When I was in Physics class in high school, the teacher had us build a bridge out of popsicle sticks. We were going to suspend the bridge between two tables and add weights until it collapsed to see whose was the strongest. I built a truss bridge thinking it would look good and be strong. When I went to test it, it wasn’t as strong as I thought it was or needed to be. A friend suggested I could strengthen it by adding eyelets and string turning it into a suspension bridge. He was right. By adding to my existing structure, I was able to strengthen the bridge to hold a lot more weight than it ever could have on its own.
In Ephesians 6, Paul was giving some final instructions to the Christians at Ephesus. In verse 10 he wrote, “Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power” (GNT). He was telling us that we’re not strong enough to handle a lot of what comes at us, so we need to add things in order to increase our spiritual strength. Those things he mentioned that we need to add are: the belt of truth to help you stand in victory, the breastplate of righteousness to protect your heart, the Gospel of peace on your feet to give you stability, the shield of faith to protect you from the enemy’s attacks, the helmet of salvation to guard your thoughts and the sword of the spirit, which is the spoken Word of God, to help you advance.
We need to be adding and doing these things daily in order to build up our spiritual strength. A weightlifter doesn’t get strong by going to the gym once or by going every once in a while. They go daily, and so we must have these spiritual disciplines in order to build up our strength. Take time each day to speak the truth in love, trust in Jesus’ righteousness instead of our own, read the Bible to put it in our heart, take steps of faith often, ask God to guard your thoughts and pray the Bible verses out loud. When we do these things, we become a lot stronger than we ever could be on our own. We become infused with God’s strength and will be able to stand up to any attack the enemy brings against us. Strength building isn’t passive. It requires action, time and discipline.
I’ve always had a heart for missions and missionaries. I love when they visit our church and share their stories. The church organization I grew up in would have missionaries return to The States every few years to share what they were doing with the sending churches and to raise more funds. They would pass out these business cards that usually had their picture on it and the words, “Pray for us.” I remember hearing several tell stories of when they were in certain situations and they could feel the prayers of someone on the other side of the world. I knew then how important it was to pray for missionaries and others whom God put on my heart. I decided at a young age to make it a point to pray for someone at the moment they asked or in the moment God brought them to mind.
Paul started off in 2 Corinthians 1 reminding Christians that when we go through painful times, God is right there with us giving us comfort. He does that so that we can come alongside others who are going through difficult times to bring comfort to them. He reminds us that he experienced a lot of suffering for Christ and therefore had lots of comfort to offer others. When we go through a season of difficult times, it’s often an opportunity for God to fill us up with empathy that others will need. It also shapes how we pray for someone. When we’ve gone through something painful or traumatic, it shapes how we pray and what we pray for. Those prayers are felt by those whom we pray for because they’re born out of the comfort we’ve received from God in our time of need.
In verse 11, Paul writes, “Because there are so many interceding for us, our deliverance will cause even more people to give thanks to God. What a gracious gift of mercy surrounds us because of your prayers!” (TPT) Your prayers surround others with gifts of mercy. Who has God laid on your heart to pray for? Don’t pass up the moment to pray for them or try to dismiss what God is asking you to do. Your prayers matter and have a powerful effect (James 5:16). Whether it’s a missionary in another country, a friend or family member, when God asks you to pray, do it. Just like there are moments when you need someone to be praying for you, others need you to pray for them. Sometimes it’s the difference between life and death. Don’t discount your prayers and the effect they can have.
Have you ever had anything around your house or yard that broke or fell into disrepair? Did you ever let said thing just sit there? Many of us do. We put off what could be done today until tomorrow. The next thing you know, years have passed and that thing is still sitting there broken. Your spouse may ask you to throw it away, but you insist that you’re going to repair it. Part of the problem is that when it broke, you created a workaround for not using it. You turned to something else that may not be as effective, but you got used to it. The truth is you forget the other item until it’s brought up again, and again, and again. Then one day, you repair it and you wonder why you let so much time go by before you did.
After Solomon died, there were a series of kings in Israel. The kingdom split in two where Israel was in the north and Judah was in the south. Judah contained Jerusalem where the Temple was. However, there were many kings who didn’t follow God’s Law and the Temple fell into disrepair. Then Asa became king and He pleased God with how He lived. When an army attacked, he turned to God for help and God gave them a victory when defeat was certain. After they returned to Jerusalem, the prophet Azariah came and told Asa that for a long time they had abandoned God. If they would return to Him, He would continue to protect them, provide for them and reward them. When Asa heard this, he got rid of all the idols in the land. Them 2 Chronicles 15:8 says, “He also repaired the altar of the Lord that stood in the Temple courtyard” (GNT).
When I read that, I couldn’t help but think of my own life. There are times when I quit relying on God and do things myself. I create work around for the power of God in my life and I walk past the broken altar to Him doing things my way instead. I believe we all go through these times, but God is calling me and you back to repair the altar in our life. He’s drawing us back into the prayer closet, back into quality time with Him, back into His Word and back into relationship with Him. Like Asa, if we will return to that place with God, His promises will return to our life. It’s time that each of us go back to the altar, repair it and draw closer to God. I believe the time is getting short and we can’t afford to serve Him just using our work arounds or solely out of habit or ritual. We must return to our first love and serve Him whole heartedly, and that begins with returning to the altar of the Lord in our life and repairing it.
When I was a teen, someone told me, “You become like those you run with.” When I was a young adult, someone told me, “You show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” Then several years later, someone told me, “If you want to soar with eagles, you can’t be scratching around in the dirt with turkeys.” All these reminders have been about the importance of choosing who you choose to hang out with. Either the group you’re with will hold you back or help you get to that next level.
As I’ve lived my life, I can honestly say that these messages are true. Close relationships are the greatest influencers of your success or failure. If you’re constantly failing and are stuck in a bad place, you need to walk away from the relationships that are holding you back. Your life will not change until you change your relationships. If you want your life to improve, associate with people who are ahead of you and are moving in the right direction. This works for spiritual and economic growth as well.
As Paul was grooming Timothy to be a leader, he gave him the same advice. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Strive for righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who with a pure heart call out to the Lord for help” (GNT) Paul wanted Timothy to understand it’s difficult to grow on your own. You need other like minded people who are headed in the same direction to help you get there. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. You need people around you who will make you sharp.
When coaching or counseling people, I let them know that they need someone ahead of them that they can follow. They need someone beside them that can challenge them. They also need someone behind them that they can help get to the next level. Finding the right relationships is one of the most difficult tasks in life. That’s why it’s preached to you since you were young. It’s never to late to make the changes you need to make. If you’re ready to soar with eagles, spread your wings and leave the turkeys behind.
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 was an Uber driver. I would always start off near my home, but before long, I would end up in places I had never been. I would have to pay close attention to the map. There were times when a rider would be in the car giving me conflicting information with the map. That was always worrisome to me. Do I follow what the rider is telling me or choose to disregard their advice and go where the map is leading me? The map sees ahead and has information we don’t have, but the rider seems to know the area and gives me the tip. Every time that happened, I either had to tell them, “Thanks, but I need to follow the map,” or hear, “Rerouting” over and over in my ear until I would just turn down the volume. Each time it happened, I had to deal with whichever consequence.
Being a Christian is very similar I’ve found. There are two voices in my head constantly trying to give me directions on how to live, where to go and what to do. They’re in conflict with each other quite often. The Holy Spirit is much like the GPS. He knows the way better than anyone, He sees things that are ahead and is constantly trying to reroute me when I make a wrong turn. My flesh is the other voice telling me, “Turn here.” My heart tells me to follow my God given guide, but there always a strong pull to listen to the other voice. Each time I choose which voice to listen to, there’s a consequence. I give up something that my flesh would really enjoy and please God or do something that’s not right and feel shame. It’s a constant struggle for all of us as Christians.
Paul put it plainly in Galatians 5:16-17. He said, “Let me emphasize this: As you yield to the dynamic life and power of the Holy Spirit, you will abandon the cravings of your self-life. When your self-life craves the things that offend the Holy Spirit you hinder him from living free within you!” (TPT) That’s the choice we have to constantly make. Who’s voice are you going to listen to? They’re at odds with one another, and we’re stuck in the middle. Each voice produces very different fruit in our lives as Paul goes on to describe in this chapter. The good news is that it’s easier to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit if we will decide ahead any situation that we will choose His voice. The more we make that choice, the more we be empowered to live the way God wants us to. The voice we listen to the most grows the loudest within us, so choose now which voice you’ll listen to today.
Growing up, my parents would let me have any shoe I wanted as long as it was less than $25. That was fine for a while, but then I arrived in junior high and Nike introduced the Air Jordan line up. My friends and neighbors got them, but I couldn’t. They were $100, which was considerably more than my $25 limit. I wanted them so badly that I began to put pictures of them in my binders, drew them in my books and had posters on my wall. I thought they were the coolest shoe ever. My parents were teaching me a couple of lessons. The first was to be thankful for what you have even if it’s not what you want. The second was that if you want something more than what you have, save up your money to get it. That created more value in those shoes than if they had been given to me.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote, “For I have learned to be satisfied with what I have” (GNT). That’s a lesson we could all learn. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t ever want more than we have. It’s that we need to learn to be satisfied with what we do have. If we’re constantly looking for something else or wanting more, we will miss the lesson of contentment and fail to be appreciative of what God has given us. When we don’t appreciate something, we don’t value it. If we don’t value it, we take it for granted. God blesses us daily with good things that we look right past because we already want more than the daily bread He’s given us. Paul’s next verse said that whether he had a little or a lot, the secret to life was learning to be content and satisfied.
Ecclesiastes 6:9 put it this way, “It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else.” What blessings have you been overlooking? What are some things you get, but are never enough? A lack of satisfaction or contentment can be an outward expression of an inward brokenness. Once you’ve identified the outward expression, trace it to its roots. Ask God to bring healing to that area and to help you learn to be content with the things you have, whether a little or a lot. Once that change happens in you, the lens that you look at life through will change, and your prayers will too. Start changing them today by thanking Him for the many things He’s already blessed you with instead of asking Him for all the things you don’t have.
When I was younger and in a scouting program, I had to earn my Cut and Chop card to be able to carry a knife and use it. The card also gave me permission to use an axe, hatchet and other cutting tools, but I had to prove I knew how to use them and care for them. One of the requirements was to show how to properly hone your cutting tool’s edge, and another was to show how to sharpen it. You would need to hone your tool’s edge when it got misaligned or folded over because of all the wood you cut or whittled. You would need to sharpen it when the edge was gone and it needed a new one in order to cut the way it was supposed to. Honing used the existing cutting edge while sharpening and sharpening created a new edge.
In Scripture we see where God places some people in our life to hone us and others to sharpen us. When Peter refused to eat with the Gentiles in front of the Jews, Paul had to correct him (Galatians 2). This was a case of a person who was misaligned and God used another to set him straight. When David was running from Saul, he would get tired and worn out living in caves and in the wilderness. Jonathan, David’s best friend, would encourage him and care for him. He was sharpening David using words and his friendship to give David the edge back in order to keep him going. We need both of these types of people in our lives, and we must give them permission to do and say what needs to be done. Being homed and sharpening can be painful at times, but when it’s done in love, it’s easier to receive.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]” (AMP). Who has God placed in your life in these roles? Have you discussed it with them? It’s important to know who it is and to give them permission to speak openly with you if you’re going to be used to your full potential. Many times we’ve become dull or misaligned and don’t even know it. You need someone who can have an honest discussion with you, without you getting defensive about it. Sharpening is a slow, repetitive process, but is vital to our growth. Think back over your life and see who God has used repeatedly to encourage you, sharpen you and correct you. You probably already have someone in this capacity and didn’t even know it. If you can’t think of anyone in that role, think of who you trust enough to be in that role and ask them to be the iron that sharpens you.