Several years ago, before I did Bible verses on Friday’s, I did “Free Friday”. I had attended a conference and heard people discuss all kinds of fears and self limiting behaviors they had. My idea was to write each Friday about getting free from the things that hold us back or slow us down when trying to move forward. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to lay aside anything that hinders us, slows us down or ensnares us. The understood emphasis in the sentence is that it’s up to us to do it. The only way I have the power to lay aside any sin that’s holding me back is if I’m still holding onto it after I’ve been forgiven of it. Every one of us are holding onto things that hold us back and are keeping ourselves imprisoned because of guilt or shame. It’s a trap of the enemy to hinder our growth and freedom.
Remember that Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. That means once Christ has forgiven you, He no longer condemns you for that sin. If you’re feeling it, it’s usually self induced and needs to be later aside. Remember that according to Galatians 5:1, it was for freedom that Christ set you free. He freed you so you could live and walk in freedom from your past. Yet, so many of us rarely walk in that freedom because we allow shame to hold us back. We allow ourselves to be ensnared in a mind game that tells us we must live the rest of our lives paying for our past. Paul, who wrote those verses, called himself the chief among sinners. He killed Christians for a living. If he was able to live in that freedom, you’re allowed to as well.
In John 8:36, Jesus reminds us that we are God’s children who are no longer enslaved to our sin or our past. He said, “So if the Son sets you free from sin, then become a true son and be unquestionably free!” (TPT) If Christ has forgiven your sins, you are unquestionably free from the eternal effects of them. You don’t have to live this life paying penance for your past. Every time those thoughts come in, chase them out with these words of Jesus. Every time guilt creeps in, chase it out with Romans 8:1. You are no longer a slave to your past. The blood of Jesus is stronger than anything you’ve ever done. It has the power to forgive and to set you free. Begin today to live unquestionably free and let God use your life to accomplish the purposes He created you for.
When I was a teenager, the scouting program I was a part of gave us a code to live by. Today, we would call them values statements or core values. One of the eight values was courageous: he is brave in spite of danger, criticism or threats. I didn’t realize then how important that particular one was as a teenager, and even more so as an adult. It taught me to be strong in the face of things when they weren’t going my way or even against me. Being courageous means you don’t run away in those moments. You do what’s right no matter what going on around you.
In the last several chapters of John, Jesus was talking to the disciples on the night before His crucifixion. He was telling them what was about to happen to Him, and also what would happen to them going forward. He wanted them to have peace in the chaos, and to let them know that He was going to send the Holy Spirit as a helper who would live inside of them to combat the outside pressures against them. Then, just before He prayed and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33 TPT)
He reminded them, and us, that we are going to experience times when the world is against us. We are going to have troubles and things not go our way, but we are to be courageous. He said these things because He wanted us to look past our current problems knowing that He has already won. We can be brave because whatever we’re facing is not the end and it won’t conquer us because He is in us. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this verse when things look bad or like there’s no tomorrow. We can be courageous in spite of what we’re facing by trusting His promises.
Have you ever noticed how we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions? We give ourselves a lot more grace than we give someone else. Whenever I accidentally change lanes, but don’t see the car in that lane, I sheepishly duck my head, wave and mouth “sorry” hoping they understand. However, when someone does that to me, I see it as an attack of a negligent driver who is intentionally trying to kill me. I got from zero to angry in .5 seconds, honk my horn, shake my fist and scream at them. Now that I realize I’m judging them differently than I’m asking them to judge me, I’ve had to learn to give more grace in these situations. Chances are high, they simply made a mistake, like I do sometimes, and they’re not intentionally trying to run me off the road.
It’s scary how quickly I can go from singing along with the radio to straight up anger when that happens. The problem is, that’s not the only time or place I have a tendency to do that. We even do that when someone is talking to us. We judge ourselves by the intention of our meaning and others by their words and our interpretation. We can easily get angry without listening to everything they’re saying or the intent of their heart. Once anger comes into play, listening goes out the window and words usually come out of our mouth. Even when they try to explain, our anger has shut out reason and withdrawn any grace we had to give. These things happen to all of us, and if we can understand the hypocrisy of our own thinking, it can help us tone down how quickly we jump to anger.
Another way to slow down the anger train is to keep our mouth shut long enough to listen to their heart. James 1:19-20 says, “My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose” (TPT). That last sentence should give each of us pause. Anger is never a tool to promote God’s purposes. When we’re angry, we’re usually out of control and saying thing to hurt the other person. Anger is a legitimate emotion God gave us, but He also told us not to sin while we’re angry (Ephesians 4:26). We’re either promoting or destroying God’s purpose with our lives. Anger has a tendency to destroy it. When we change how we judge others actions and words, we can begin to control those flare ups.
Not long after a baby is born, we begin to condition them to do things for someone else. When they eat from a spoon, we clap and cheer them on. When they roll over, we cheer. We record their first steps as we applaud their efforts. The list goes on and on with each milestone. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate these things or that we shouldn’t encourage our kids. People need both of those things. However, from the moment we’re born, we’re taught to do things for applause. When we don’t get it, we think we’ve done something wrong or maybe they didn’t notice what we did. So we try to get someone’s attention and do it again so we will be recognized for what we’ve done.
Paul recognized this need for approval and how it can affect our work if we don’t get it. In Colossians 3:23 he penned, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (AMP). Sometimes, if we’re doing something we know we won’t get recognized for or think that no one is watching, we don’t give it our best effort. Paul reminds us here that no matter what we do, we shouldn’t be doing it for man’s approval or recognition. It should be done as if we were doing it for the Lord because ultimately it is. Anything man rewards us with is temporary.
When Jesus was in the Temple watching people give, there were those who made a big show of their giving. There was also a widow who quietly gave all she had. In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about a person who prayed louder than others thanking God they weren’t like those other people. He pointed out that they were seeking the recognition of man, and while they got it, they wouldn’t be getting God’s recognition because they weren’t after it. He pointed out the sinner who wouldn’t lift their head and praised them. In both of these cases, Jesus was pointing out that we should be seeking God’s approval and doing things for Him instead of men. Remember, man looks at our outward appearance, but God is looking at our heart. Whatever, you have to do today, whether big or small, do it well and do it for God’s approval and you will be fulfilled.
When I was younger, I would go to the library and check out “Where’s Waldo” books. It provided page after page of hard searches. I would spend lots of time scouring the pages to see if I could find him with that red and white striped beanie. There were always distractions and decoys to throw me off. When I couldn’t find him, I would start at the top left and work across to the right, looking at every face in there going from top to bottom. Sometimes it was easy to find him, and other times I really had to search. There were even times when I required the help of others to make my search successful. It taught me to seek and to search and to not give up when it didn’t happen right away.
The Bible tells us over and over to seek God’s face. Sometimes it can feel like a Where’s Waldo book. How can I seek the face of God when I can’t see Him? But there’s a promise in Jeremiah 29:13. It says, “You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart” (GNT). When I can’t seem to find Him in my seeking, I wonder if I gave up too early or of I searched for Waldo longer than I searched for God. Unlike Waldo, God wants to be found. He reveals Himself to us, but we must seek Him with all of our heart. Our desire to find Him, to know Him and to hear from Him has to be stronger than our desire to do other things. God is able to be found when we’re seeking Him wholeheartedly.
Psalm 27:8 says, “Lord, when you said to me, ‘Seek my face,’ my inner being responded, ‘I’m seeking your face with all my heart.’” God is worthy of us seeking Him with our whole heart. That means we cut out distractions, open His Word, spend quiet time in His presence and ask to see Him. I’m often guilty of seeking His hand to provide for my needs rather than His face so I can see Him. There’s a lot of debate about what does it mean to “seek God’s face”. I think it means to search for His recognizable attributes. If you seek those, you will discover more of who God is. He’s not hiding from those who seek Him, but He can only be found when we’re searching and looking for Him. He’s calling each of us to seek Him. Like the author of the Psalm, we must reply, “I’m seeking you with my whole heart.” Pray today that God would open your eyes to see Him as you seek Him.
Over twenty years ago, I started paying attention to the people around me that had the most money. I was looking for similarities to see if there was anything I could replicate. They all worked in different fields with different positions. Some were very educated and some were not. One of the things I noticed that was similar between all of them was that they were generous. They didn’t hoard their money. They gave, they sponsored and they helped others. I thought, “Could it be that the secret to having more was giving more?” When you look at Scripture, it fits. Give and it shall be given. When you’re faithful over a little, God will make you faithful over a lot. You reap what you sow. I began to pray them, “God, if you can get it to me, you can get it through me.” I wanted to be generous with God’s blessings.
One of the antonyms of generous is selfish. We seem to be bent toward selfishness. I’ve also observed that a lot of the problems in the world and in our lives are the result of selfishness. As believers, we’re to be known for our love for others, not self. God asks us to break away from selfishness and even offers blessings if we’ll be generous. It doesn’t matter if you have a little or a lot, we have the ability to be generous. Generosity is a matter of the heart. When we look at the things and money we have as God’s, then it’s easier to give them away. If I look at myself as the provider and the things I have as a result of my own work, it’s harder to give away. If we get that perspective right, giving comes naturally. Look around you today for opportunities to be generous. Pray for wisdom and ask God to show you where He wants you to be generous with His love and blessings, then you will know where to make a difference.
Here are some Bible verses on being generous.
1. Generous hands are blessed hands because they give bread to the poor.
Proverbs 22:9 MSG
2. Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.
2 Corinthians 9:6 NLT
3. Life is good for the one who is generous and charitable, conducting affairs with honesty and truth.
Psalms 112:5 TPT
4. You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous, and this [generosity, administered] through us is producing thanksgiving to God [from those who benefit].
2 Corinthians 9:11 AMP
5. Be generous, and you will be prosperous. Help others, and you will be helped.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.