Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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Luke 3:21-22

It is easy to miss what opens the environment of this scripture. Just before John the Baptist is going to be arrested and killed, the scene is Jesus praying after He was baptized. Before Jesus prayed, it was just another baptism. Many people were being submerged in the waters of conversion to a life of chasing God. However, when Jesus prayed, this baptism turned into God’s expressed presence, showing up in a form like a dove. A voice called out, announcing Jesus as God’s presence on the earth.

The voice did not come while the people were being baptized. Instead, it came when Jesus started praying. The heavens were opened. The spirit descended and said, “You are my beloved son. In you I am well pleased.” What opened the heavens was not the baptism—it was the prayer.

Prayer is being forgotten for many of us. When facing life and fighting challenges, it is easy to forget that one prayer can open a heaven full of options. Prayer gives us strength, clarity, and power, so it is important to focus on the power and efficacy of prayer. We are only as strong as our prayer lives.

Our prayers stand us under an open heaven. When we pray, we access the eternal, which addresses all of our temporal needs. Life throws a lot at us, with its stressors and demands. In Jesus, we exist in a perpetually open heaven. Our prayers are never bouncing off the ceiling. When we pray, our prayers go straight to the throne of God.

The stronger our relationship with Christ is, the easier it is to access the openness of heaven. We must govern our lives as if we live in an open heaven. We should live our lives, pay our bills, go to church, have family time, enjoy a meal, but we must remember that we live under an open heaven. This heaven is not blocked by human demands and cannot be manipulated by mankind’s wiles. We don’t need to be perfect to access this open heaven; we just have to believe in Jesus and believe in prayer.

Whenever and however we need God, He is always available for us if we trust Him in prayer. We don’t just have access to the power of God through prayer, we live in that open heaven. We live in a place of power. We live with access to God. We live in heaven while walking through earth.

Luke 2:25-35 (NIV)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

God makes a promise to Simeon, so he appears in the temple to behold Christ’s manifestation. Luke tells us that Simeon is a devout and religious man, living with the promise from God that he would not see death until his eyes were cast upon the Messiah Himself.

While God’s promise is awesome to receive, it is frustrating to endure. There is a reason that Aristotle said patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. The time a promise is first articulated to you and the time it comes to fruition could be a mighty long time as we can see was the case for Simeon. But no matter how long Simeon had to wait, he knew that God hadn’t forgotten.

It’s hard to wait for our dreams and exercise patience in this instant, everything world. It’s hard enough waiting for a website to load or our lunch to finish heating up in the microwave. We want instant spirituality. Instant faith maturation. Instant spiritual manifestation.

Maybe you aren’t passively waiting, either—maybe you’re praying, attending church, forgiving your enemies, waking up and giving God praise. God owes you, right? But still, He is making you wait. The text shows us that God is powerful enough to do some things immediately, so why hasn’t He given you what you want? Evidence shows us He can. We see it when our neighbors have their desires fulfilled. We see it when our friends receive all that they asked from God—even when we asked the same of God at the same time and we’re still waiting.

If God makes you wait, you have to offer patience and endurance, knowing that He hasn’t forgotten. You might struggle not to shout when you see Him fulfilling your same desire in another person. Instead, you need to shout because He is working it out. He is lining everything up, just as He lined everything up for Jesus’ arrival. Don’t deny your feelings of anger, frustration, nervousness, and jealously. God knows you’re struggling. Open up to Him. Go to church anyway. Pray anyway. Be kind anyway. Be patient anyway. Keep believing God and keep making an effort.

You might think you can wait a little longer if God would just tell you why you’re waiting. Let me ask you this: did God tell Simeon why he was waiting? No, He didn’t. When patience can’t feed on confirmation, it has to rest on God’s providence.

We don’t know why God makes us wait, but patience is an offering we give God as an expression of gratitude. Simeon remained faithful while anticipating the coming Messiah. He felt blessed to be trusted with a vision and a promise that required patience. We would all do well to do the same.

Sometimes the waiting ends up being more important than the outcome. Sometimes we grow more by the waiting than we do by the receiving. Perhaps waiting is the gift He gives you.

Acts 16:25-26 (AMP)

But about midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

The apostle Paul writes quite often about the mystery of the gospel. He reveals truths to us about why Christ came and what His Kingdom means. The disciples were short-sighted enough to think that He was going to overthrow the Roman government and bring the Jews back to power in Israel.

Jesus told them all along the way that they were made for more than an earthly king. He said, “The Kingdom of God is near,” repeatedly.

In Luke 21:34-36 (NIV), when Jesus speaks of the signs of the temple destruction and end times, he warns the disciples:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Paul understood why Jesus used this peculiar statement: “The Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus said it so that when trouble comes, we can access its power. It’s near because when you receive the gift of salvation, you become a member of the Kingdom. You take on the Spirit of Christ. That Kingdom lives within you.

Jesus wants you to access it when the “anxieties of life” weigh you down.

In today’s focus scripture of Acts 16:25-26, that mystery Jesus revealed to His disciples is exactly what keeps Paul and Silas going through a tragic time in their ministry.

They were en route to a time of refreshment and reflection at Lydia’s house (she was a businesswoman) and a servant woman with a demon in her followed them on their way. She’d been following them for days and kept yelling at them.

Acts 16:17 reports that she is following them, screaming and shouting: “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17, AMP).

That’s actually good news, but it was becoming a major distraction to Paul’s mission—to preach the Gospel. He reacts and casts out the demon.

The townspeople turn on him and Silas because they profited from this woman’s ability to tell fortunes. So, the two disciples are arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.

They’re in prison for preaching the gospel and freeing a woman from a spirit that twisted her spirituality. Paul and Silas are in an uncomfortable situation—beaten, under guard, and uncertain of their future because of what they preached.

However, instead of dwelling on their misfortune, they do something mysterious and remarkable. Let’s recall the second part of today’s passage, which reports that “…suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened”(Acts 16:26, AMP).

It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles here. Chains broken. Doors opened. A prison destroyed. But the really great stuff here is the peculiar thing Paul and Silas were doing in their circumstances of misery—they were praying and singing instead of fearing, worrying, doubting, or lamenting.

Our lives all have that annoying voice—circumstances, trials, emotional turmoil, physical ailments—following us around, yelling at us. It’s enough to make you snap. But Paul and Silas do something different. Here’s a guideline for all of us for how to find God in the midst of all of the distractions around us:

1. Fight for your position as a child of God. When you are saved, you are given an inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. Own that identity. When circumstances scream at you, scream back with this truth.
2. Live in the Kingdom of God. You are full of the Spirit. That’s His job in you—to remind you whose you are and for whom you were made—eternity with God.
3. Remember the Spirit is a permanent resident in you. Surrender to the Spirit and not your problems and circumstances. That’s how Satan grabs a foothold with you.
4. Make your eternity more important than your today. Take care more of eternity than you do of time. That means it’s your job to focus on faith today instead of the minutia of this world.

When you simply keep your focus on God, He will be your protector, and the troublesome days you experience will only be temporary!

1 Corinthians 13:6 (NIV)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

To feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people’s misfortune is downright diabolical.

This immoral approach to love is happening in the city of Corinth. The saints are taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes. Paul reminds them that love doesn’t rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Love doesn’t gloat when bad things happen to other people. Love doesn’t secretly rub its hands together in enjoyment. Love doesn’t enjoy misfortunes even in those who have done wrong. Love does not find satisfaction in the wrongdoings of enemies.

You should love your neighbor even when they fall.

However, pain always wants compensation. The wrong done to you causes you to lose hope in the person who has wronged you. But the presence of the Spirit in your life ought to be stronger than these wicked feelings. The Holy Spirit gives you the strength to take avoid finding pleasure in others’ failures.

Imagine driving down the road, and a car cuts in front of you. Then, a few blocks later, you see a cop has pulled them over. Maybe you hope they forgot their license that day or they weren’t wearing a seatbelt. At the very least, maybe they’ll spill coffee on their clothes or get an agitated cop who gives them a ticket. But Paul says your love shouldn’t gloat over the misfortune of those who’ve done you wrong. Even when it comes to an ex-friend or significant other—and considering all the pain and hardship they’ve put you through—Paul still stresses that love doesn’t revel in the pain of others.

Don’t search for contentment in your life through the misfortunes of those who have wronged you. God’s love in you provides all the contentment you need. When you understand the magnitude of the love of God that is in you and begin to truly value that love, nothing else will matter.

Find joy and contentment in God every day, not just seasons where you are winning and your enemies are losing. Wrap your future in the strength of His presence. Rejoice not in the misfortune of others, but in the love He puts on your life. God is enough!

2 Kings 19:14-19

Countries of different sizes and military strengths all fell to Assyria. All of these nations believed in their own gods, though their gods were manmade. They believed in these gods to deliver them, and they discovered that their gods were powerless to do so.

Now, Hezekiah holds in his hands an arrogant letter from the king of Assyria. The letter says that Judea is next. Assyria will capture the people of Judea, destroy their belief systems, and dominate their will.

Hezekiah reads this letter and, instead of submitting to fear and panic, he went to the temple. He laid the letter out before God. Hezekiah knows that unlike the gods of the nations around Judea, his God is all-powerful. While Hezekiah knows that God can answer our prayers in any way that He wants to, Hezekiah prays believing that God will answer his prayer as requested.

Hezekiah’s actions teach us that prayer is, by definition, casting our wills before God. This means we are conversing with God and telling Him what our will is. It is a statement of faith, a confidence in God. Prayer is offering a gift to God, and it makes a difference and creates change. It is not just an exercise in eloquence or a duty that we have. We pray because we believe that when we cast our will before God and God hears our prayers, God answers our prayers and creates change.

Prayer defies what is evident, challenges what is obvious, and offers alternatives when there appear to be none. When we give our will to God, it receives God’s strength. It is taking everything in our minds and hearts and setting it before our God. We may not know how He is going to answer, but we do know that He will answer.

God’s response is always what is best for us. There is never no response, even if our prayers are not answered like we would want them to be. However, we do need to believe that praying can create the change that we need. For many of us, it is hard to believe that God is even stirred by our prayers.

The answer is, “Yes!” We know, because we love God, that God hears and answers prayer. When He answers our prayer He brings radical change to our lives.