Morning Manna

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Table of contents :
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
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Morning Manna

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Morning Manna Once I was invited to spend a few days meeting with a group of medical students at Loma Linda University-an awesome experience! Their brains bulging out the sides of their heads, those medical students came in from carving up cadavers, fully prepared to begin dissecting the speaker! · After I had tried for several meetings to share an understanding of spiritual things, one of the students handed me a written question. It read, "Dear Preacher: Please tell us how to live the Christian life. Give us something practical, down-to-earth, nitty-gritty-not this Bible study and prayer and witnessing bit." Well, some of us don't think fast, but we think long. After staring at the ceiling that night, the best answer I could find went something like this, "Dear Doctor: Please tell us how to live a healthful physical life. Give us something practical, down-to-earth, nitty-gritty-not this eating and breathing and exercising bit." Perhaps you have heard this little poem: The best six doctors anywhereAnd no one can deny itAre sunshine, water, rest and air, Exercise and diet. 3

These six will gladly be your friends, If only you are willing. Your ills they'll mend, your cares they'll tend, And charge you not a shilling. It's true in the physical life, and it's true in the spiritual life. No one will be healthy physically or spiritually who overlooks the basics. No pill or treatment or surgery can substitute for "sunshine, water, rest and air, exercise and diet." And no penance or ceremony or duty can take the place of the spiritual counterparts. We have already mentioned air, diet, and exercise. What about sunshine? Jesus is called the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2). Water? Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37). Rest? In Matthew 11:28, Jesus gives the invitation, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." How do we take advantage of the Sun of Righteousness, the Water of Life, and the rest that is offered? The answer is given in the context, isn't it? We receive these things by coming to Jesus. How then do we come to Jesus? We are invited to come, but we can't see Him with our eyes or hear Him with our ears. We don't have the advantage His first disciples had in being able to spend time with Him in person. Sometimes young people in particular find it hard to get acquainted with a God they cannot see or hear or touch. But the methods for coming to Christ today and for having fellowship and communion with Him are the same methods by which we communicate with anybody. If you would like to get to know someone, what do you do? First, you must talk to them. Secondly, you 4

must listen to them when they talk to you. And finally, you must go places and do things together. As you work together, travel together, and develop common interests, you become better acquainted. If you would like to know God, you must make use of the same methods. In the study of His Word, which is called the "Bread of Life," you can hear Him speaking to you. Prayer, which has been called "the breath of the soul," is the way you speak to Him. And the "exercise" of Christian service and witness and outreach is the way to go places and do things with Him. It's just that simple. Through knowing Him, through coming to Him day by day, we receive the gift of eternal life. "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

Eating the Bread of Life As we try to understand more clearly these basic ingredients for a healthful Christian life, let's go to the sixth chapter of John. Jesus was speaking to the group of people who came searching for Him the morning after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. They were hoping to see something even more spectacular. But instead of working another miracle, Jesus preached a strange sermon. Even Jesus' disciples found it difficult, for they said, in John 6:60, ''This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" But in the understanding of John 6, we can begin to realize what it means to "eat" and "breathe" spiritually. The people asked Jesus a question. "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" (verse 28). These people were into salvation by works. 5

What shall we do? It was a behavioral question. Jesus immediately responded with a relationship answer. He said, ''This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he hath sent" (verse 29). How do we believe, or trust, in Him? Trust is always based on a relationship. You trust the one you know to be trustworthy. If someone is trustworthy, and you get to know him, you will trust him spontaneously. So it is with God. As we come to know Him, we trust Him, and thus receive not only eternal life, but all of the gifts He has to offer. You may want to read this entire chapter (John 6) for yourself, but let's notice just a few verses here. Verse 35: And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. Verse 51: I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Verses 53-56: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 6

What do you think when you read such words? Are you ready to join with the disciples in finding them hard to understand? Keep reading! There is a clue in verse 63. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." So when Jesus talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He is talking about His Word. The prophet Jeremiah used the same analogy. "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jeremiah 15:16; see also Psalm 119:103). Just as our physical life is sustained, day by day, by the food we eat, so it is with spiritual life. As we study God's Word each day, our spiritual life is maintained. Because of waste and loss, the body must be renewed, through the blood, by being supplied with daily food. So we must feed upon the Word. That Word must be our meat and drink, if we are to find spiritual nourishment. How fat would some of us be, physically, if we spent as much time eating as we spend partaking of the Bread of Life? It's not always easy to set aside time for prayer and study, is it? Some of us have a hard time living on only twenty-four hours a day! In my library at home is a book someone gave me entitled, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. I think it must be a good book, and am hoping someday to find time to read it! If you've been having trouble finding time even to eat your "three squares," and then you hear about spending time day by day for fellowship and communion with Christ, it could sound impossible. A resident physician in Los Angeles listened to the reasons about the necessity of spending time in 7

a relationship with Christ in order to have a healthful spiritual life. He worked around the clock in the hospital residency program. It didn't look as if he had an extra five minutes-much less significant time to spend in seeking to know Jesus for himself. But he decided it was important. At the end of the first week of deliberately taking time with God-time he thought he didn't have-he came back to share the results. He was excited. He said, "I can't explain it. I can't even understand it. But I not only had time to spend with God each day, but yesterday I found time to wash my car for the first time in months!" God had blessed his efforts and had given him a greater efficiency, so that he could accomplish everything necessary, and more besides. The promise is still there, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). Setting aside time for God is like setting aside money for God. It is still true that $9.00 with God's blessing goes further than $10.00 without His blessing. Have you discovered that yet? And as with your tithe, so it is with your time. Twenty-three hours with God's blessing goes further than twenty-four hours without His blessing. It's the same principle. For a long time I considered a personal relationship with God to be an option in the Christian life. I thought it was reserved for people with white hair and arthritis who were cramming for their finals! I had the idea that the basis of the Christian life was to try hard to be good-and if there was any time left over, it would be nice to read the Bible and pray a little bit-it would make God feel good! Of course, there was seldom any time left over. 8

Then I discovered that a personal relationship with God is not an option-but rather the entire basis of the Christian life. Christianity is not a set of rules or a creed to live by. It is involvement with a Person-the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is not based on behavior-it is based on relationship. When it comes to living the Christian life, it's not what you do-it's Who you know. Yet most professed Christians find no time for Christ-not even five minutes a day. According to surveys, only one out of every four or five church members is spending any time at all, day by day, in seeking to know Christ personally. Why not? One of the reasons I did not spend time in a personal relationship with Christ, during the earlier years of my life, was that I simply did not think it was that important. We find time for what we think is important, do we not? The reason why I didn't think it was that important became obvious to me later. It was because I thought I could be a Christian and get to heaven in some other way than through knowing Jesus. And there is only one other option. If you don't know Jesus, and you are hoping to be saved in heaven some day, then your hope would have to be based upon your own works, wouldn't it? So one of the major reasons church members do not find time each day for a relationship with Christ is that they are still operating on the basis of salvation through their own works. No wonder so many find it to be uphill business to serve the Lord. There may be other factors involved. Just because you eat and breathe doesn't mean you're going to be healthy physically. But you're not going to be if you don't! Just because you read the Bible and pray 9

doesn't mean you'll be healthy spiritually. But you won't be if you don't! Take time for Him today-it's the most important time you can spend.

Spiritual Prescription Once I visited with H. M. S. Richards-one of the pioneer radio preachers. He was a godly man, and it was a real privilege whenever an opportunity arose to talk with him. This particular day we were discussing the lack of power in the Christian church. He said to me, "You know, our greatest problem in the Christian ministry is that so few of us spend even four hours a day alone with God in prayer and study." I said, "I beg your pardon?" He said, ''Why, if our ministers were spending even four hours a day in prayer and the study of God's Word, what a difference it would make!" When Jesus gave His sermon in John 6, comparing the physical life with the spiritual and inviting us to eat the Bread of Life, what was He saying? How much time was He suggesting? Let's go back to John 6 and notice verses 48-51. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. Since Jesus Himself made the comparison between eating the bread of life and the manna that 10

was given in the wilderness, let's go to Exodus 16 to see what suggestions we can find as to methods for the devotional life. The people of Israel had been busy at their favorite occupation-complaining! They were never quite able to give up the idea that they had been brought out of Egypt for the purpose of dying in the wilderness. This time they were worried that their supply of food would soon be used up and they would starve to death. Let's begin reading in verse 15, right in the middle of the story of the manna which God sent to feed His people in the desert. "And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was." (If you have a margin in your Bible, you will discover that the word manna means "what is it?" So what they were really saying was, "It is- what is it?") "And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat." Now, keeping in mind the analogy of John 6, let's watch for all the help we can find for a meaningful devotional life. Verse 16: "This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating." That's a good suggestion, right to begin with. Verse 17 adds, "And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less." For some spiritual giants, four hours a day to spend in prayer and study might be considered minimum! For some baby Christians, to spend fifteen minutes a day might be more than they can manage. Verses 19 and 20: And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the 11

morning. Notwithstanding, they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank. Partaking of the manna, the bread from heaven, is a daily matter. Yesterday's manna is no good for today. The manna had to be gathered each day, in order to be of benefit to the people. Verse 21 says that "they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted." Too many Christians have tried to save their devotional time until the last thing at night before they fall into bed. Before long, it seems to be nothing more than asking forgiveness for the sins of the day, or is forgotten altogether. But when they schedule it for the first thing in the morning, before the cares of the day begin, it can make all the difference. On the basis of John 6 and Exodus 16, let's put together the factors for a meaningful devotional life, in a spiritual prescription. TAKE TIME, ALONE, AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH DAY, TO SEEK JESUS THROUGH HIS WORD AND THROUGH PRAYER. Take TIME. How much time? According to the analogy, it would be well to take at least as much time feeding your spiritual life as you spend eating for your physical life. One suggestion would be to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We are not expected to become hermits or to retire to some monastery in order to be Christians. Jesus did not withdraw from mankind. In His early 12

years, He worked all day in the carpenter shop. After He began His public ministry, His days were spent in caring for the needs of the people. But throughout His life, He found time to lay aside His tools or to withdraw from the crowds and go to a quiet place where He could commune with His Father (see Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Take time ALONE. Psalm 91:1: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." Do you have a secret place where you can be alone with God? It could be in your bedroom, your closet, or down the hall someplace. It could be out in the fields or among the trees. John Wesley had a special place in his study where he always knelt, and over the years his knees made indentations in the wood of the floor. You can see it in England today, the secret place where he communed with heaven. Public worship has its place. Family worship is important. But there is no substitute for time ALONE with God. No one can eat for another. Take time alone, AT THE BEGINNING. "My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, 0 Lord, in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up" (Psalm 55:17). We are told, even in the physical realm, of the importance of eating a good breakfast. In the morning we need to be re-fueled for the needs of the coming day. And while it might be better to eat just before going to bed rather than never to eat at all, the ideal is to begin each day with nourishment for that day. If we are seeking Jesus for His power and grace and guidance, it is best to seek Him before we take up the duties of a new day-not after we have finished the day's labors, when all we can do is ask Him for pardon for our failures and mistakes. 13

Take time alone, at the beginning OF EACH DAY. It is not sufficient to eat once a week, or once a month, or a couple times a year. In order to grow, physically or spiritually, we must eat regularly. Jesus said it in Luke 9:23, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Sometimes people have trouble with this idea. They ask, "What happens if I miss a day?" Well, what happens if you miss a day eating your meals? Contrary to what some children may think, you will NOT starve to death in twenty-four hours! What do you do with that information? Do you say, "Oh good! I'll only eat three times a week from now on?" Do you say, "I wonder how many days I could go without eating before I would starve?" Or do you recognize that life must be sustained by regular eating, and plan for it in your schedule? You might ask the same question in a marriage. Do you have to talk to your mate every single day in order to stay married? No? Oh good! Let's stop talking Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If we don't have to do it in order to be married, why bother? But love doesn't think that way. The issue in a marriage, in your physical life, or in your Christian life, is not to seek for the minimum possible to "get by." The question is, What will promote the greatest health? Through contact and communion with Christ, the greatest Christian growth can take place. Why settle for less? Take time, alone, at the beginning of each day, TO SEEK JESUS THROUGH HIS WORD. If you would learn to know God, the best place to look is in the life of Jesus. That is where the character of God is most clearly seen. In John 14:8, 9 Philip asked for 14

a look at the Father. And Jesus replied, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Jesus is the center and focus of the whole Bible. From Genesis, where He is presented as the seed of the woman who will bruise the serpent's head, to Revelation, where He is promised as the coming King, Jesus is uplifted. However, there are some places in the Bible where He is seen more clearly than in others. In the four gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John-His life is recorded for our meditation and understanding. By beholding Him, we will be changed into His image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Throughout the Bible are some writings that are instructional and some that are inspirational. There may be prophecies and history and genealogy that can be studied at some other time. But for the devotional time, focus on Jesus. The uplifting of Jesus is what draws us to Him (John 12:32). Take time alone, at the beginning of each day, to seek Jesus through His Word, and THROUGH PRAYER. Two friends were discussing a particular crisis. After describing the problem at length, one said, "I guess there's nothing left to do but pray." To which the friend responded, "Alas! Has it come to that?" Prayer is probably the most neglected source of power in the Christian church today. But we have been told to pray without ceasing (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). As we have already noticed, prayer has been called the breath of the soul. No one will live very long without breathing. It is one of the most critical needs of the human body. The same is true for the Christian. Circumstances may separate 15

you from the body of Christ, from the privilege of fellowship with others who share your faith in Him. You might be blind, unable to read His Word for yourself. Throughout the centuries, God's heroes have at times been imprisoned and had their Bibles taken away. But the privilege of prayer is the one most important life support system for the Christian. It is available to every person. No one can take it away from you. Each individual has unrestricted access to the God of the universe. Prayer is sometimes thought of as a sort of heavenly Christmas list, where we come to request the fulfillment of our particular needs. But prayer is for more than just getting answers-it is for communication. True, we are invited to bring our needs to God in prayer. But much more is available than that. We can talk to Him as a Friend. He knows all about us anyway, so nothing we could tell Him would cause Him to reject us. He never gets bored or tired of hearing from His children. The Bible promise is that God hears and responds to the prayers of His people. As we talk to Him within the framework of our devotional time with Him-and then throughout the day as well-we come to know Him better and trust Him more. Take time, alone, at the beginning of each day, to seek Jesus through His Word and through prayerand SHARE WHAT YOU HAVE GAINED WITH SOMEONE ELSE! Anyone who only eats, and never exercises, will not continue in good health for very long. There are many different methods for exercising. But some form of exercise is vitally important, spiritually as well as physically. It is not enough simply to sit at the table, talking 16

and listening, in fellowship with Christ. We must also go places and do things with Him. And the method for that is to go and tell and serve and share, in the Christian witness and outreach. Each of the four gospels ends with a command for service. Matthew says, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." Mark says, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel." Luke says, ''Ye are witnesses." And John says, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep." As we seek to minister to others, we become even more aware of our own need of the grace of Christ, and we are motivated to seek Him. The more we seek Him, the more we have to share. And so the circle continues. We will find it impossible to shut up the truth of God to ourselves. If we try, we will lose it. It's like trying to shut up your parakeet in a Tupperware container. If you attempt such a thing, it won't be long until you have no parakeet left. All you will have is a pitiful little heap of feathers. In the ongoing Christian life, it is only that which we give away that we are able to keep. That which we try to keep, we lose (see Mark 8:35). In order for our relationship with Christ to flourish, we must continually share Him with others. As we introduce Him to others and tell of what we have found Him to be, we will come to know Him better for ourselves.

Prerequisites for a Meaningful Devotional Life Before we continue on to consider the methods for maintaining a day-by-day relationship with God, let's spend a few minutes looking at the prereq17

uisites for a meaningful devotional life. A person does not begin to eat and breathe for himself until he has been born. It's the same with spiritual life. Some people have tried to begin a daily relationship with Christ and found that they were nothing but bored, in spite of all of their efforts. In many cases, the reason is simple: in order to begin to eat and breathe and exercise for yourself, you must have already been born! That's a basic lesson in human growth and development, isn't it? Before you can find meaning in the time for fellowship and communion with God, you must have been born again. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Jesus said in John 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see [or understand] the kingdom of God." We could spend a lot of time reading texts that prove to us our condition as sinners by birth. The Bible tells us that our hearts are evil, that we are by nature the children of wrath, that we go astray as soon as we are born. But there is really only one text necessary-which we just noticed. If we need to be born again in order to see God's kingdom, then there must have been something wrong with our first birth. The problem with our first birth is that we were born separated from God (see Psalms 51 :5 and 58:3). One of the first problems with being born separated from God is that we are born self-centered, and that is the root of all the problems that follow. What then is the new birth, or conversion? Many 18

people have thought it was a complete and immediate change of life and lifestyle. They have made a decision to follow Christ, perhaps gone forward in an altar call, or signed a commitment card, and then expected instant and permanent victory. To their dismay, they have discovered the morning after the night before that some of the same temptations and struggles and problems were still present-and they therefore concluded that they weren't really converted, after all. Let's try for a definition of conversion, or the new birth. It is, first of all, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can accomplish for yourself. It is not something that can be accomplished for you by another human being. It is the work of the Spirit of God. Sometimes it's easy to forget that fact! When my son was in high school, he had not yet been converted. It seemed to me it was about time for the miracle of the new birth to happen in his life! So one day I began to try to hurry things along and make it happen. We sat down together, and I began to apply the ecclesiastical pressure. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he said, "Dad, it happened to you. Maybe someday it will happen to me." And that was the end of the conversation. The next morning, when we met at breakfast, he looked one way, and I looked another. It's too bad that I didn't remember sooner what Jesus said in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing." The power for the new birth comes from above, not from within. And no one can convert another. Those who become the sons of God do not reach that condition by the will of man, but by the will of God 19

(see John 1:12, 13). After my failure to convert my boy, I did what I should have done in the first place-less talking and more praying. The time came when those prayers were answered. But it happened according to God's timetable, not my own. So let's nail it down right to begin with that CONVERSION IS A SUPERNATURAL WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The second hallmark of genuine conversion is that it produces a change of attitude toward God. You've heard of the prodigal son. He was converted when he finally came to the end of his own resources-in the pigpen. Suddenly his father's house looked good to him. And he said, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee" (Luke 15:18). His attitude toward his father had changed. The prodigal son was still in the pigpen when it happened. And even though he didn't stay in the pigpen very long, he had a long way yet to go to reach his father's house and full restoration. But something vital had happened. He was no longer in rebellion against his father. So CONVERSION IS A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD. Another vital change takes place at the point of conversion, and it is described in Ephesians 4:22-24 as the renewing of the mind. Paul tells us in Romans 8:7, "The carnal mind is enmity against God." Until our minds are renewed by the Spirit of God, we are lacking the equipment for maintaining a relationship with God and appreciating the value of spiritual things. But when the Holy Spirit has done His work, we will have received A NEW CAPACITY FOR KNOWING GOD. As we maintain a day-by-day relationship and fel20

lowship with God-which begins at the point of conversion and is designed to continue throughout eternity-we find that we are led to a new life. At times the process will seem frustratingly slow. But Christian growth involves a process, which Jesus compared to growth in nature: "First the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:38). Suppose you are brought to the realization that you have not yet been converted. What can you do? You cannot convert yourself. No other person can do the work for you. Must you then simply sit and wait, hoping that someday the miracle will happen in your life? No, there is something you can do. When my younger daughter was about four years old, she got into the habit of having me lie down beside her until she fell asleep at night. Some evenings it was a welcome break. But often I had other appointments, and found myself hoping she would go to sleep quickly. I would lie there for a few minutes and then peek out of the corner of my eye, and she would be looking all around the room. I would say, "Close your eyes." I couldn't make her go to sleep. I knew she couldn't make herself go to sleep. But I also knew that if she would at least close her eyes, it would sure help! It is possible to try so hard to go to sleep that you wake yourself up. But if you really want to go to sleep, there are certain things you can do. You can put your back against a mattress. You can turn down the radio. You can turn out the light. And you can close your eyes. Placing yourself in the atmosphere where sleep comes most easily can hasten the process considerably. If you are not converted, but you have an interest 21

in the things of heaven, there is something you can do. You can place yourself in the atmosphere where God can best work. You can take every opportunity to go where the gospel is being preached. You can deliberately take time to read about Him. You can invite Him to take control of your life-to lead you as quickly as possible to Himself. God will honor that desire, for even the desire comes from Him. He "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). It is a law, then, that before spiritual life can begin, spiritual birth must take place. This is called conversion, or the new birth. It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit which produces a change of attitude toward God and creates a new capacity for knowing and loving God, leading to a life of willing obedience.

Description of a Devotional Life Sometimes people ask for a brief outline or description of the devotional life, and perhaps that would be practical to consider. Many Christians have found meaning in allowing the Lord to awaken them for this personal time with Him. Isaiah 50:4 says, "He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned." Some of us have found that an alarm clock simply puts us back to sleep! But when we have allowed the Lord to awaken us, morning by morning, He somehow knows how to bring us wide awake, so that we can make the choice to spend time with Him. There may be times when He will awaken you in 22

the quiet hours of the night, so that your time with Him will be uninterrupted, and then you can go back to bed until your other duties begin. Other times He may let you sleep in. But if you are ready to give top priority to your time alone with Him, you will find that He will meet you more than halfway in helping you keep that appointment. We have already emphasized the importance of spending time each day focusing on the life of Jesus. For some of us, it has worked out something like this: First, pray a short prayer at the beginning, asking the help of the Holy Spirit to bring understanding. Then choose a Bible chapter, or an episode in the life of Jesus. Let's say that today you are going to read the story of the woman at the well. You turn to the fourth chapter of John and take the story verse by verse, putting yourself in the picture. Perhaps you are one of the townspeople. Perhaps you are one of the disciples, sent ahead to the town to buy food. Or perhaps you are the woman herself. You are afraid that if people knew about some of the things in your past, they would reject you. You've had a lot of rejection already. That's why you are at this well outside of town on this particular morning. You are surprised when Jesus takes the time to speak to you. But the living water He speaks about sounds inviting. You can hardly wait to share what you have found with your friends and acquaintances back in town so they can come to Jesus too. After you have spent time in trying to put yourself in the picture, then you pray about what you have read. You say, "Jesus, I thank You for Your acceptance of me today. I want the living water You told that woman about so long ago. Please put Your 23

well of water in my own heart, overflowing so others can share it too." And you continue to talk to Him about what you have read. In this way, your prayers are fresh and different each day. They become more than just a recital of your needs and wants and more of a conversation with Him. But don't hesitate, during your prayer time, to present your needs and concerns for that day. God has invited us to ask (see Matthew 7 :7, 8 and John 15:7 for examples). Take as much time as you wish. Talk to Him about your plans for that day. Share with Him the things that are on your mind. If your mind wanders, where does it go? Talk to Him about those things, too. Every detail of your life can furnish subject matter for prayer. Invite His control in your life for that day, and accept once again of His sacrifice in your behalf. Then wait. After you have said your piece, don't get up and rush off. There may be something He wishes to communicate to you about what you have just shared with Him. There may be something He wants to bring to your mind-perhaps some wrong you need to make right, some warning you need to remember, or some comfort He longs to bring. Those who take the time to wait before the Lord have often found that God can, in those quiet moments of the new day, send personal messages to their hearts. Some days He may seem silent, but often you will find that He will speak to you through the avenue of your thoughts, as you wait before Him and then you listen for Him through the day. The devotional time is not for putting God in a box and then rushing off without Him. It is to be the springboard for communication with Him all through the day, as you walk and work with Him. 24

Why Things Go Worse When Seeking God More One day a student told me, "I quit being a Christian two weeks ago, and I haven't sinned since!" On the other hand, many new Christians have discovered that when they first surrender themselves to God and begin to set aside time to seek Christ day by day, suddenly everything goes wrong. They are faced with worse temptations and trials than ever before, and the first thought that presents itself is that the plan of setting aside time with God is "not working." It can be hard to understand why this happens. It's easy to see why the devil would want to discourage someone who is trying to seek a relationship with Christ. But why does God permit it? That's the question! And the best answer that some of us have found is in the story of Job. The story begins on a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord (see Job 1 and 2). Satan came also among them. Why? Because Adam had sold out to Satan, and Satan now claimed to be the representative of this world. God asked Satan, "What is your business here?" And Satan replied, "I come from the earth. rm in charge down there." God said, ''Have you seen My servant Job? You're not in charge of him. He serves Me." But Satan shook his fist at God and said, "Sure, Job serves You. Haven't You put a hedge around. h im on all sides? Haven't You blessed him in every way? But if You'll just take away Your protection, You'll see how fi~st he will change his mind." 25

So God, who has always been fair in the way He has conducted this great controversy, gave the devil permission to try and prove his point. Job found that overnight, everything he had was taken from him, except his wife. And perhaps she should have been the first to go! But Job maintained his integrity, even in the face of disaster. The devil obtained permission to try again. This time he gave Job boils from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. God's reputation was again at stake in this drama being played out before the universe. But once again, Job remained faithful to Him, and God was proved right. Now, the book of Job is not placed in the Bible to be simply a history lesson. It has a real, practical message for each of us today. You go to your knees, and you say, rm determined to know what it means to have a meaningful relationship with God. I realize my need of Him, and I am going to seek to know Him day by day. At that point, the story of Job is repeated. Satan shakes his fist at God and says, ''These people don't really love You. They are seeking You for selfish reasons. They want their prayers answered. They want their problems solved. They aren't seeking You because they love You, but because of what they hope to get out of You." So God gives Satan permission to prove his point. The devil comes at you with all his guns blazing. He knows where the secret for power in the Christian life is. So he comes in with trouble and affiiction-all for the purpose of diverting your attention from Christ and causing you to give up your search for Him. What do you do at that point? If you are a 26

legalist, you scrap your relationship because of your behavior. And the devil sits back and laughs. But the devil never knows when to quit. If he had been smart, he would have had some of us a long time ago. All he would have needed to do would be to leave us alone. But he is not happy just seeing us lost eternally-he'd like to have us in the gutter in the meantime as well. So before long he will come at us once again-just for fun this time! And he meets himself coming back-because there are times when trouble can drive us to our knees. When you study the book of Job you begin to understand the issues in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. You choose to seek fellowship and a relationship with God for His sake, because of Jesus and what He did for you at the cross. It makes no difference how well you think you are doing in terms of behavior. You determine to continue to seek Jesus regardless of what happens in your life. If things seem to go worse when you seek God more, welcome to the club. But I also welcome you to the decision to continue seeking God, regardless of what happens, because of what Jesus has already done.

The Banquet When I awoke in the morning, the table was there. Perhaps it had been there before, but I had never noticed it. And it was such a large table, so colorfully spread, that I can't imagine how anyone could have missed it. As I approached the table for a closer look, I was greeted by a tall man, apparently the Host. "Come 27

and dine," He said joyfully. ''Wouldn't you like for me to show you to a seat?" I hesitated. "Could I ask you a few questions first?" "Certainly," He replied. ''Whose banquet is this? I mean, who is issuing the invitation?" He said, "The Spirit and the bride say Come, and let him that heareth say Come, and let him who is athirst come, and take the water and bread of life freely" (Revelation 22:1 7). ''You mean I don't have to pay anything?" ''That's right." "I don't usually get that hungry for breakfast," I said, as I considered the offer. I looked hopefully up and down the table. "You don't happen to have some of those breakfast bars that I could just stick in my pocket and eat on the way to work? It would sure save time." The Host smiled. "You will find that you have more appetite than you think you do, at least most of the time. In the morning your body is best prepared to digest the food. If you take time at the beginning of every day to eat a good breakfast, you'll find that you have much more energy for your work and will be much more efficient." Still I hesitated. "I've known some people who started eating breakfast, and next thing it was breakfast, dinner, and supper. Then they added a few snacks in between and finally they were eating all day long and got so fat they could hardly walk." "It's true," the Host replied, "that those who do nothing but eat will soon cease to eat. But it is equally true that those who don't eat at all will die. If you come to this table every day, and eat a balanced meal centered 28

on the Bread of Life, you will find the energy you need to work in the vineyard all day long." He was doing pretty well in winning me to His side, but then I noticed something. Sitting on the far side of the table was the preacher from my church. His plate was filled with good things, and he was eating with obvious enjoyment. "Oh, look, there's the preacher," I said to the Host. ''Yes," He responded. "He's here every morning. He's a great believer in eating a good breakfast." ''Why that's wonderful," I said. ''That will save me a lot of time, because you see, I go to hear him every week, and since I know he's eating right himself, I'll know I can trust him to tell me what food is really like. I won't have to come here and take the time to eat for myself. Come to think of it, this is probably why he can describe food so well. I tell you, some weeks it's enough to make your mouth water." "It's true that someone can best share the invitation to the banquet when he has tasted it for himself," the Host responded. "But no one can eat for another. In order for you to receive strength and nourishment, you must come and eat for yourself." Just then I caught sight of another familiar face. There was Billy Graham, down at the end of the table. "Does he come here every day, too?" I asked the host. ''Yes, he's here for several hours every morning." "Several hours?" I gulped. "Then I'd better not come, because I know I don't have enough of an appetite to eat for that long." ''You're only expected to eat for your own needs, not for someone else's," He replied. "Pastor Graham has been coming to this table for years and years. He gets a tremendous amount of exercise, so he 29

works up a tremendous appetite. But this is your first morning. Maybe for today you'll want to start out with a couple of those thin, crispy bread sticks and a glass of juice. But if you eat slowly and chew thoroughly, you will gain the nourishment that you need. You'll have more energy than you had before, and you'll be able to exercise more. You'll be surprised how quickly your appetite will grow, so long as you continue to balance your eating with the proper exercise." "I guess you're right,'' I sighed. "But I'm on such a busy schedule. There's so much I want to get done. Isn't it enough for me just to think about food all day long?" My Host smiled. "If you're not eating properly, yo~ may not be able to help thinking about food all day long. But you will work more efficiently when you eat a solid breakfast, and then you'll be better able to think about your work!" I was just about ready to ask Him to show me to a place at the table, when I thought of one more thing. "Hey, wait a minute! This whole business suddenly sounds pretty legalistic. Like, what happens if I miss a day? This business of eating every day seems like it could easily become just another works trip. You wouldn't want me coming here to your banquet just out of habit, would you?" "I can't think of another habit that would bring you better health,'' said my Host. "But you're missing the whole issue. I'm here every day, waiting to serve you, waiting to share with you of the bounties that I have prepared for you. I'm here. The table is here. There's a place for you here. When you come to understand the importance of eating for life and growth, and when you realize how much I look for30

ward to your company at the banquet, why would you just walk past the table and go on your way? It's here, it's free, it's for you. Why would you ever want to stay away?" Then He took my hand and led me to my place at the table, and He filled my plate with grapes and cherries and strawberries and waffles, but wait-I'm telling you about my meal. Your favorite things may be entirely different. Why don't you come to the banquet, and eat for yourself?