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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Isaiah 38:5 – “Prayer and Unintended Consequences”)

“Prayer and Unintended Consequences”

Isaiah 38:5, “Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.”

This morning, cynicism is one of the pervading marks of our culture. People have become so negative that many things that produce positive outcomes are seen as unbeneficial. How many people today pray in faith expecting that their prayer will be heard and answered? Paul made it very clear that prayer helps. (II Corinthians 1:11) James pointed us to a poignant example to show how effectual prayer can avail. (James 5:16-18) Yet, prayer can be rote, faithless, and duty driven if we are not careful. To the faithful Christian soldier, prayer is a powerful weapon that should be seen as a mighty application. In my youth, I heard a minister make a powerful example about prayer. “What if this country was invaded and instead of using the great arsenal of weapons at our disposal, soldiers were on the beach with bows and arrows? That makes as much sense as a disciple forgoing prayer for wishing or undervaluing prayer to not use it to its fullest effect.”

In our study verse, we see one of the most striking answers to prayer recorded for us in Scripture. Hezekiah was one of the most righteous kings that Judah ever had, and his prayer touches the God of heaven to add to his life here on earth. God had sent word that Hezekiah’s sickness was to death, and due to this man’s prayer, God mercifully added 15 years to his life and recovered him of the sickness. Considering the effect that this man’s prayer had on the Almighty, we should be strengthened and emboldened in our prayer life to consider that He who needs nothing is still touched and compassionate to our struggles and trials. However, I fear that even when focused on this great truth of God’s mercy, I have sold God’s mercy short in this regard. His mercy is far beyond my comprehension, and when I learn more about it, it fills me with awe and wonder.

Looking at just the surface of the matter, we see how great God’s mercy is to this man just in the length of days that were added. Hezekiah began ruling at the age of 25 and reigned for 29 years. Considering that 15 years were added, God gave him slightly more than double the time to reign than he would have had. His rule would have lasted only 14 years should he not have prayed and God answered his prayer. What a great mercy to give this righteous man so much more than he would have had. Yet, God’s mercy is far more than just this surface view of the time itself. God can and does see what is coming down the road in perfection. God knew what was going to happen in the future, and even knowing this, He was merciful anyway. Let us consider what Hezekiah did not know when praying this prayer that God knew, and God blessed him anyway.

In the next chapter, we see one of the few times that Hezekiah stumbled mightily in his rule. He is hospitable to the ambassadors from Babylon and shows them the breadth of his kingdom. This foreigners should not have had access to certain parts of his kingdom. Certainly the temple was one place that they were not allowed, yet there was nothing in his kingdom that he showed them not. Isaiah rebukes Hezekiah for his actions and foretells the captivity by the very nation that he showed such hospitality to. Yet, God’s mercy was still on display by not bringing this judgment and destruction in Hezekiah’s time. Simple question. Had Hezekiah died in chapter 38, would this transgression by him have taken place in chapter 39? The answer is obvious, and yet God added to his life knowing full well that he would stumble shortly thereafter.

Another unintended consequence of this answered prayer was something that happened after Hezekiah did pass away. After his death, his son takes the throne. His son is a wicked king by the name of Manasseh. Not only was Manasseh one of the most wicked kings that Judah ever saw, he had the longest reign of any king (55 years). So, his wickedness plagued the land for decades. Interestingly, Manasseh was only 12 years old when his reign began. That means that during Hezekiah’s sickness and answered prayer in our study verse he was not born yet. Again, had Hezekiah died, this wicked man would not have lived and distressed the land for the prolonged time that he did. God knew all of this perfectly when answering Hezekiah’s prayer, and He blessed him anyway.

Considering these unforeseen and unintended consequences, God is more merciful than we can comprehend. There are many times as a father that I will forego giving my children things that I know will be bad for them. God surely does this too, as James tells us God does not give us things when we intend to consume them upon our lusts. (James 4:3) However, there are certain things that my children may ask for that I can see what it will do later down the road when they cannot. If I think the path down the road from the request may turn out bad, I may deny them even though they have not thought about it. God knows what everything will bring about down the road. He knew that lengthening Hezekiah’s days would put him in position to stumble like he did and also bring a child into the world that would rule contrary to His law. Knowing this, God still honored this man’s request for the uprightness of His heart and the compassion He had for Him.

At this point, the kind reader may wonder, “Does this mean something for me today?” Surely it does, as we are much like Hezekiah. Though we may not have had a sickness to death that we recovered from, all of us – I believe – can look back over the course of our lives and see where the Lord spared us from death and destruction. The fact that we have life today is a testimony to the Lord’s daily grace that has allowed us to continue to this day. (Acts 26:22) When I look back over my existence, there are countless times that I should have been dead long before today. It is my firm belief that others prayed for me even when I was too thoughtless and stubborn to pray for myself. My parents prayed daily for me, and my dear companion prays daily for me. These prayers help brethren. Of that, I have no doubt, for Scripture teaches it and experience bears it out.

However, looking back on my life from the time forward from those deliverances, I have failed and stumbled time and time again. The wrong words have been spoken; the wrong steps have been taken. Time and time again, I have come short of what God requires and deserves from the walk of one of His ministers and disciples. So many times I sing the words of the old songwriter, “Much of my time has run to waste, and I perhaps am near my home. But He forgives my follies past and gives me strength for days to come.” What if God had not answered Hezekiah’s prayer the way He did or answered the prayers of my loved ones the way He did? Hezekiah would have died, and I would have too. Those great evils in his life would not have occurred, and my list of sins would be shorter than it is now. Yet, God heard, answered, and blessed in spite of what was coming in the future.

Beloved, when I consider this Great One that we serve, it astounds me that His mind and heart operate in the harmonious fashion that they do. If we knew through perfect foresight how someone was going to mistreat us and go in utter rebellion at times from our fellowship, would we have the heart to deal compassionately with them? Consider one relationship that you have lost over your life. If you could travel back in time to when things were “happier” with that person, would it be hard to treat them like you did then knowing what you know now? Surely it would. Yet, God knows all these things and deals with the kind grace and tender mercy in the ways that He does. Whenever we pray to Him in an honest spirit with a contrite heart, He blesses time and time again. When He spares our lives daily and even prolongs our existence from things that should have naturally killed us, He does so in love and great mercy. Though we fail time and time again, let us go forward in greater zeal to the mercy that we have seen and experienced and try mightily to limit these negative consequences that are a reproach to Him. If you are reading this, then you are still living here, and still living here is a testament to God’s hand preserving your life. Let us take the days that we have to honour Him and bring glory to His compassion and power that has so blessed us.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Isaiah 55:8 – “Power of Perspective”)

“Power of Perspective”

Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD.”

This morning, people have become very wise in their own eyes. Whether one wants to attribute this cultural mindset to the rise in technology, the lowering of moral standards, or any other societal symptom, the point remains clear. People think very highly of themselves and their opinions. One of the possible catalysts for this is the availability of information. Just a few clicks, points, or finger swipes, and people can pull up a plethora of information about any number of subjects. Preachers have access to theological writings more than ever before, professionals have electronic access to journals and peer-reviewed writings, and we can recreationally research many things very comfortably. However, this rise in information availability has also occurred with the plummet of something else. People today do not think critically. It is becoming more and more common for people to take what they hear and see without critically analyzing it.

Lack of critical analysis joined with truckloads of information leads to heightened pride and a false sense of expertise. This is the power of perspective in a negative vein. One of the universal failings of mankind is to assume that life is “generally” the way it is where I see it. Therefore, if life is generally good, then it is generally good for everybody and vice versa. We carry this mindset into our perspective about the church, family, work, and all avenues of life. Perspective can also keep us from receiving new information about something, because we already have that situation/person/thing figured out. For example, if someone has already fashioned a reasonable mold in our minds, we can refuse to receive anything new about that person as it might alter what is already molded in our minds. This is the power of perspective based on preconceived notions. So, what does all this have to do with our text?

A few days ago, I got to engage in one of my favorite natural pastimes in one of my favorite places to do it. I love “people watching” since we are such funny creatures, and one of the best places to do this is at an airport. All these people from different stripes thrown together in one place because they have one thing in common: catching a plane to take them somewhere else. Airports are a microcosm of what humanity looks like in general, and one of the things that I come away with at an airport is a small glimpse of what humanity must look like to the Almighty. He sees all and knows all, and we see and know so little. Our perspective is so limited, yet we put so much stock in it. His perspective is right, just, and complete, yet we fail to seek it so often.

Consider the words before us. The Lord directs us to His thoughts and ways contrasted against our thoughts and ways. The next verse describes the chasm between His and ours. The great divide of heavens above the earth compares to the Lord’s thoughts and ways to ours. His thoughts pertain to seeing and perceiving. His ways pertain to His actions whether proactively or in reaction to His sense and perception. In other words, actions and ways come about based on thoughts and meditations. The Lord acts on what He thinks and perceives. His ways are always perfect and right. This is a consequence of never thinking or perceiving something that is not right. The Lord’s perspective is perfect, because He sees all: outwardly and inwardly.

We see and know so very little. Our perception is limited, and though information seems so available now, we are still handicapped. Consider what we know of the past. I would imagine that my knowledge of past events would not even be 10% of what has already happened. What about the present? My knowledge of what is going on now is probably less than 1%. What about the future? Even less. Yet, God knows 100% of all past events, sees what is happening right now perfectly clearly in all places and all points, and yet knows the future like it was already yesterday. Because of such perfect thinking, perfect action grows from it. Where do our actions go astray? Improper thinking. Because we are thus limited, our actions sadly reflect it.

Let us take this line of thinking to a high theological plane for a moment and then bring it back down to the practical living realm. People today bristle at the idea of election, predestination, particular redemption, etc. because it is “not fair.” A recent conversation with a lady at work hit upon this notion, as she was trying to figure out why I wouldn’t subscribe to the “Left Behind” notion though I freely confessed to not knowing much about the book of Revelation. I told her that I did not have to be fully aware of Revelation’s teachings to know something that it could not be saying. I explained that if that notion was what Revelation was describing it would flatly contradict a lot of plain teaching elsewhere in Scripture. She then declared, “But this must be what it is saying, because God wants more people to go to heaven, and this helps that.” Ah, now the full idea behind the reasoning comes to the surface.

Why do people not think it fair that God would choose one and not another? Limited perspective leads to it. We talk about the attributes of God, but do we really “get Him?” To say that “God is love” (and He is), do we really get that? Not in its fullness. To say that we are sinners (and we are), do we really get that? Not in its fullness. We do not know the depths of our depravity, nor the heights of His love. The half of those subjects has not been told us, because our sight is too limited to receive it. God, however, has perfect understanding of both, and He acted perfectly in relation to both. His Son came as the epitome of love to redeem us from the horrible depths of wretched depravity. Oh to know the fullness of these things! Oh to see the great qualities of this One! That is what Paul desired for himself (Philippians 3:10-12), and it should be our desire while travelling through the sands of time.

We cannot see into the beautiful climes of heaven any more than we can explore the fiery torments of a devil’s hell. We see those things through glimpses and flashes, but we do not fully understand them. God inhabits one, rules over both, and understands fully what they entail. His actions to legally remove us from the hold of one and into the beauty of the other is a “way” that is based on a “thought.” We, in His thoughts, were placed with Him through His ways. Though we believe this and rejoice in it, none of us fully understand it. Yet, we should bow in humble submission to the One whose perspective is perfect in all things.

Have you ever heard the old cliché, “You are what you eat?” Consider that the prophet leads up to this by describing how we should be eating and drinking of the things that our wonderful Lord has provided for us. When we daily take in those things that He has provided, we will draw closer to Him and align our thinking and actions closer to His. While I do not consider myself an expert on life or God, I hope that I have learned so that I know more now than I did previously. In another 5 years, I hope to know more about God’s thinking and action than I do now. I hope that this knowledge will infuse my thoughts so that my actions will be higher than they are right now.

What if we think we already have God and His ways figured out? We will cease to learn any more about Him/them. What if we think we already have life figured out? We will not grow and develop any more in our roles as church members, parents, professionals, etc. Friends, there is one Expert in this universe, and His expertise is so far above ours that we will never attain to His level while we live here. Therefore, let us put our limited perspective on the back burner and look to His mindset. He has graciously given us insight into His mind by giving us His word. He has shown us His ways through the life of His Son as recorded in His word. This is not some idyllic plane with no day-to-day value. This is – as we have previously heard from the same prophet – the sound that comes to our ears and says, “this is the way, walk ye in it.” (Isaiah 30:21a)

In Hope,
Bro Philip