Bread – Vows

May 19, 2017


Psalm 65

Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed.”  Ps. 65:1

Basically, a “vow” is a solemn promise.  “I promise to take out the garbage” is not a vow, nor often is it much of a promise.  It is more like a statement of good intent, but by making a “promise” and not keeping it we cheapen the term.  In fact, the word “promise” has so lost its substance in many respects that, when some promises to do something for us, we are happy when it is done but we know that the likelihood of the promise being fulfilled is, well, highly dependent on the trustworthiness of the person making the promise.  Which basically means, for most of us, that the promise is somewhat unreliable.

Whereas promises are made to each other, when a vow is made there is a third persons involved, namely God.  As the Psalmist says, it is to God that a vow is performed.

We often forget this.  We vow to tell the truth and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  God, because it is to Him the duty is owed.  We vow to honor our spouse and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  It is God (and our spouse).

We may sit under judgment of others every day, but those judgments are temporal.  God’s judgment is eternal.

God’s judgment is eternal but then, so are His own vows, His own covenants.  And luckily for us, God’s performance of His covenant toward us, when He has chosen us, is not dependent upon our performance of our vows to Him.  “Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts!”  Ps. 65:4

Blessed indeed we are, which is another reason we should stand steadfast in performance of our vows.  To the One to whom we owe our eternal lives in Christ, should we not honor by our diligent performance of our vows?

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – Dark

May 12, 2017


Psalm 63

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate upon You in the watches of the night.”  Ps. 63:5-6

If I used multi-word descriptions of Bread in the title, this would have been “watches of the night,” but I settled on “dark” because that is close.  One thing you can say about the “watches of the night” is that it is dark…and lonely.  Particularly if you are the only one awake, or are the sentinel on the outpost, or hunched over last minute study or work.

Who among us has not woken up at a terrible time at night, two or three in the morning, either too cold or too hot, too worried or too energized.  Perhaps a “bad dream” has awakened us.  Perhaps our brain has been working on a problem at work on overdrive.  Perhaps we drank a caffeinated beverage too late in the evening, or ate a bowl of ice cream which contained enough for three people.

For whatever reason, however, we are awake in the watches of the night, in the dark, alone and thinking.

What are we thinking about?  For many of us, we are probably thinking about how we can go back to sleep, maybe by reading a boring book or counting sheep.

For David, the Psalmist, though, the time of the dark, when alone in the quiet of the watches of the night, was a perfect time to meditate upon God and with God.

I say meditate “with” God on purpose.  We may actually meditate upon our blessings or, even, upon our sins, and we may think about how grateful we are for our blessings in “this life and in the age to come.”  When we are doing this, we are meditating about ourselves and about God, both of which may be good things.  But is the best thing?  What about meditating with God and letting Him lead our thoughts and our prayers and our self-examination.  Instead of saying to God, “I know how to meditate, I’ll handle it,” what if we said to God, “It is dark and I am alone.  I want You.  Lead me into Your thoughts that they may become mine.”

What would happen when we meditated with God instead of about Him?  Would God’s thoughts and meditations lead us into thinking about others instead of ourselves, into places of service rather than places of blessing, into examination of opportunities for being Christ to our neighbor?  Would God’s thoughts and meditations lead us into Scripture in a new way, exposing wisdom which we sorely need for the day and the week and the month and the year?

When we eat at the table which the Lord has prepared for us, our soul is satisfied “as” with a complete meal (“fat and rich food”).

In many older Roman and other liturgical churches, the priest at communion would stand with his back to the congregation, at the communion altar which is a sliver of stone stuck to the wall.  That always struck me as odd growing up, because why would you turn away from the congregation?  In fact, in more “modern” churches, the altar for communion is located where the celebrant can face the congregation.  One day, as an adult, someone told me why and it made all the sense in the world.  The priest, when his back is turned to the audience, preparing communion on the sliver of stone stuck to the wall, is actually standing in front of the congregation which is facing the same way, and the sliver of stone is the edge of the communion table which stretches into eternity, at which the saints sit for meal, for communion, with us.

In the dark, in the watches of the night, when we are alone we are not, for when we meditate with God, when we meditate on Him, we join the generations who have preceded and who will follow in celebration of our eternal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The way has been prepared.  All we have to do is listen and follow instructions.    After all, we are in the dark.  Why not meditate with God?  Instead of reading a good book, why not read the “best” book?  Instead of going back to sleep, why not enter life?

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Mine

May 8, 2017


Psalm 63

O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  Ps. 63:1

A few years ago I was in the Texas panhandle during the heavy drought.  There was nothing green for miles.  One place I went struck me particularly hard.  It was a bridge over a waterway which was easily a football field wide, which obviously was designed to cross over a flowing large creek or small river.  There was nothing in this creekbed and there had been nothing in it so long that the ground of it was hard and cracked.  Why was the bridge there?  In times of plenty it was the way across a large flowing stream of water.  In time of drought, it looked odd.

In speaking with a rancher there, he was telling me about the extraordinary lengths he was going through to save his cows, digging deeper wells, bringing in water, and, most remarkably, purchasing hay from Indiana because none could grow on his ranch.

I asked him when and if he would decide to give up and sell out.  He basically said never, because the land was his father’s and grandfather’s.  The land was his and he would not abandon it.

There was an old Golden book I read, first as a child and then to my children.  It was about firemen.  One statement in that book has always stayed with me.  There was a fire and the family was rescued by the firemen.  The family’s house was burned to the ground.  And the family was standing outside looking at the burning house, each of them holding something.  One person, a boy, was holding a pillow.  The statement was something to the effect that “Each of them stood there holding the thing that was most valuable to them.”  I always thought it was funny that someone would hold onto a pillow as their most valuable thing to rescue from a fire.

In the middle of the drought, the thing most valuable to the rancher was his land, because it was “his.”  In the fire, the thing most valuable to the boy was his pillow, because it was “his.”

When will we treat our Lord that way?  When will we so possess Him that He is “mine?”  When will we consider Him so valuable that in the drought, we will take Him as ours; in the fire, we will leave with Him as our most valuable possession?

As I think about that question and look around my home office, I see many things which I might grab if my house were burning to the ground.  Among those things are my laptop computer, my files with important financial information, and my boxes of family history.  Would I care enough about God to take His Word, a Bible, with me?

I like to say that God is mine, just like I am sure you do.  But do we see God as “mine?”  Do we consider our relationship  with Him the most valuable relationship we have?  To we consider His Word to be the only fountain of wisdom in our library?  Do we seek Him in the morning, during the day, and at night?  Do we seek Him in the times of plenty and the times of drought?

If our house caught fire, would He be the first thing on our mind or the last?

As this Psalm shows, there is a whole lot of difference between thinking God is mine and acting like He’s mine, and there is a whole lot of difference between acting like God is mine sometimes and acting like He is mine all the time.

Lord, I know You have made me Yours.  Now, Lord, so increase my love of You that I have made You mine.  Amen.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Silence

May 1, 2017


Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence; …” Ps. 62:1a

Silence is a rare commodity.  We work all day in the environment of chatter from people and machines.  We spend our evenings in the presence of radio and television, or computer games.  We are interrupted by the chime of e-mails and the ringing of phone calls.  We sleep at night to the sound of “white noise,” which is sound deliberately generated to cancel out other sound.  And when we, perhaps, find a moment alone without the attendance of other people, the Internet, or the television, when we find external silence, we are interrupted by a cacophony of noise emanating from our brains, things like recalling the day’s events, dreaming of tomorrow, and review of “to do” lists.  And even when our mind is silent our soul and emotions may be roiling with worries, concerns, fears, and anxieties.

There are really two times, I think, when our soul lives in silence.

The first time is when we are dead – spiritually.  When we are dead spiritually, our soul is dead too, meaning that there is no noise for it to respond to, no sound, just silence.  At that moment, when we are dead spiritually, our sould waits in silence for only one thing – God alone.  When God speaks to that dead soul, that dead body, we are awakened unto life.

At the time of our death, we are totally dependent upon God and we wait for Him to act to fill us with His Spirit so that we may know Him and love Him.

The second time our soul listens in silence is when we can reach that place where we have become totally dependent upon Him, not just partially dependent.  While we are partially dependent on Him, we are also dependent on ourselves and others, on our world, and as a result our soul cannot be completely silent because it is not at complete rest.  We know we cannot rely on the world or other people, and knowing that, we worry and our soul does not rest.

But when we can bring ourselves to radical dependence upon God, when our soul is silent, it is true then that we wait for God alone.  We can wait in silence in the firm knowledge that God will appear.

In one of the commentaries I read in preparation for this Bread, it emphasized that we do not often rely upon God alone.  We like to say we do, but we do not.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence.”  Lord, help us to achieve such silence that we know You and rely upon You alone.  Amen.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – High

April 26, 2017


Psalm 61

[God] Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”  Ps. 61:2b-3

Over my life, I have been fortunate to be exposed to great adventure, perhaps none so strengthening of endurance and spirit than climbing mountains.  Sometimes the climbs were part of a week of backpacking and sometimes they were what is thrown into the concept of “day hikes,” but they all had one thing in common.  After a great deal of exertion and many moments when I wanted to stop and turn around and go back down the mountain, I reached the top or “summit.”  I was high up and from that vantage point, I felt like I could see forever.  Sometimes, depending upon the weather, I would actually be above the clouds.  Other than being wrapped in a commercial jet, that is the highest I have ever been.

 

But being high is relative in some sense.  My grandson is working with concepts and he is fond of pointing at my ceiling fan and saying “high.”  He is correct.  My ceiling is high compared to my floor, but not so high that I can’t lift him up and let him touch the fan.

There is a natural part of us which longs to climb higher and to touch the face of God (as stated in our armed forces commercial).  We want to be geographically, emotionally, and spiritually “high” and we will do what it takes to get there.

And built into all this is an assumption, and that is that, through careful planning, exercise, the right diet, building strength and endurance, and with the right equipment made by man, we can in fact climb to the summit, we can in fact reach God.  If we can reach the moon, then we can reach God.  Built into us as part of us being made in the image of God is the native knowledge that we find our pleasure in that high place, in communion with God.  Built into us as part of our sinful nature is the idea that we can do it, if only we try hard enough, study hard enough, plan smart enough, invent well enough, and desire it enough.

Notice that David in the Psalm does not speak of himself climbing to the rock or summiting the peak of the mountain.  There are two parts to his request and both are significant.

The first part is the request is that God “lead me to the rock…”  Unless God reveals truth to us and unless He empowers us with His Holy Spirit, we know neither where the rock is or how to get to it.  God goes ahead so that we may follow.  God reveals Himself (who is the Rock) so that we may hold tight to the summit of life, a right relationship with Him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension.

But the second part of this request is critical to full appreciation of what is going on, because David says “…the rock that is higher than I [am]…”  When we reach God the Father in our relationship, in our prayers, in our study of His revelation in Scripture and His Son, we are not at the summit of the rock because the rock is “higher than I.”  The reason is simple.  God is sovereign and He is king.  He is higher than we are and always will be.

We may climb far in our relationship with God and we may in fact reach a plateau of self-satisfaction about our holiness.  We may in fact believe that we are at the summit of wisdom, of peace, of prosperity, of life.  But we are not.  When God has brought us to the rock which is higher than ourselves, there is a simple truth.  It is higher than us.  And at that point, two things should come to mind.  The first is that we should recognize that God is God and we are not.  The second is that we should be eternally grateful that He has brought us to that place, because we could never have gotten there on our own.

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© 2017 GBF    All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – Away

April 24, 2017


Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint.”  Ps. 61:1-2a

Perhaps I should have called this Bread “Far Away,” but that would have violated my one word summary rule.  However, the “away” in the title today is meant to convey that sense of distance, far distance, from wherever you want to be or whomever you want to be with.  Our Psalmist uses the phrases “from the end of the earth.”

Wrapped up in this image of being “away” are, of course, our ideas of geographic distance.  If I live in Texas but am presently visiting China, then I am indeed “far away.”  But also wrapped up in this image is emotional distance.  I can be “far away” from my spouse sitting in a chair next to him or her.  I can be far away from my studies by daydreaming.  So there is physical distance, emotional distance, mental distance, and, as we know from our tumultuous relationship with God, spiritual distance.

We may not even be aware that we are “away.”  I remember that when I first went to college, the sights and sounds of Boston and the university were so exciting that I forgot I was away from home … until I became homesick a couple of months later.  We may be so wrapped up in our daydream that we aren’t even aware that we have wandered away mentally.  We may get so caught up in the routine of life that we become emotionally detached or “away” from our significant others and not even realize it.  We may become so self-dependent, powerful, rich, respected, educated, that we lose track of how far away we are from God.  We become so lost in the ways of the world that we drift away from the laws of the Kingdom of God.

The fact that we become unaware of how far away we are is reflected, actually, in the quoted verse from our Psalm today.  David did not call upon God because he was far away; he called upon God because his “heart is faint.”  When his heart became faint and he became aware it was time to pray to God, he was at the “end of the earth.”  In his self-focus, he had gone away from God, but it took an event to make him realize it.

In college, that event of homesickness may come upon us when we realize that we haven’t eaten a particular food in a while, when we walk into our dormitory room and find that it is empty, when we call home and no one answers, or when we recall some fond memory of good times.  In studying, we may realize that we have wandered away in our daydream when our head hits the desk because we just fell asleep.  In our relationships with each other, it may in fact be a heart moment when we realize how far we are away emotionally from our loved ones.

Sometimes we go away to a far place on purpose, but most of the time it is because we drift on open waters with no direction in mind, permitting our boat to be carried on the random winds and waves of the seas.   The prodigal son deliberately left his father and went to a far place where he ate with the pigs, but we tend to end up far away due to inattention, negligence, slothfulness, and aimless wandering.

In such times, we may be inclined to say to ourselves “How did we get here?”  But that is the wrong question, because “here,” “away” you are.  The right question is “How do we get back to where we should be?”

In a very natural way, David the Psalmist tells us.  The way back from being away is to come near.  When we are far away from God, the way back is to talk to Him, to pray to Him, and to let Him help you back.  If I wake up in China but belong in Texas, what do I do?  I get on the next airplane.  Well God has given us a transport mechanism to get back to Him from the end of the earth, and that is prayer.

Are you away from God today?  Have you gone to a faraway place from Him?  The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step.  That first step is prayer.  Start now!

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Vain

April 14, 2017


Psalm 60

O, [God] grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!”  Ps. 60:11

As we finish this week of Easter, ending today on Good Friday, we stop for a second (maybe more, if we realize the significance of the event) to realize that this event is more than just a holiday for some people.  It is the marking of the destruction of the separation between man and God arising from man’s disobedience of God and the restoration of the hope of victory over death by our reconciliation to God through His perfect sacrifice for our sin, God Himself, Jesus Christ.  Today we are reminded that salvation is only accomplished by the sovereign act of God and not by any art or work of man.  It is “good” because it God’s work.  On Friday, it is the hope of victory over death because the resurrection has not yet occurred.  But we know it has occurred, and therefore our hope of victory which became evident when the curtain between us and God was destroyed on the cross will become certain three days later, on the day we now celebrate as Easter.

But this Psalm was written well before these events and David, the author, asks God for help against his enemies, because he knew that to depend on man for salvation was “vain.”

The Hebrew word translated as “vain” means nothingness, emptiness, anything which disappoints the hope which rests upon it, anything which is not substantial, is not real, or is materially or morally worthless.

The world tells us to put our hope of help against our foes of fear, worry, death, disease, and ignorance into the things which man provides – science, technology, education, economy.  And yet everyone one of us knows that there are instances where science, technology, education, economy and all of the other worldly solutions or philosophies or “isms” have failed us.  They fail us in the present, they do not give life, they do not give us true rest, they do not give us hope, and they do not give us victory over death.  Reliance upon the solutions of the world is vain.  The forms of salvation, the methods of salvation, the process of salvation offered by man (“of man”, of man’s invention or design) will always disappoint any hope which rests upon them.

David asked for God’s help against the foe.  God has delivered that help in Jesus Christ.

Every day we have a choice to make, to follow the hope which does not disappoint, Jesus Christ, or to place our trust in vain things, the things of the world.

Today, are we going to be vain and choose ourselves and the world we have made, or are we going to be obedient and choose Christ and His kingdom?

What say you?

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Banners

April 10, 2017


Psalm 60

You [God] have set up a banner for those who fear You, that they may flee to it from the bow.”  Selah  Ps. 60:4

As I think about action pictures I have seen about wars a long time ago, what you always see are the standards of the fighting units carried high, so that the troops can rally around them.

This is the image created in my mind by this Psalm.  In the midst of turmoil, in the midst of day to day life, when we lift our eyes up we see the “banner” which God has “set up” for us to see and for us to flee to in the evil day.

For many Christians, that banner is the cross of Christ.

That cross was indeed set up by God so that it can be seen by those who fear God, who stand in awe of Him, but who are compelled by the Holy Spirit to follow it, to gather around it, to march behind it, to bow before it, and to offer thanksgiving for it.

And yet, like all banners, it is symbolic for the person or authority behind it.  The banner in the Psalm is set up by God but it is not God.   The cross is set up by God but it is not Christ.   We may flee to the banner because when we see it it, we know God is there, but at the same time we know that the banner is not God.

When we are in trouble, it is our nature to look around for a banner we can rally around.  But we often do not see one.  Why is that?

Maybe it is because God is raising up a banner, but the banner is not over there, it is here.  Maybe the banner is us.

How would we act if we knew that people flocked to us because we stood for God in the evil day?  Are we ready to let God set us up as a banner for those who fear Him?

Where are the banners for people to flock around?  The better question is, where are we?

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

Bread – Ignorance

April 5, 2017


Psalm 59

Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.  There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips — for ‘Who,’ they think, ‘will hear us?’  But You, O Lord, laugh at them;…Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by their power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield!”  Ps,. 59:6-8,11

There are three parts to this excerpt from Psalm 59.  The first is the description of the people behaving like dogs, ignorant of God and the judgment to come.  The second is God Himself, who by the Psalmist’s description is amused at their ignorance.  The third is the Psalmist, who is praying to God that He not destroy them, so that their collapse over time can be a testimony to God’s people.  This last one caught me by surprise, because my natural reaction would be “God, shoot the dogs and get me out of my misery from having to listen to them!”  But the Psalmist prays for God to spare them for a time so the ignorance and depravity of their ways can become apparent to all.

There are sayings like “ignorance is bliss” and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”  The problem, which David points out, is that ignorance is not bliss; instead, ignorance is a fast track to punishment for eternity.  What you don’t know does hurt you.  You cannot step in front of a moving train and wish it away.  You cannot remain ignorant of the natural law of gravity.  You cannot remain ignorant of the spiritual law that the product of sin is death and that we all sin, no matter the degree of our “good works.”

The deliberately evil people and the ignorant people are all destined to the same end.  The evil people may say “We don’t care if He hears us” and the ignorant people may say “Who is He and why would He hear us in the first place,” but the result of a good, ignorant life without God and the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ alone has the same ending.  When God confronts us on our day of judgment, an inadequate response is “I didn’t know.”

The statement “I was blind, but now I see” was preceded by the acknowledgment “I am blind and I want to see.”

How does one proceed from ignorance of God to knowing Him?  Not initially by one’s own effort, just like going from unsaved to saved is not accomplished by our own effort.

Ignorance is its own form of blindness.  When we are blind, we know it because we cannot see with our eyes and the world is dark.  However, when we are ignorant, part of that ignorance is the fundamental belief that we know something, so we believe that we can see.  However, our seeing in the throes of ignorance is like peering through distorted glass.  However, the distortion is not apparent to the one in ignorance.

So what are the ignorant to do?  The same as the blind.  The same as the unredeemed.  The same as we all have done whether consciously or unconsciously – pray “Come Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and wake me up, let me see, rescue me, and save me.  Amen.”  Truth, not ignorance, shall set you free.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Foundations

April 3, 2017


Psalm 59

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; … For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me.  For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord, for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. .. You, Lord Gods of hosts, are God of Israel.”  Ps. 59:1-5

What foundations need to be laid to boldly go to God in prayer?  The quoted verses above suggest that there are three.

The first foundation of prayer is need.  In this case, it is David’s dire circumstances facing people who have been sent by Saul to David’s home to kill him.  These are the people laying in wait, stirring up strife.  But in our situation, it may not be people who are hounding us, it may be just bad circumstances – perhaps a loss of a job or a failure in some aspect of life, perhaps the discovery of a painful illness.  It can be both physical or emotional, but the first foundation to be laid is the recognition that we need God’s help.  Of course, David was alert to this need because men were coming to kill him, but we ought to be alert to our needs all the time, because they are many.  God knows we have needs, but we need to tell Him our needs anyway, in part to remind ourselves that we radically dependent upon Him for all good things.

The second foundation of prayer is our own position vis a vis our neighbor.  Have we caused our neighbor harm; we need to go make it right.  Have we spoken hastily and meanly; we need to apologize.  David makes sure that he approaches God with a clean conscience (“…for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.”)   Perhaps our dire circumstances are our own fault, arising from our own trespass upon others.  When we come before God in effective prayer, we need to lay the foundation of self-examination and self-awareness.  We in all likelihood will need God’s help to clean up the mess we made, but at least then we can lay the blame honestly before Him as an offering of a contrite heart.

The third foundation of prayer is the character of God Himself.  In speaking of “You, Lord God of Hosts, are God of Israel,” David speaks of Yahweh, the great “I am,” Elohim Sabaoth, the great God who commands the mighty hosts of heaven to victory, and Elohi Israel, the God who makes covenant with His people Israel and, in the New Testament, His people the Church.  The character of God is the personal, holy God of revelation (Yahweh), the commander of the forces of heaven and earth (Elohim Sabaoth), and the promise-keeper (Elohi Israel).  We can speak to Him because He is, we can rest in His power because He commands heaven and earth, and we can rely upon Him because He keeps His promises to His people.

With a real need, a clean heart, and the aid of God Almighty, the foundations have been laid for a really good prayer session.

Let’s go!

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

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