prayed to discern why they were in that situation, the LORD revealed to them the sin that kept the nation from victory.

Fasting is a natural expression of grief. When faced with a civil war against the Benjamites, the nation of Israel fasted (Jud. 20:26). Israel fasted again before a fierce battle with the Philistines at Mizpah (1 Sam. 7:6). David demonstrated grief and sorrow through fasting (2 Sam. 3:35; Ps. 35:13).

Genuine repentance often involves fasting and prayer. It is possible to confess sins without repenting of them, but fasting sometimes helps to break up the fallow ground of our hearts, which leads to victory over sin.

Fasting and prayer help strengthen us spiritually. This is what the disciples learned from their experience in Matthew 17 when the Lord had returned from the Mount of Transfiguration. A father approached Him about his son, whom the disciples had tried to heal but could not. After the Lord Jesus rebuked the demon and healed the boy, His disciples asked Him, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (vv.19-21).

Daniel fasted and prayed when faced with spiritual hindrances (Dan. 10:2-3). Because he laid hold of the promise of God and continued in prayer, the Lord answered (v.12). Fasting and prayer discipline the body and make it a useful instrument for Him. Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). When we fast we determine that our belly, or appetite, is not our god (Phil. 3:19). Fasting and prayer lead to victory over fleshly desires.

Fasting can also help us when we need wisdom from above. In Acts 13:1-3, a passage to which we already referred, we read of how men who fasted and prayed received direction from the Holy Spirit. It was “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted” that the Holy Spirit told them to separate Paul and Barnabas and then they fasted and prayed and laid hands on them and they sent them away. Twice in this short passage we are told that they fasted as they prayed for wisdom and power to be upon these missionaries whom the Holy Spirit was sending out. Prayer and fasting can help secure guidance from above so decisions can be made in full confidence of His leading.

In addition, it is good to take time without the distraction of other things to pray for others – interceding for them – on a regular basis.

Types Of Fasts
Let’s look at the different kinds of fasting in the Bible, of which there are at least three:

  1. TYPICAL FAST. This fast involved refraining from solid food but not abstaining from liquids. When the Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, we read, “afterward He was hungry” (Mt. 4:2); we do not read that He was thirsty.
  2. COMPLETE FAST or ABSOLUTE FAST. Involving no food or water (Jon. 3:7; Est. 4:16; Acts 9:9). This severe fast can be dangerous, as extended periods of time without eating or drinking can be harmful to the body.
  3. PARTIAL FAST. This kind of fast involves abstaining from certain foods, like Daniel and his friends did. When asked to eat from the Babylonian king’s table, they refused because they did not want to defile themselves. Instead of eating the king’s meat, for ten days they, with permission, ate nothing but vegetables and water. They abstained from meat and wine because they purposed in their hearts not to defile themselves, and the Lord honored this partial fast (Dan. 1:8-20).

In the Bible we see that most fasts lasted only one day. Many would begin at sunset and go until sunset the following day (Jud. 20:26; 1 Sam. 14:24; 2 Sam. 1:12, 3:35). In Daniel 6:18, when Daniel was in the lions’ den, the fast by Darius lasted only one night, perhaps because Daniel was out of danger by morning. Esther called for a three day fast (Est. 4:16). Only three times in the Bible do we read of a 40-day fast – individually by Moses, Elijah and the Lord Jesus.

The Lord revealed a special message to His people on each of those occasions. Today God uses His Word to speak to us. He may prepare our hearts through fasting, but only as a person follows the Word of God can He fast within the will of God.

Dangers Connected To Fasting
We have already alluded to the physical dangers, but there is the danger of spiritual hypocrisy that the Lord Jesus warned against, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Mt. 6:16). In Luke 18:12 He spoke of the pride of the Pharisee who stood in the temple boasting that he fasted twice a week. True fasting is done in secret, giving no outward appearance of it. Fasting has no merit as far as salvation is concerned. It does not give a person a special standing before God. Isaiah 58:1-7 describes a right way and a wrong way to fast. Fasting to impress others is the wrong way; fasting with a purpose, before God and with His glory in mind is the right way!

There is also the danger of being legal. Sometimes abstaining from food or certain kinds of food can be found along a path toward legalism, which is clearly addressed in Romans 14. This can wrongly lead to trying to equate spirituality with fasting.

Biblical Principles In Fasting
Fasting involves prayer, along with repentance and the searching of our heart. It is, as Isaiah describes, “afflicting one’s soul” (58:3). Fasting shows the sincerity of our prayers – not to get our will done in heaven but God’s will done on earth!

The Bible does not give specific regulations on fasting or how often one should fast, because like many other things in the Christian life fasting is a spiritual exercise rather than a mechanical procedure. This does not mean that we should ignore or neglect fasting! When a person feels the need in their Christian life, it is good to fast.

There are biblical principles that should guide us as we fast, such as in relation to food. We should begin like David by repenting: “When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting that became my reproach” (Ps. 69:10). We must start with the right attitude of heart or our fasting will be useless before God! This is what God warned Jeremiah about as He said, “When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them” (Jer. 14:12). Fasting should begin with confessing and repenting of my sin and asking, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” and “cleanse me from secret faults” (Ps. 139:23-24, 19:12).

Prayer, specific and continual, should always accompany fasting. Our prayers are to be of faith (Mk. 11:24), in the will of God (1 Jn. 5:14-15) and without wavering or doubting (Jas. 1:6). Fasting should also be accompanied by the Word of God, since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). While fasting, it is good to memorize key passages of Scripture.

Lastly, fasting ought to lead us to give thanks and praise to the Lord. One example is Anna, who “served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Lk. 2:37-38).

How To End A Fast
As we have already seen from Scripture we should determine the length of our fast, but when the end of that period comes, how should we end a fast? This might seem like a strange question. Some might say, “Just go eat and stuff yourself!” But that is a good way to get sick! The human body cannot take such a shock, we need to break the fast slowly, not abruptly. In fact “break the fast” is an interesting phrase, for the word “breakfast” actually comes from it.

The disciples were discouraged (Mk. 16:14) and went back to their old occupation of fishing, but the Lord, as He always does, met them where they were and called them to Himself. They had been doing things alone and their own way! But the Lord appeared to them on the shore as they fished unsuccessfully. They did not recognize Him. He instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of their boat – following Christ is always the right choice – and the result of their obedience was that they had more fish than they could handle. The Lord Jesus then invited them to breakfast, or to “break the fast.” They ended their fast with Jesus Christ! No longer spiritually blinded, they knew the Lord (Jn. 21:12).

From the story in John 21, we learn that when we end our fast we should be in fellowship with the Lord and capable of spiritual insight. While fasting, there should be repenting, confessing and cleansing. Finishing the fast, there is service to be done! After they had finished breakfast the Lord spoke directly to Peter, asking him three times, “Do you love Me?” Twice he answered I have affection for You, but the third time he could only say, “Lord You know all things.” The Lord replied to Peter, “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep” and “Feed My sheep.” The Lord uses the fast for His glory, drawing our hearts to Him, to His desires for us in seeing His people the way He sees them, and to serve Him by serving them!

Fasting should also lead us to praise, even at a future time as in the case of Hannah (1 Sam. 1:7-2:11). This woman of faith was very burdened during and after her fast. In due time the LORD gave her a son. Immediately after her son’s birth we read of her in the temple praising God. Fasting leads us to give glory to the Lord for who He is and what He has done!

We need real exercise of heart as we live in these difficult days! The enemy is very busy and wants to cause havoc to the faith of the people of God. We see the effects of the enemy all around, much like Jehoshaphat did in 2 Chronicles 20. Looking at his path to victory, we see that he recognized the problem (2 Chr. 20:3,10-11), rejected the flesh (v.12) and resolved to seek the LORD (vv.3,12-13). During all this Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast (v.3), shutting out all other distractions. The people of God were together in one mind and complete dependence on the Lord; they had nowhere else to turn! While fasting they claimed the promises of God (vv.14-19), confronted the problem and obtained victory (vv.20-30). They could not go out to fight this enemy alone so they gave themselves to prayer and fasting.

In these closing days, before the Lord returns, the enemy is mighty, and we have no power against him, but greater is He that is in us than he that is against us. There are times when the only way to gain the victory is by prayer and fasting. Together, they open the door of praise. May the Lord help us to realize that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light … Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:12,14).

The Mercy Of God

By Timothy P. Hadley

God’s mercy is a major theme in Scripture. The English word appears 341 times in the Bible while the four Hebrew and three Greek words associated with it appear a total of 454 times. They are also translated as “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “goodness,” “favor,” “compassion” and “pity.” Of the 66 books in the Bible, only 16 do not use one of these words for mercy.

We often think that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel while grace and mercy belong to the Lord of the Church. However, the Old Testament has more than four times as much to say about mercy than the New Testament. Exodus 33:19 and 34:6-7 show us that mercy is the very nature of who God is:

  • “Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’” (NKJV).
  • “And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’”

While mercy is an important concept, it is somewhat difficult to define, especially since “grace” is often closely coupled with it and the two are frequently confused. These words may appear together many times, but they do not have the same meaning. “Grace” is most often associated with the sovereign dispensing of totally undeserved favor, and it is specifically connected to salvation. “Mercy” is more often connected to the withholding of judgment: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas. 2:13).

Psalm 136 repeats the theme “For His mercy endures forever” in each of the 26 verses listing incomparable aspects of God’s loving-kindness to Israel. No less than four times do we read “Give thanks to the Lord … for His mercy endures forever” (vv.1,3) or “Give thanks to the God … for His mercy endures forever” (vv.2,26). Not only does His mercy endure forever, but we are told His mercy is “great” (1 Ki. 3:6), “abundant” (Ps. 86:5; 1 Pet. 1:3), “tender” (Lk. 1:78), “from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:17) and “manifold,” or having many features (Neh. 9:19). We can join with the psalmist and say, “I will sing aloud of Your mercy” (Ps. 59:16).

Three Aspects
As we study the Scriptures carefully concerning the mercy of God we will see that there are three parts to it:

  1. The general mercy of God. This is extended not only to all men – believers and unbelievers alike – but to the entire creation. “The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9). “He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25).
  2. The special mercy of God. It is exercised toward the children of men, helping them and giving them all the necessities of life. “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45).
  3. The sovereign mercy of God. This is reserved for the heirs of salvation and is communicated to them in a covenant way through the Mediator.

Just to explain the difference between the second and third types a bit more, the mercies of God that the wicked enjoy are only temporary – they are for the present. There will be no mercy extended to them beyond the grave. Isaiah 27:11 says, “For it is a people of no understanding; therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, and He who formed them will show them no favor.” God can never cease to be merciful because that is the nature of who He is: “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is merciful” (Ps. 116:5). But the exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will. It is pure sovereign grace alone which determines the activity of divine mercy. Paul brings this out in Romans 9:15: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy” (see Ex. 33:19).

God’s Mercy With Sinners
The connection between the mercy and grace of God in His dealings with sinners is seen in Scriptures such as Ephesians 2:4-8: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Titus 3:3-7 adds, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

It is through or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Lk. 1:78). The merits of the Lord Jesus and His finished work on the cross make it possible for God to righteously show mercy to us. If God gave us what we deserve we would all be, right now, condemned for eternity. David cried out, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:1-2). A plea to God for mercy is asking Him to withhold the judgment we deserve and instead grant to us the forgiveness we in no way earned. God shows mercy to the truly repentant soul!

We deserve nothing from God. God does not owe us anything. Whatever good we experience is a result of the grace of God (Eph. 2:5). God favors – He gives us good things that we do not deserve and could never earn. Mercy and grace are best illustrated in the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. We deserve judgment, but if we receive Jesus Christ as Savior we obtain mercy from God and are delivered from judgment. By grace we receive salvation, forgiveness of sins and an abundant life which begins here as we enjoy a relationship with God as our Father, looking forward to eternity in heaven with Him.

Our Response Toward The God Of Mercy
Because of the mercy and grace of God we fall on our knees in worship and thanksgiving. We remember that “through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). Micah said, “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity … because He delights in mercy … He will … have compassion on us, and He will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:18-19). It’s good to recall that “the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children” (Ps. 103:17).

Because He is the “King eternal, immortal, invisible … God who alone is wise” (1 Tim. 1:17) and “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (6:15), we should therefore “give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:3).

Mercy Is Still Available Today
There are three specific examples given in Psalm 136 of God’s sovereign provision:

  • He protects and shelters during the “wilderness” (v.16) journey of His people,
  • He makes possible victories over great “enemies” (v.24), and
  • He gives “food to all flesh” (v.25).

The details of God’s provision and the many examples in Scripture are inexhaustible. Yet in these three areas we find hope for any situation. Hebrews 4:16 declares, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The apostle Paul reminds us that our God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Mercy originates from Him, and as we experience His mercy and comfort we should share them with others.

Mercy On Display
Mercy is to be seen in the life of every believer. A great example of such mercy is found in Luke 10:25-37, where we read about a traveler who helped a man who had been beaten and robbed. As the Good Samaritan bound up the wounds of the poor victim, he showed him mercy. When he took him to the nearest inn and paid for his lodging until he was well, he showed grace. His mercy relieved the pain and his grace provided for the healing!

Likewise, the most obvious way we can show mercy is through physical acts. As the Lord Jesus specifically commanded, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned and give practical help where we can. In Matthew 5:7 the Lord said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Showing mercy is not only a New Testament idea – look at what Deuteronomy 15:7-8 has to say about it: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.”

We are to show mercy to those who seem to be our enemies, according to Luke 6:27-36. Paul wrote: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:12-13).

We recognize from these verses that mercy is to be shown by our attitude as well as our actions. Mercy does not hold a grudge, harbor resentment, capitalize on another’s failures or weaknesses, nor publicize another’s sin.

Mercy shows pity as the Lord Jesus did from the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34). To the repentant thief on the cross mercy could say, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (v.43).

Mercy should be seen in the way we correct one another: “… in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). Jude 21-23 picks up on the same thought: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

The Lord Jesus told a parable about an unforgiving servant. One servant owed his master a great debt that he could not pay and he begged his master to be patient with him. He begged for mercy! But once forgiven, he went to someone who owed him far less by comparison. Demanding every cent be repaid, he had this debtor thrown into prison. When the master heard the story he “called him [and] said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” (Mt. 18:32-33).

As we have seen we have been shown unlimited mercy, cancelling our debt of sin that we are unable to repay. We continue to be shown mercy each and every day. How can we then refuse to show mercy to those we meet in our lives? Not only does this include praying for one another, but we should also show mercy in reaching out to the lost.

Let us remind ourselves again of Jeremiah’s words: “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

Contending For The Faith

By Hamilton Smith

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” —Jude 3 NKJV

The faith of which Jude speaks is not the personal faith by which we believe, but that which is to be believed – the truth. When error prevails and opposition raises its head, it is not sufficient that we should expound the truth, we must contend for it. This implies conflict, but when Christ is assailed and the truth is at stake, we must not shrink from fighting the good fight of faith under any plea of Christian charity or love.

Moreover it is the faith for which we are to contend; that is, the whole circle of truth. We are not simply to contend for a particular truth. This indeed has been done, with the result that the truth as a whole has been lost and sects have been formed to maintain a particular truth such as holiness, the presence of the Spirit, the unity of the church, or the coming of the Lord.

Further let us note that the faith for which we are to contend is the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” It admits of no addition, no modification and no development. There is no fresh communication of truth to the saints. It has been delivered to them once for all. We may have much to learn about the truth. God may grant fresh light upon the truth already revealed. We should grow in our apprehension of it knowing that the truth has been once for all delivered.

We are not called to contend with error. Many sincere souls have done so and formed crusades against different glaring evils. There are occasions, indeed, when contending for the truth necessitates the exposure of evil. But the great business of God’s people is with the truth, not the error. Jude does not say, “earnestly expose the error,” but “earnestly contend for the faith.”

MOSES’ CHOICE At The Age Of Forty

By G. Andre

When Moses had reached the age of forty it came into his heart to visit his brethren. He went out to them, looking on their burdens. Certainly he had not learned at the court of Pharaoh that these despised Hebrews were his brethren – still less that God had made promises about them (Gen. 15:13-14). However, the teaching received from his parents was still deep-rooted in his heart.

The day of decision arrived. It seems when he was to be officially called “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24 JND), Moses refused! Moses’ decision involved immense loss in terms of an honored position, material advantages, riches and many pleasures.

Similarly, we live in a day when we must be able to say “no.” Joseph’s action in Genesis 39:10 illustrates this. In a situation where a wholehearted decision to cling to the LORD was required in order to refuse, break off and go away from temptation, he triumphed by God’s grace.

Even if we are never called to give up all that was refused by Moses, we can be sure that we will face tempting circumstances. Some material advantages of this sinful world will have to be declined so they may not stand in the way of our fellowship with the people of God – even if such a decision involves a measure of self-denial.

This takes more than the negative side of renouncing or rejecting. Moses “chose.” What did he choose? He chose “to suffer affliction along with the people of God” (Heb. 11:25). Although our level of decision may not reach to that of Moses, we also will find many opportunities to choose in favor of those whom the Lord loves.

The Word says that the pleasures of sin are only for a time, “but he that does the will of God abides for eternity” (1 Jn. 2:17). Moses’ renunciation and choice would later confer on him the authority necessary to ask others, especially his own people, to do the same in their measure.

Hebrews 11 gives us some insight into the heart of Moses and reveals to us the secret that prompted his faith. He did not choose by sheer force of will or through self-denial, but because he “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” That which pertained to Christ (although no doubt only in figure) had more value for Moses’ heart than everything else. It was a greater treasure!

Moses thought that his brethren would certainly admire his devotion to their cause. He supposed that they would understand that God would deliver them up through his hand. What terrible disappointment! They did not understand (Acts 7:25). The very Israelite whom he was reproving for wronging his neighbor pushed him away. What was the good of having “refused,” “chosen,” and “esteemed” if this was the result?

Fearing Pharaoh, Moses fled to Midian and sat down near a well. There the most bitter reflections must have weighed on his mind, but he did not lose courage. As he witnessed the mistreatment to which the daughters of Reuel were exposed, he did not remain engrossed in his own pain but came to their help. Thus he remained in character both a deliverer and a servant.

How was all that possible? Hebrews 11:26 reveals it: He was looking to the reward. His eyes were not focused on the immediate future with its lost advantages and ongoing afflictions. Even at the well of Midian and in the depth of distress, his actions proved that faith was enduring in his heart. He was looking farther ahead and higher up. In fact, the path which he had begun to walk was to lead him to the song of triumph at the Red Sea, the revelations of Sinai, the glory reflected on his face, the intimate relationship with the Lord on Pisgah and finally the glorious appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration.

There is another side to this account. Before going out the first time to his brethren in Egypt he did not consult the LORD. The LORD’s time had not yet come for the people or for Moses. It was in his own strength that Moses was going, and this way did not exclude the fear of men. On the contrary, “he turned this way and that way” (Ex. 2:12).

However, in Midian under quiet conditions and alone with God, he was trained as a shepherd just as Jacob and Joseph had been trained before him and as David would yet be trained. Moses’ faith was real and deep, but he needed to pass through God’s schooling to serve for His glory.

The Witness Of A Little Girl

“Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.” —2 Kings 5:1-4 KJV

By Hank Blok

We do not know how old this “little maid” was. We do not even know her name. But that’s not of any real importance! What little we do know is of greater significance. The Scriptures tell us that: 

  • She was a little Israelite girl;
  • This little one was a captive in a foreign land;
  • Away from home she served a Gentile lady;
  • Her mistress’s husband had an incurable disease; 
  • She had a great concern for the man with his illness; and 
  • She did what she could to get her mistress’s husband to the help he needed.

This is what 2 Kings 5:3 simply records: “And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him [Naaman] of his leprosy*.”

What a wonderful statement; one full of grace on many levels. It would suggest that the little girl was most likely brought up by her parents, grandparents or other godly guardians to know the true and living God. Children do not forget the things that are indelibly inscribed on their hearts during those formative years. Of course we know that some may not always follow the teachings introduced to them in their youth. Yet, there is no doubt that they will never lose all of the influence passed on in those early years. 

Had she met the prophet Elisha? We cannot tell. She certainly must have known enough about him to suggest that he could help. While she may not have been able to give Naaman’s wife the instructions for the healing of his disease, she could at least provide a reference to someone who could help. Similarly, our children may not adequately know how to lead a person to Christ. Therefore, it would be good that each child be encouraged to refer others to a parent, stronger Christian or evangelist who is able to explain the way of salvation. In actuality, this is what a lot of children do when they bring their friends, their parents and others to a Sunday school or daily vacation Bible school! Many parents can probably testify that their kids were the greatest little evangelists as young children.

It is so special that the Lord Jesus could say, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” And it is ever so personally touching that He would take them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and bless them (Mk. 10:14-16). Just as wonderfully, He can touch their lives to make them usable for His blessed purposes of bringing others to Himself.

* In the Bible, the illness of leprosy portrays sin and it’s end result – death.