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Fighting With New Strength

Growing up, I spent countless hours playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on the Nintendo. The goal was always to go through the progression of fights so you could fight Mike Tyson. At times in the game, I would swing away at the characters hoping to connect a knock out punch. All of a sudden, my guy would drop his hands and start panting. At that point, he became vulnerable in those fights, and I had to dodge punches to keep from getting knocked out. After a few seconds, his strength would return and I could start fighting again.

To be honest, I never beat Mike Tyson. I got to the point where I could get to him every time, and could even go several rounds with him. At some point, my character would get tired and Mike would knock me out. I would get so frustrated because the guy would get winded at the worst times, and there was nothing I could do about it. I actually can relate to that guy a lot more now that I’m getting older. Battles seem to get more difficult, and I seem to get winded more quickly.

There’s a famous portion of Scripture in Isaiah 40 that speaks to this. Israel had begun to think that God had abandoned them in their battles, and they were tired. God spoke and asked how they could think that. Then in verses 29-31, He said, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” (NLT).

If you’ve been getting winded in your battles, and you’re starting to wonder where God is, these verses are for you today. Don’t get anxious and swing away, which only wears you out. Wait on and trust in the Lord. He will give you the strength you need to endure, and He will help you knock out your biggest opponent. Whatever your Mike Tyson is in life, God is there with you to help you fight it without growing weary. He is the everlasting God. He never grows weary or weak.

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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.

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Reshaped Into His Image

A friend of mine has a ministry called Know The Fight. He understands that people feel misunderstood, unwanted and unloved, so he began helping them to tell their stories. What he found was that as he helped them tell their stories, he helped them bridge the gap between them and others. The more people revealed about their hidden wars, the more that others realized they weren’t fighting alone. He creates and shares some amazing videos. On his personal social media, he posts things from hilariously absurd memes to quotes and reminders that will sometimes hit you between the eyes. He posted one of these recently and I wanted to share it here. He wrote, “My anxiety drops when I realize that everything that’s happening to me is to make me more like Christ.”

The more I thought about that, the more I realized how true it’s been in my life. God used some dark days in my life to purge me and to make me more like Christ. When things happen that I don’t understand, I remind myself that He is the potter and I am the clay. I’m sure that the clay doesn’t understand when chunks are taken out of it, when it gets crushed and out back in the middle of the wheel or when it gets hollowed out. I know that I don’t, but looking back on those times in my life, I can see that God was making me more like Himself, removing parts of my life that were holding me back and rebuilding my life to make me more Christ-like. Did those times hurt? More than you may know. When I look back from where God has led me, I’m thankful that He took the time to do those things, painful as they were, so that He could bring me here.

In the Early Church, they faced mass persecution and Paul addresses it a lot reminding people that God was using it to grow them and the Church. In one such exhortation in 2 Thessalonians 1:5, he wrote, “All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the Kingdom “ (MSG). I don’t know the hidden war going on within you today, but God does. He gave us the promise in Romans 8:28 that He works all things out for your good. No matter what it is that you’re facing, know that God can use it to make you more Christ-like. You may feel like you’re the only one going through it and no one can relate. While your circumstances may be unique, the pain, the battle and the loneliness are shared by others. God sees you and He is using this time to reshape you more into His image.

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Giving God Attention

How many times have you had a conversation with someone, but your mind was elsewhere? Probably too many times to count. I’m usually thinking about several things trying to solve a problem or find a solution to them. When someone engages me in conversation during these times, I’m honestly not listening to them talk in those cases. Im present in the conversation, but not mentally in it. To be honest, it even happens when I’m not trying to solve things, but I’ve had to learn that listening and engaging with others is one of the best ways to value them. I have to tell myself (while they’re talking) to pay attention and listen. Otherwise, if it’s not something I’m really interested in or don’t see how it relates to me, my mind wants to wander. I’ve had to train myself to be present in conversations.

If it happens to you with people, it also happens to you in prayer. How many times have you started to pray and then you remember you were supposed to do something? Our minds start to wander and think of things we need to be doing instead of engaging with God in prayer. Those voices need to shut down immediately or your prayer time will turn into a thinking time. I have to stop the thoughts the moment they come in. I’ve got a friend who keeps a notebook beside him when he prays. He writes down those things that pop in his mind so he has a to-do list when he’s done. He jokingly says, “I let the devil be my secretary. He tries to disrupt my prayer, but I use it as him giving me all the things I need to do.” However you choose to do it, prayer is something we must engage in with our utmost attention. We are speaking with the King of Kings after all. He deserves our attention.

Colossians 4:2 says, “Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving” (AMP). To get the answers we need from Heaven, we need to be persistent in our prayer. Jesus gave a couple of parables about this. We must also be alert and focused during our prayer time giving God all of our attention. Prayer closets are a good place to block everything else out to give God your complete attention. I also recommend leaving your phone somewhere else and finding a time when you won’t be disrupted by others. When our prayer life suffers, our relationship with Him suffers. God loves quality time and the best way to do that is to have a set time when you can engage with Him in prayer uninterrupted and to stay focused on Him. Quick short prayers are good, but they’re like text messages. A relationship can’t thrive on just texts. Have focused conversations with God too and you’ll see your relationship with Him bloom like never before.

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Broken And Beautiful

There are a few ways to do a puzzle. Some people open the box and pull out a couple of pieces at a time. Some people grab a handful to see if there are any matches. Then there are people like me who dump the whole box in the middle of the table. I like to see all the pieces I’m working with and begin forming the puzzle from the outside in. No matter how you start a puzzle, I think you’ll agree that it’s frustrating to get all the way to the end only to find that you’re missing a piece or two. You check the box, the floor, your chair and all around the table where you’re working. You need all the pieces if you’re going to be able to complete it. There’s just something satisfying about completing a puzzle with all the pieces.

If you’re reading this, then your life has been broken somewhere along the way. It’s part of the human condition. Our lives get shattered, we scoop up the pieces and try to move forward by putting them back together again. Sometimes our brokenness makes it hard to trust people again or even God. If only He would have intervened, then our life wouldn’t have been shattered. If only He would have answered our desperate prayers, then we would be whole still. When you’re holding the broken pieces of your life, it’s easy to look back and think that you’d be whole right now “if only (you fill in the blank).” The truth is we’re all broken to some degree and we’re holding the pieces of our life trying to put things back together the way they were. But what if you were broken so God could put the pieces back together in a more complete and beautiful way?

I love mosaic art because it’s formed from broken pieces. I believe it’s the same type of artistry God uses when we give Him the pieces of our brokenness and allow Him to put our life back together. Psalm 18:20 says, “GOD made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him” (MSG). For God to make our life complete and whole again, He can’t have any missing pieces. You must surrender all the pieces to Him. He knows there are parts of us that we hold back from Him because of fear, but He patiently and lovingly waits for us to trust Him enough. God rewrites the story and picture of our lives when we give Him all the pieces and He makes something beautiful out of the pieces. He does His part when we do ours and surrender the pieces. He takes our brokenness and makes something beautiful out of our mess.

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Seeking Face Time

One of the things I like to collect is autographs. I don’t like to buy them unless the person has passed or doesn’t do public signings. I prefer buying a ticket, getting in line and then meeting the person I’m getting the autograph from. When Jeff Bagwell was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, I went to get his autograph. He was very introverted, which doesn’t work around me. I noticed he never looked up at anyone he was signing for. So when it was my turn, I put the ball on the table, got down on my knees and looked up at him from the floor. We made eye contact and he laughed. He asked what I was doing and I told him I just wanted to see him and say hello. We chatted for a few seconds and I was ushered away. I got a different experience than everyone else that day because I got in from of his face.

I believe approaching God is very similar. Many of us pray or go to church. We’re in His presence, but we don’t get in front of His face. We’re content to be in the same room, but we’re missing the personal encounter with Him. When the Bible uses the word presence referring to God, it’s talking about face time with Him. He’s omnipresent meaning He’s everywhere. You’re always in His presence, but we’re rarely in front of His face. That takes us getting on our knees, humbling ourselves, pressing in, being intentional or blocking everything else out to do. Being in His presence, seeking face time with Him, is something we should strive for each and every day. Don’t just be aware of God’s presence, be in it today and let it change you.

Here are some Bible verses on being in God’s presence.

1. Seek and deeply long for the LORD and His strength [His power, His might]; Seek and deeply long for His face and His presence continually.

Psalms 105:4 AMP

2. Because you are close to me and always available, my confidence will never be shaken, for I experience your wrap-around presence every moment.

Psalms 16:8 TPT

3. And so I walk in the presence of the Lord in the world of the living.

Psalm 116:9 GNT

4. Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually [longing to be in His presence].

1 Chronicles 16:11 AMP

5. When You said, “Seek My face [in prayer, require My presence as your greatest need],” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I will seek [on the authority of Your word].”

Psalms 27:8 AMP

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Just Stay Calm

Exodus 14 gives the account of the Israelites leaving Egypt and getting to the Red Sea. In verse 8, it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he chased after “the people of Israel, who left with fists raised in defiance” (NLT). As they walked out of town, they had their fists up in celebration and in victory. For 430 years they had been there. God had finally heard their cries and came to their rescue.

That victory stance suddenly changed when they saw Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. They went from a victory mindset to a victim mindset in an instant. They quit celebrating and started bellyaching. They complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?” They are like so many of us who forget what God has already done for us. We lose sight of the past in light of the present. We are all guilty of doing this at times.

Moses spoke to them words that we need to hear when our faith turns into fear. Verses 13 and 14 say, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Great words spoken by God to us in whatever we are facing. Don’t be afraid. Watch the Lord rescue you. The Lord will fight for you. Just stay calm. I believe God is trying to tell us the same thing.

I don’t know what you’re up against today, but it’s no match for what God can do. I don’t know how trapped you feel, or how much your back is up against a wall, but if God can part the Red Sea, He can make a way where there seems to be no way. Your situation only seems big because you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Yes, it’s huge compared to you, but next to God, it’s pretty small and not that complex. Don’t be afraid. Just stay calm. God is already working on your behalf. Trust Him to do what only He can do.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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.

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Settle Your Disagreement

Have you ever disagreed with someone? I know that’s a silly question because if there’s air in your lungs, you’ve had a serious disagreement with someone. I’ve had some painful disagreements before with people I love and respect. I felt like they were making decisions that were detrimental to the lives of several people so I spoke up. When I did, they doubled down on their course of action. The wedge between us grew and became an issue. It was an ugly and painful time for both of us. In the end, we met privately and determined it was best to find a way to put the disagreement behind us in order to keep the relationship in tact. To this day, we still have differing opinions about how things should have been done, but it’s a non factor in our relationship. The Biblical thing to do was to put the matter in the past and we did.

The Bible is full of people who had disagreements. Miriam and Aaron had a disagreement with Moses about his wife and that God was speaking through him. Joseph’s brothers disagreed that they would bow down before them. Jacob and Esau had a disagreement over the theft of the birthright. Job and his friends disagreed on why he was suffering. Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over John Mark going on the second missionary trip. Paul and Peter also had it out over Peter not eating with Gentiles. I’m sure there are more, but you get the picture. In each of these cases there was something that happened that allowed them to put the disagreement behind them even if they didn’t go forward together. They didn’t let the disagreement create a root of bitterness in their lives.

In the Philippian church, two women had a serious enough disagreement that word made it back to Paul. So he wrote directly to them in Philippians 4:2, “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement” (NLT). If Paul wanted them to settle their disagreement, God wants us to as well. When our disagreements become a distraction to the Gospel, our witness or the love of Christ, we must resolve them. He didn’t tell them they had to reconcile, but they did have to settle it. The same goes for us, especially between believers. We are called to be one body that works in harmony. Disagreements that impair our ability to further the Kingdom must be resolved. Don’t wait for the other person to try to settle it. You reach out, find a way to put it behind you and move forward because you belong to the Lord.

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Easy To Please

I’ve worked for some people that were easy to please, and I’ve also worked for some that were hard to please. One of my bosses said to me, “Chris, I wish I had five guys just like you working here.” I replied, “Wow! Thanks.” Sternly he looked at me and said, “It wasn’t a compliment. I have twenty of you right now.” It was funny, but I don’t know to this day if he was joking or not. I was always afraid to ask questions for fear I would get in trouble, or worse, ridiculed. I’ve had other bosses who I thought were going to be tough to please when I met them, but once I got to know them, they were a lot different than I had thought. One of those was seriously invested in my future and helped me advance all throughout my career. My preconceived notions changed once I got to know him.

One of my first preconceived notions of God was that He was this old guy in Heaven, with a long white beard, looking down ready to blast me for messing up. I often felt that His love for me was dependent on my performance, much like some of the bosses I’ve had. As long as I did things the right way, He was happy with me. If I messed up, He was ready to rain down hell fire and brimstone on me. However, the more I’ve gotten to know Him, the more I’ve found what Paul discovered in Romans 8. Nothing can stop Him from loving me. Like a parent, He loves me as His child and is not waiting for me to mess up. On the contrary, He’s there wanting me to excel, to grow and to be ho He created me to be.

David discovered this about God too. In Psalm 25:8, he wrote, “When people turn to you, they discover how easy you are to please—so faithful and true! Joyfully you teach them the proper path, even when they go astray” (TPT). God is not impossible to please. In fact, He’s easy to please, and He’s not ready to smite you when you mess up. Joyfully, He’s ready to help you back up and point you to the right path. He knows our weaknesses, our propensities and our failures, and He loves us still. The plan He has for us is hard at times, but He’s right there cheering us on and giving us instructions on how to complete it. You don’t have to fear losing His love over your faults. You don’t have to hide your mistakes or be afraid to ask Him for help. He loves you and is cheering you on as you go through life. Like a good father, He’s easy to please.

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Close To God

If you’ve ever been to Jerusalem, you’ve probably visited the Western Wall. It is what’s left of a retaining wall built on the Temple Mount to create a flat area to add more buildings around the Temple. I’ve been to the wall a few times to pray. On my last couple of trips over there, I’ve been able to go underground where the foundation of the Temple is. There’s a long corridor running beside it. As we moved down that hall, we came to a place where these women were praying. Our guide informed us that this was the closest spot to where the Holy of Holies was, and that these women come there to pray instead of praying above ground at the wall. In the Jewish culture, God’s presence is found in the Holy of Holies and the closer you are to that point, the closer you are to God. In the Old Testament, all of Israel would come to Jerusalem for the feasts and to pray so that they could be close to God and be heard.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is addressing people with this mindset. In verse 13, he wrote, “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (NLT). The phrase “far from God” in that culture had a two fold meaning. People that lived outside of Jerusalem were considered far from God which is why they visited Jerusalem so often. They wanted to be close to God. There are times that you and I feel like we’re far from God. It’s like He can’t hear our prayers. We can’t feel His presence. We feel isolated and alone. We all go through these feelings of being far from God, but the truth is that God never leaves us. In fact, He’s made His home in our lives so that He will be with us always.

Paul makes more analogies about us and the Temple as the chapter continues. He then ends it with, “God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you!” (TPT) You and I have become the Holy of Holies because He dwells in us. When those feelings come that we are far from God and He doesn’t hear us, declare this verse over your life. Your feelings will lie, but God’s Word never will. You are never far from God because you are the host of His presence. You don’t have to go anywhere special for Him to hear your prayers. He hears ever prayer, spoken or silent, and knows how you feel. God is close to you today, listening to your prayers, walking with you and working things out for your good despite what your feelings are telling you. Push past your feelings and enter the presence of God. You are closer to Him than you think.

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You’re Surrounded

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in 2 Kings 6. The Arameans were at war with Israel. Supernaturally the Lord told Elisha where the king of Aram was and what his plan of attack would be. Elisha warned the king of Israel and the attack was thwarted. It happened a couple of times and the king of Aram found out it was Elisha. He decided to bring the full force of his army against Elisha to kill him. One morning Elisha’s assistant went outside, saw the great army surrounding them, and became afraid. Elisha came outside, saw the army and said, “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (NLT) God opened the assistant”s eyes to see the Lord’s army surrounding the Aramean army.

More times than not, we’re like Elisha’s assistant. We’re so focused on what we see that we panic. I don’t know what you’re seeing around you today. You may feel surrounded by death, stress, sickness, relationship problems, money problems or something else. It may feel like there’s no way out and that this is going to destroy you. My prayer today is that God open your eyes to see that He is surrounding whatever it is, and that you remember that He is greater and that He is able. No matter what you’re facing, you are not alone. God never leaves, forsakes us or leaves His children alone. You are supernaturally surrounded by the army of God and will not be destroyed.

Here are some Bible verses on God surrounding His people.

1. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

Psalms 33:22 NLT

2. And the God of peace will swiftly pound Satan to a pulp under your feet! And the wonderful favor of our Lord Jesus will surround you.

Romans 16:20 TPT

3. You are my hiding place; You, LORD, protect me from trouble; You surround me with songs and shouts of deliverance. Selah.

Psalms 32:7 AMP

4. So now I’ll lie down and sleep like a baby— then I’ll awake in safety, for you surround me with your glory.

Psalms 3:5 TPT

5. For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Psalms 5:12 NLT

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