One of the things I enjoy doing is cooking. One of the things I’ve learned is that foods taste better if you take the time to develop the flavors. That means that instead of adding onion and garlic later, I may start with them and let them sauté a bit in order to bring out more flavor. When I create a sauce to cook in, I may let it simmer a little longer so that it reduces. Doing that will intensify the flavor. To turn a recipe into a beloved dish, you have to take the time to develop and bring out the hidden flavors with heat and time. It’s more than simply adding ingredients.
I believe our lives are the same way. God wants to create amazing flavors in our lives that point others to Him. To do that, it requires Him to do things differently than our recipe. It also requires us to be put in the fire, sometimes longer than we care to be there. It’s really our choice how we respond. Do we give Him the freedom to bring out the flavors that are locked inside of us? Or do we allow those times to produce a bitter flavor that turns people away from us and Him? God’s desire is that each one of us would have complex, well developed flavors so that we’re not just another Christian.
James 1 tells us to consider it joy, even a gift, when trials and challenges come at us from all sides. In that pressure cooker, it releases hidden flavors into the world. In verse 4 he writes, “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (MSG). When things aren’t going right and life is coming at you hard, don’t run away. God is at work in you and pulling out flavors that were locked away and hidden before. He’s not going to allow these problems to overwhelm you. He knows what you can take and how long you can stay there. Trust His judgement and let Him do His Work in your life.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
Several years ago I read a book called “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks” by Dr. Timothy Laniak. The author lived with nomadic shepherds in the Middle East in order to gain a greater understanding of what Biblical shepherding was all about. In one chapter he discussed the position of the shepherd in relation to the sheep. There are times when the shepherd is out front leading them, and other times when he’s behind them pushing them forward. When the sheep are an open area, the shepherd is out front. The sheep follow for protection and provision. When they’re traveling through a low visibility area, the shepherd will go behind the sheep to keep them moving. The ones in front feel the pressure of the movement to move forward.
In John 10, Jesus was using shepherds to teach the people about Himself in a manner they could relate to. He called Himself the Good Shepherd. He talked about being the gate as the shepherd. They would have understood the shepherds put the sheep in a pin at night and the shepherd sleeps in the doorway to protect them. He talked about how when dangers come, hired hands run, but the shepherd stays. He then discussed how the sheep know His voice and listen when it’s time to leave the pen. Verse 4 says, “When he has brought all his own sheep outside, he walks on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice and recognize his call” (AMP).
Is Jesus out front leading you or is He pushing you from behind right now? Are you listening to His voice as He guides you? There are a lot of competing voices out there trying to get your attention. Jesus said His shepherd know His voice and listen to Him. They know Him and He knows them (verse 27). We must be tuned into His voice each day in order to go where He leads. Whether you have low or high visibility right now for your direction, take time each day to be still and quiet your mind. Pray, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” Then wait in silence until you hear Him. He’s speaking to you constantly, trying to lead you, but you must listen for His voice and recognize His call. The more you sit quietly in His presence, the more you will hear Him speak to you.
I’ve never been a gamer, and am not to this day. I was a teenager before we got a Nintendo. It was over ten years ago when we got a Wii. I’ve only really played that with my nieces and nephews. The game of choice has been Mario Cart. I can usually compete with them, but rarely win. Sometimes I’m so far back, the game gives me the bullet to help catch me up in the race. My favorite surprise to get in the game though is the invincibility star. No matter what comes at me, or who wrecks into me, the bounce off and wreck. The problem is that it only lasts for a few seconds and then I’m able to be wrecked again. It would be great if there were invincibility stars in life we could pick up.
I love Romans 8. If there was one chapter in the Bible that summed it all up, it would be that one. As you get towards the end of that chapter, Paul starts listing things that we face in life. He asks if tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or swords can separate us from the love of Jesus. He goes on to list more things we face like death, life, angels, principalities, threatening things in the present, threatening things in the future, the powers that be, heights, depths, or anything created. All of these represent trials, situations or circumstances that we go through and can overwhelm us or make us feel abandoned by God. He assures us that going through these things doesn’t diminish God’s love for us. Not only that, they don’t have the ability to conquer us.
After talking about half these, and before listing the rest, in verse 37 he writes, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us]” (AMP). His love for us is like that invincibility star. It give us the power to have overwhelming victory no matter what we face or what attack we’re under. It didn’t say we wouldn’t feel the weight or the pressure of these circumstances. It simply assures us that they don’t have the power to defeat us or to separate us from the love of Jesus. You may be getting attacked from all sides today and feeling the weight of the world. Just remember that you’re not alone and that through Jesus, you are more than a conqueror who will gain an overwhelming victory.
One of the toughest things Jesus told us to do was in Matthew 5:44. He said, “I say to you, love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them” (TPT). I have to tell you, that goes against everything that I want to do in those situations. The easiest thing to do is to hate the person who hates you, curse the person who curses you, yell at the person who hates you and to fight anyone who comes against you. That’s the way I’m wired anyway. The things Jesus is asking us to do here goes against my nature.
I believe God asks us to act this way because we are to be a reflection of Him and who He is. When we are full of ourselves, and someone does something to us, it’s who we are on the inside that spills out onto them. When we replace who we are with who God is inside us, our reactions change. Everywhere we go, we will be spilling God’s love onto anyone who runs into us. The hardest part of being a Christian, is getting rid of all my selfish desires so that I can be filled with more of who He is, but that is God’s desire for each one of us. It’s a constant battle, but it’s one our spirit must be victorious in.
For many of us, we view God as the person we are when someone cuts us off on the road. He’s angry and out for payback. What Jesus said gives us insight into what God is like. Psalm 145:8 does as well. It says, “You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it and very patient with people who fail you. Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.” God isn’t angry and out to get us when we mess up. Like a good father, He’s kind and does everything He can to help us succeed at being more like He is. He’s patient with us in our failures as well. As we get to know Him more, He will become increasingly more evident in our life through our responses to people.
Everyone of us has had some dark valleys that we’ve walked through. There are those days, months, and years where we just wish we could see a ray of hope. We want to know that we are not alone. That God has a plan. That He hasn’t forgotten us. We want to know that this time won’t last forever. In those times, it’s critical that our faith over rides our feelings. Our feelings interpret circumstances, but our faith dictates them.
I remember walking through a long, dark valley. God spoke to me and said, “I see you where you are. I have not left you or forgotten you. I’m walking with you through this. I am not in front of you or behind you. I’m right beside you.” Those words boosted my faith over my feelings. They reminded me that even when I can’t see or feel God, that He is with me no matter what. When my prayers feel like they’re falling on deaf ears, He hears them because He’s a whisper away. He’s walking with us in the darkness.
In Psalm 23:4, David gave us some words to remember this truth. He wrote, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (NLT). In the valley, our feelings produce fear, but our faith produces peace and reassurance that God has not left us. We don’t have to fear or fret in the valley. God is walking right beside us each step of the way. He has not forgotten us. Trust your faith over your feelings.
One of the toughest things we need to have with our faith is a “What if He doesn’t” attitude. What if He doesn’t heal your family member? Will you still trust Him? What if He doesn’t save your marriage? Will you still love Him? What if He doesn’t help me get this job? Will you still follow Him? What if He doesn’t answer your prayer? Will you still serve Him? These are tough questions, but necessary to ask yourself. God doesn’t always do the things we believe He should. Even when we believe with everything in us that He can and will answer our prayer, sometimes He doesn’t. Trusting Him after that is something we all must learn to do. We have to remember that He sees the bigger picture and that His ways are higher than ours.
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wouldn’t bow to their captor’s god. The king brought them in and commanded them to do it or die. He asked them if they thought there was any god who could save them from burning in a fiery furnace. They told him that God was able to do it. Then, in verse 18, they added, “But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up” (GNT). They were willing to sacrifice their lives trusting God, even if He didn’t answer their prayer and save their lives. It’s the type of faith that we all need to have. It’s the type of faith we must determine to have before we get into a situation that will challenge us at our core.
Psalm 34:1 says, “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises” (NLT). We can’t just praise God when things are going great and when our prayers are being answered. We must learn to praise Him at ALL times. When He doesn’t answer our most desperate prayer, praise Him. When everything in life is going wrong, praise Him. Our praise, trust and love for God cannot be based on our feelings or circumstances. It must run deep within us to the point that it is who we are. Determine today that even if He doesn’t respond the way you deeply believe He should, you will bless and praise Him anyway.
One of my teachers taught me a tale of two dogs. They were alike in every way. They asked who would win in a fight. I thought that if they were alike in every way, it would end in a tie. They told me I was correct. Then they said, “Let’s take those same two dogs and only feed one of them. If they were to fight, who would win?” Again, I thought it was pretty easy and told them the one that was fed would win. After agreeing with my assessment, they explained that there is always a fight going on inside each one of us between our flesh and our spirit. No matter how much I wanted one of them to win, it would always be the one I fed the most.
I love that the Bible didn’t cover up things or just show us the best version of people’s lives. It told us how Abraham lied about his wife being his sister. It kept the part where Moses murdered an Egyptian. It didn’t try to cover up David’s adultery like he did. It included Jesus rebuking Peter. Every one of these people are heroes in the faith to us, but they were just as human as you and I are. They wanted to serve God as much as you, and they failed Him as much as we do. What made them stand out was that they repented and learned to feed their spirit more. They knew that they needed to change who they fed when they messed up, and they did it.
In Psalms 86:11, David prayed, “Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and I will obey you faithfully; teach me to serve you with complete devotion” (GNT). David, like all these other heroes of faith, always went back to God to teach him in those moments of failure or need. He wanted to serve God with complete devotion. In order for us to do that, we must be willing to be taught how by God and we must feed our spirit the Word of God. We must spend time in prayer and obedience. We have to spend less time feeding our flesh, and to not dismiss the tension of the fight between the two inside of us. If you find yourself failing more times than not, take a look at how you spend your time. What are you spending your time doing? Which side is that feeding? You can always change who your feeding to change results. Ask God to teach you what He wants you to do and how He wants you to feed your spirit. He will show you.
When you’re going through a difficult season or through a hard time, you start seeking out sympathy. One of the things you’re going to hear in your mind is, “You don’t deserve this. Why is God mad at you?” Another thing you will hear is, “No one has it as badly as you do. No one will understand what you’re going through.” I know because I’ve heard them. These are lies to get you to be upset at God, to get mad at others and to isolate you. If you’re mad at God, you won’t pray and a root of bitterness can spring up. If you’re mad at others, you won’t accept help from them. If you’re isolated, you’re easy prey for your enemy who roams like a lion seeking to devour you.
To combat the first lie, I use Romans 8:28 as a promise to hold onto. I believe that no matter how bad things get, God can always work it out for my good. To combat the second lie, I look for people who have it worse than I do. There is always someone else who is having a more difficult time than you. I’ve also come to realize that while my circumstance are unique, it doesn’t disqualify anyone from understanding and offering empathy. The pain and stages of grief are where others can connect to help me from getting isolated. I also keep at least one friend nearby who knows that during difficult seasons I may push people away, but really I want and need them close by. They know I need encouragement and to be refocused during those times.
Hebrews 12:3 is a great Scripture to help refocus in difficult times. It says, “So consider carefully how Jesus faced such intense opposition from sinners who opposed their own souls, so that you won’t become worn down and cave in under life’s pressures” (TPT). Jesus, who is our intercessor, has been through worse things and attacks than anyone. The verse before this one reminds us that He endured all that for the joy set before Him knowing what good was going to come from it. Now He is able to be empathetic and to pray specifically for you to the Father. You are never alone in your struggles. You are never left without an intercessor who is praying for you. Don’t believe the lies you hear in your mind. Read the Word of God and stand on His promises. It may not feel like it, and you may not be able to see it, but He is working things out for your good.