Focus 2023 Devotionals: Day 15-21

Focus 2023 Devotionals: Day 15-21

Author: Duncan Brannan
January 22, 2023

DAY 15: “Turning Down the Noise” 

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22, ESV

On Day 13 we examined silence and solitude in the life of Jesus and prioritizing these disciplines in our own. Let’s talk more about why they’re so important and identify some strategic applications.  

In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the seed sown among thorns represents someone hearing His Word, but worldly “cares” and the deceitfulness of riches choke it out (Mt. 13:1-23). “Cares” literally means “a part, separated  from the whole”. Jesus warned that “cares”, if allowed, could tear our lives apart.

Consider now the cares constantly tearing at Christians: gluttonous media consumption, overcommitted schedules, unequally-yoked relationships, inordinate job demands, unrealistic goals, ungodly dreams or desires. Nielsen research says American adults spend eleven+ hours reading, watching, listening to, or “interacting with media” daily—eleven of sixteen waking hours (69%)! The average person also spends seven years, eight months watching TV and five years, four months on social media—thirteen years!

Many believers frequently confess, “I can’t hear God.” No wonder: the noise is deafening. In war, cutting off an enemy’s communications ensures his/her quick defeat. What joy Satan must take as all of these “cares” and “noise” choke God’s voice and power from our lives! 

Review the “cares” or “noise” list above: media, overcommitted schedule, unequally-yoked relationships, job demands, unrealistic goals, ungodly dreams or desires. Get a piece of paper. Number it “1-8”. Write one of these categories next to each number. For 8, write “other” and use it to cover anything else. Now, pause and pray. On a scale of 1-10, ask God to show you how much each care/noise affects you. Fill in the blanks. (“1” – not a problem; “10” – very problematic) 

How did you do in your Cares/Noise Assessment? What was the biggest problem? The least? Pause and pray. Ask for God’s forgiveness where any of these have become addictive; hence, an idol. Be honest with God and yourself. Remember, the truth will set you free (Jn. 8:32)! Ask God to break the chains of any addictions/idols. Ask Him to show you how to redeem this new, extra time in ways which glorify Him and build up His Kingdom. Follow through!

DAY 16: “Discerning Between the Voices” 

“All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:8, 10, 27, ESV

One of God’s great promises is that His people hear His voice. John 10 is the best chapter on the subject. Drawing from Psalm 23 and the prophets, Jesus reveals He’s the Good Shepherd the Jews have read about for 1,000 years (Is. 40:11: Je. 31:10). He also notes that three voices have been speaking to His sheep: 

? Voice #1—“The Thieves” (v. 8): Before Jesus arrived, Israel endured many evil leaders and fake messiahs. Some led her into great sin. Unsurprisingly, these hooligans were still around. 

? Voice #2—“The Thief” (v. 10): Jesus drew a line connecting the “thieves” with the great “thief” speaking through them: Satan. Paul drew this same line with false apostles (2 Co. 11:3-4, 13-14). 

? Voice #3—“The Shepherd” (v. 27): In the past, God revealed Himself to patriarchs, prophets, kings, and to His people using all these. Now, the Shepherd was speaking in person (vv. 11, 14)!

2,000 years later, Christians must still discern between three voices, but the key is this: the better we know God’s Word, the better we’ll know His voice from phonies. Hebrews 5:14, CEB says, “But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.” Bankers can distinguish real currency from counterfeit because of training and practice. The more Christians train and practice with God’s Word—reading, meditating, and memorizing it, the easier it becomes to distinguish when God or a counterfeit is speaking to us. 

Bankers not only have special training, they constantly handle genuine currency. Consequently, they recognize counterfeit bills quicker than the average person. How often do you “handle” Scripture—actually reading, meditating, studying, or memorizing it?

a.) 2-3 times a week      b.) about 1 once a week      c.) 2-3 times a month      d.) other

Read 2 Corinthians 11:3-4. Paul was concerned for Corinthian believers because of their spiritual gullibility. They welcomed “voices” bringing in another gospel (than Christ’s), another Spirit (than God’s), and another Jesus (than Scripture’s). If we’re not regularly handling God’s Word, how likely are we to be deceived by voices in our culture—in media, politics, education, entertainment, etc.?

Pause and pray. Ask God if you need to “handle” His Word more, and what that would look like. Ask Him to give you ideas about how to go deeper in His Word, and get it deeper into your life! Write down what you hear, share it with a friend for accountability, and put His plan to work. 

DAY 17: “An Undefeatable Attitude” 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:4, 11-13 NIV

If you were wrongly imprisoned and someone said, “Rejoice,” would you be upset? What if the person speaking was imprisoned? Would you think he’s nuts or had found life’s secret? 

Philippians is a literal book of joy. Across four chapters, the apostle Paul repeats the Greek words for “joy” and “rejoice” sixteen times. Additionally, he wrote Philippians in prison—to a people who’d previously imprisoned him. A.D. 50 Paul and Silas preached in Philippi, leading a number to faith before arrest, beating, and imprisonment. Bound physically but not spiritually, they prayed and worshiped into midnight. Inmates listened. Suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison. Every door and bond opened! Moments later, the jailer begged, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He and his family believed and were baptized. (Ac. 16:11-34)   

Twelve years later, from Roman chains and imprisonment (Php. 1:7, 13, 14), with disputes and disunity affecting the church (2:1-4, 14; 4:2) and enemies abounding (1:17; 3:2, 18-19), Paul commanded distracted believers to refocus on their original joy: Jesus. The words “joy” and “rejoice” stem from the Greek word for “grace”; Paul’s joy was not circumstantial but supernatural. The joy of the Lord was Paul’s strength (Ne. 8:10). It made him a conqueror in Philippi, a nightmare to persecutors, and now a “Gospel-virus” infecting Rome’s Praetorian Guard and government (1:12-13; 4:22).    

Paul had indeed learned the secret: constantly focusing on, being led by, and drawing power from Jesus—whatever the circumstance. That unyielding focus produced an undefeatable attitude!

Read today’s focus passage again. Think about the ups and downs Paul speaks of, and the troubles he faced. How did his attitude continually affect his circumstances? How has your attitude affected yours? Recall moments where a bad attitude hindered God’s purpose and a good one helped it. 

Although Paul sought release from his sufferings and imprisonment, was he focused more on changing his circumstances to make himself happy or finding ways to glorify Jesus in them? What happened when he embraced this focus? What does this tell us about where our prayers should aim when adversity comes to our door?  

DAY 18: “Obedience: Responding to the Whisper” 

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:7-10 ESV

The story of Samuel begins with his mother Hannah fasting and crying for God to open her womb. When He answered, Hannah kept her vow, dedicating Samuel forever to God’s service. (1 Sa. 1) In those days, God’s meeting place with His people was the Tabernacle—a tent dwelling with a select priesthood which continually ministered to Him. Built in Moses’ day, God’s presence rested on this dwelling in a glorious cloud by day and a fiery pillar by night (Ex. 40:34-38).

Things had changed since Moses, however. God’s presence no longer rested on the Tabernacle because of Israel’s disobedience, and messages from Him were rare (1 Sa. 3:1). Looking to do something new, God set his eyes on Samuel. Samuel didn’t know the Lord yet. He’d never even heard His voice! Consequently, when God called one night, Samuel thought his master Eli was speaking and ran to him. After three rounds of this, Eli realized God was calling Samuel and instructed him with the words above. So began Samuel’s walk with God, his prophetic ministry, and the Lord’s return to His Tabernacle (3:19-21).

Samuel became Israel’s last judge and a great deliverer from Philistine oppression. (7:3-17) God also used him to institute the next phase of His plan for Israel: the monarchy. The entire journey began, though, with a mother’s prayer and fasting and her son’s response to a whisper. Has God been speaking to you in this time? Be obedient. You never know what might be set in motion!

On Day 2 we saw that a fourth use of prayer and fasting was preparing one’s self and others for ministry. Has God been calling to you in this special time, whispering about your walk with Him, ministering in His behalf, or perhaps renewing an existing ministry in some special way? Write down what you’re hearing and share it with a fellow believer who’s sensitive to the Lord and trustworthy.   

The first thing God revealed to Samuel was a grave message about the disobedience of the house of Eli. “Sunshine and rainbows” isn’t how all ministry begins. Remember: Jesus’ own ministry began with an epic wilderness duel between Him and Satan. Don’t be afraid if you sense the Lord calling you down a difficult path. As Paul demonstrated for us on Day 10, God’s grace will always make up the gaps of our weaknesses. So, trust Him. Pray for courage and guidance to follow Him. Then, obey!

DAY 19: “God Is Forever Faithful” 

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,” “therefore I will hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:22-25, ESV

As we begin our home stretch, it’s time to take stock. Undoubtedly, this time of seeking the Lord has born many fruits. But if a journey like this emphasizes anything, it’s God’s faithfulness. 

Whenever we draw near to God, we’re always confronted first with our own unfaithfulness—our pride, rebellion, lust, strife, idolatry, ambition… the list goes on. (Ja. 4:1-10). As we’ve confessed these things to the Lord and one another, though, how has He responded? Faithfulness. He’s been faithful “to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (Ja. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). Yes, God saved us from our sins the day we called on Him—months, weeks, or years ago; He was faithful then. In the course of this journey, however, we’ve tasted the forgiveness in Christ Jesus once again because He’s faithful now. As Jeremiah once said, “The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER ceases; His mercies NEVER come to an end; they are new EVERY morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

We also sifted through some of the world’s unfaithfulness, and in forgiving others for their betrayals, broken promises and more, old chains have fallen off of us and hearts infected with bitterness, cynicism, and unbelief have been healed and set free. God was faithful—AGAIN, and this is something we’ll never stop talking or singing about when it comes to Him. As Psalm 89:1 says, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations.” 

The Hebrew words rendered “faithful” or “faithfulness” in the Psalms occur 53 times. With 52 weeks in a year then, we could say that God is “as faithful as the year is long and a little extra”! Think back now on your journey. Make a list of the ways God has shown you His faithfulness. 

The Hebrews words for “faithful” and “faithfulness” come from the root aman—where we get the English “amen”. Aman means firm, confirmed, sure, lasting, and established. It also means something is true or right in the absolute sense. Take some time now to pray. Thank God that whatever He says or does is sure and lasting; always true and always right because He is faithful. AMEN!

DAY 20: “The Ancient Paths” 

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ ” Jeremiah 6:16a, NIV

Continuing to take stock as we wind down, today let’s survey some takeaways for our daily walk. The Bible reveals four core disciplines of the spiritual life: Meditation, prayer, worship, and fellowship. Take a look!

? Meditation: Bible Reading, Reflection, Study, & Memorization
Biblical meditation is “interacting with God’s Word to obey His will”, whether through Bible reading; studying key words, themes, etc.; mulling a verse to absorb its truth or memorizing one. Scripture encourages DAILY meditation. (Jos. 1:8; Ps. 1:3; Ac. 17:11)

? Prayer: Supplication, Fasting, Intercession, & Thanksgiving
Paul said prayer is four things: Supplication asks God for specific needs; prayers in Greek means “exchanging”—i.e., sin for forgiveness, sickness for healing, etc. Intercession seeks God’s miracle-help in tough situations. Thanksgiving praises Him unconditionally. 

Scriptures urges CONSTANT prayer. (Mt. 6:11; Lk. 5:16; 1 Th. 5:17)

? Worship: Proclamation, Singing, Dancing, Making Music, etc.
Psalms reveals seven ways to worship: kneeling, dancing, lifting hands, instruments, singing, shouting, and combining these. Spirit-filled living involves “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Worship’s highest expression, though, is the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” in trial. Scripture teaches a worship LIFESTYLE. (Col. 3:16-17; He. 13:15; 1 Pe. 2:9) 

? Fellowship: Church Services, Small Groups, Discipleship, Retreats, etc.
Fellowship is meeting with believers for all the above. In the Old Testament, God told Israel to stop working Sunday and go to miqra (He., “assembly” & “reading”). (Le. 23:3a). In Matthew 16:18, Jesus unveiled His Church (Gr., ekklésia) crashing Hell’s gates. In Acts, it happens! Scripture commands believers: MAINTAIN fellowship (Ac. 2:42-44; 20:7; He. 10:25)

Wherever your spiritual life was when we began, if you’re here now you’ve grown! Pause. Make a list of ways you’ve grown in the spiritual disciplines. Then, take a moment to thank God! 

Go deeper now. Ask God, “What life adjustments did I make to take this journey with You?” List these on paper. Now, ask Him: “What changes do I need to make permanent to ‘hold these gains’ and keep growing?” Ask Father for a plan. Write it down. Partner with a friend. Follow through!  

DAY 21: “What Has God Shown You?” 

“No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed. On April 23, as I was standing on the bank of the great Tigris River, I looked up and saw a man …. And the man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you…. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way…. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future…. Do you know why I have come?” Daniel 10:3b-5a, 11a, 12b-13a, 14a, 20, NLT

Today’s passage ends our journey well. Daniel prayed and fasted, but answers didn’t come till day 21. God wanted him to know why and some other things. 

? “Daniel, you are very precious to God.” (v. 11a, 19) 
“Precious” means “to desire or take pleasure in.” The first thing God told Daniel wasn’t about Israel or anything else. He told him how much He loved him, and Daniel needed to hear it: he’d been mourning three weeks! (Da. 10:2; Eph. 3:18-19)

? “Since the first day… your request has been heard.” (v. 12) When answers are delayed, we may doubt. God assured Daniel He’d heard every prayer and seen every tear. David said, “You’ve collected all my tears in your bottle… recorded each one in your book.” (Da. 9:23; Ps. 56:8, NLT) 

? “But for twenty-one days the spirit… blocked my way.” (v. 13) This is Scripture’s first mention of angels and demons battling because of a believer’s prayers. God showed Daniel it delayed his answer. Paul experienced hindrances also. (1 Th. 2:17-18)

? “I’m here to explain what will happen to your people….” (v. 14) Daniel got answers—and more! Regular prayer and fasting like his can take us to deeper places also. Psalm 25:14a, NIV says, “The Lord confides in those who fear [revere] Him….” (Jn. 15:15)

Review the four things God showed Daniel in his 21-day prayer battle. What has He shown you? Have you felt assured of His love? ‘That He’s heard every prayer and seen every tear? ‘Gained insight into spiritual warfare (our battle with sin, Satan, and the sway of the world) or other things? Write down all He’s revealed, and thank Him! Share it with your accountability friend.   

You’ve seen how God works through prayer and fasting now. Don’t let this be the last time you use this powerful weapon. Ask Him to show you where, when, and how to use it going forward, and let the lessons of Daniel, Job, Jesus, and others inspire to keep going deeper with the Lord!    


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