Several years ago I had a boss that I didn’t see eye to eye with. They had their way of doing things and I had mine, but they had a “my way or the highway” mentality. They thought their way was the best way to do the job. I voiced my disagreement and explained why my way was better. They listened politely then told me to do it their way. At that point, I developed a forced compliance mentality. I would do the job my way, unless they came around. Sometimes I would do it their way out of spite, but over emphasize certain aspects of it and say, “This is what you said you wanted.” It didn’t create a good relationship. I kept thinking my way was better the whole time and never truly gave their way a chance. We were both miserable the whole time I worked for them.
Sometimes we approach Christianity that way. We read God’s Word and disagree with how it tells us to live. We think we have a better way so we live one way on Sunday when we think God is watching, and live a completely different way the rest of the week. We argue with pastors and teachers about what God really meant or we look for someone online who will agree with us. We simply want the benefits of Christianity without changing how we live. Jesus described this mentality in Luke 6:46-47 when He said, “Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on” (MSG). Jesus isn’t offering good morals to live by. He’s offering a different way to live completely and a compliance mindset won’t work.
Instead, we need to truly internalize His words if we’re going to integrate them into our lives and change how we live. They have to move from our head to our heart. Jesus continued in verses 48-49, “If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” We can’t just pick and choose what we believe in the Bible or just talk about Christianity. To internalize His words, read them asking Him to help you understand how to apply them. Meditate on them to think deeply about them so you can work them into your life. Christianity isn’t a list of rules to follow, it’s a way of life to live.
In February of 1998, my mom went into the hospital with some crazy symptoms. She thought it was a reaction to the chemo, but it wasn’t. The cancer had spread. On March 1st, she slipped into a coma of sorts. After a week or two of that, they took us into a side room to let us know they were sending her home and hospice would be assisting us for her final days. Our heads were spinning. We had fasted and prayed for healing, and it looked like our prayers were going unanswered. After the doctor left the room, we stayed behind still in shock. My dad spoke up and said, “We will keep believing and praying for a miracle, but be prepared in case He doesn’t answer the way we want Him to. I want each of you to purpose in your heart right now that you won’t be bitter at God if He chooses not to heal her.” She passed away on April 17th that year. Even though it hurt, because we had purposed in our hearts beforehand, we remained faithful to God.
The Early Church believers suffered more than most throughout the centuries of the Church. Each of the 12 disciples were martyred for their faith. Rome fed Christians to the lions for public sport. Nero used the heads of Christians as torches throughout the city. Yet somehow, these believers stayed faithful to God and encouraged each other with words of faith. The New Testament is full of Paul’s letters to these believers facing these issues. Many of them were written from jail. I’m sure that fear was doing its best to silence believers and to question their faith. However, because of their determination and they purposed in their hearts to follow God no matter what, our spiritual ancestors endured, stayed faithful and passed down a heritage of rock solid faith to you and I.
Psalms 116:10-11 says, “Even when it seems I’m surrounded by many liars and my own fears, and though I’m hurting in my suffering and trauma, I still stay faithful to God and speak words of faith” (TPT). This is the determination that each of us must make in our hearts. Our faith can not be dependent on our circumstances. Our trust in God’s goodness cannot be eroded by prayers that aren’t answered the way we think they should. Our suffering and trauma is not a reflection of His love. It’s a result of sin in the world. We must determine in our hearts and minds that no matter what happens in this life, we will stay faithful to Him. We will still speak in faith. We will still trust in Him. Even when things are happening here that we don’t like or understand, God has a plan and is able to work it out for our good. Don’t stop trusting in Him during the hard times. This earth and these sufferings are only temporary.
If you’ve ever ridden a horse, you know they’re fairly easy to control with the reigns. A slight tug on the right makes them go right. A slight tug on the left and they go left. Pull your feet into their side just a little and off you go. I used to ride horses in the Sahara Desert near the Saqqara pyramid in Egypt. This horse was fast and fun to ride. I’d ride her over dunes and through small valleys, up and over as fast as she could go. All was good until I went over one dune and she could see the pyramid. Immediately, she would go into memory mode and start walking toward the pyramid. No matter how hard I pulled the reigns, she wouldn’t turn. I would have to dismount, cover her eyes and lead her to where she couldn’t see them so I could ride some more.
You’re probably familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale. He was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach, but he didn’t want to go. Instead he boarded a ship and went the other direction. A bad storm came to try to get him to change directions, but he stayed the course. The storm got worse to the point they started throwing things overboard as God tugged on Jonah’s reigns. Finally he admitted he was the culprit and asked to be tossed overboard. He’d rather die than to go to Nineveh. God prepared a great fish to swallow him until He could lead Jonah to where He wanted him to go. Even there, Jonah had to have his reigns pulled a few times and even felt some spurs to the side to encourage him to move. We like to point at Jonah without looking at how we disobey God’s leading, but God has to pull on our reigns too.
God has a plan for you and for me. We were created with purpose, and God is constantly revealing it to us if we’re looking and listening. He’s constantly pulling on our reigns to keep us on track. In Psalm 32:9, God says, “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track” (MSG). We get distracted like my horse in Egypt and become fixated on things of the flesh rather than the tasks God has for us. God pulls and pulls on us to go where He’s trying to lead, He will do whatever it takes to get our attention (just ask Jonah). You’re probably not in danger of being swallowed by a fish, but thankfully God will use people and things to guide us back to our purpose. Take it from me as someone who’s had their reigns pulled a few times, it’s better to obey and to stay on track. Follow the tugging of the Holy Spirit today and go where He leads.
If you have social media, you’ve probably noticed a couple of different types of people. One airs all their laundry on there for the whole world to see. Another type uses the platform to boast about the bad things they’ve done as if they were a badge of honor. Yet another doesn’t put any of that out there, but you hear the gossip about their life in other ways. I have a confession to make. I tend to judge these people in my heart (and sometimes out loud) based on their behavior. I forget that these things are a result of their brokenness and need for healing, and I steer clear of them or block their posts. I initially don’t see them as a cry for help or grace, and I have to be reminded of that fact often. Hopefully you don’t suffer from this as well.
When I read the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, I can’t help but think how Jesus knew her dirty laundry and still offered her grace. In John 10:4 Jesus said, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water” (GNT). He didn’t make fun of her for having been married five times or shame her because she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Instead He offered her forgiveness and healing through His living waters. She went and brought everyone from her town out to meet Jesus. As they approached, Jesus tells his disciples, “You have a saying, ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ But I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested!”
How many times have you and I looked at the harvest and saw their brokenness as an excuse to withhold grace? We think they’re either too far gone, not ready yet or we don’t feel comfortable sharing with them. We need to remember Jude 1:22-23 when we begin to have these thoughts. It says, “Keep being compassionate to those who still have doubts, and snatch others out of the fire to save them. Be merciful over and over to them, but always couple your mercy with the fear of God. Be extremely careful to keep yourselves free from the pollutions of the flesh” (TPT). What the broken people around us need is the compassion and mercy of Christ. They don’t need our jokes or the names we call them.
Lord, open my eyes to see the brokenness of others and to have compassion. Give me the courage to share your grace with them the way you showed it to the woman at the well. Open my eyes to see the harvest that’s around me today. Use me as an instrument of your grace to save those who are perishing. Forgive me for failing to do this in the past. Amen.
No matter who you are, you’ll need help at some point in your life. You will face things that you can’t do on your own. If you’re like me, you try to do it alone anyway. My pride says, “You don’t need anyone’s help. You got into this by yourself, you can get out of it by yourself.” I try to project strength instead of admitting my weakness. What inevitability happens is that I end up wearing myself out in the process. One time, I collapsed on the floor and cried out to God, “I can’t do this anymore! Help me.” He replied, “Finally.”
God was waiting on me to look to Him for help, but my pride kept me from it. I had to endure a lot more pain than necessary because I wasn’t willing to admit I needed help. Since that time, I’ve learned to look to Him first when I need help. It doesn’t take long to pray, “God, I can’t do this on my own. I need your help.” It does take humility though, but God honors that. He wants to help us with our daily issues.
David learned this lesson as well. After being anointed king, he was constantly in danger and was running for his life. He learned to quit trying to go at it alone, and to go to God. In Psalm 25:15, he wrote, “I look to the Lord for help at all times.” He didn’t just go to God with some things. He went to Him with all his issues, and God came to His rescue. It wasn’t because David was any different that us. It was because David was humble enough to recognize he needed help from God daily.
Whatever you’re facing today, God stands ready to help. He’s waiting for us to trust His all sufficient grace to help us get through life. Don’t wait until you’re mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted before you cry out for help. Let go of your pride, and look to God for help at all times. It’s not a weakness to admit you need help. It takes strength to overcome your pride and admit it. Once you do, you’ll find that God is willing and able to step in and do what needs to be done.
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.
When I was around 16 years old, I had invited a kid I barely knew over to hang out for the day. My parents were gone, but had the foresight to have a family friend stay with us. We were in my room playing video games when his eyes rolled into the back of his head and they came back down looking different. He looked at me and said, “Fight me!” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I knew if we got into an altercation, I wasn’t going to make it. I responded in a whisper that I wouldn’t fight him. He got angry and began repeatedly asking me to fight him. Our family friend sensed something, opened the door, noticed I was upset and got me out of the room. I began praying for about 15 minutes while I was locked in the bathroom. When I came back out, he had changed back to normal.
Spiritual battles present themselves in the physical realm all the time. In 1 Samuel 17, Goliath was dressed for battle and called out to the Israelites to come fight him. They were terrified. How could anyone beat such a man? Saul offered money, his daughter, no taxes and more, but no one was willing to fight Goliath until David came around. He recognized it as a spiritual battle immediately. They tried to dress him up in Saul’s armor, give him a sword and instructions, but David knew better. In verses 45 and 47 David called out to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted…And that this entire assembly may know that the LORD does not save with the sword or with the spear; for the battle is the LORD’S and He will hand you over to us” (AMP). David won the physical battle because he had won the spiritual battle first.
In your life, there may appear to be people who are attacking you, your character, your work, your calling or something else. Understand that it is more than likely a spiritual attack to produce fear, anger or doubt in you. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places.” If you fight a spiritual battle in the physical, you will lose the battle that matters. Spend time in prayer, put on the full armor of God and fight on your knees praying against the spirit that is guiding the other person. The enemy will use whomever he can to immobilize you and to keep you from living the life God created you to live. Stay strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
When I was a child, I went to vacation Bible school with my friend. On one day, the pastor came in and asked, “Can we change God’s mind?” In my eight year old mind, I had already figured God out, so I raised my hand. When he called on me, I gave an emphatic. “No!” He then asked me, “Then why do we pray for people and situations?” I didn’t have an answer. “Maybe we can change the mind of God,” I thought. That conversation changed how I viewed God and how I pray.
In Exodus 32, Moses went up Mount Sinai to get instructions from the Lord. He was gone 40 days, and the people began to wonder if he was coming back. They decided to create their own god out of gold from their earrings and other jewelry. They built a golden calf, then built an altar and worshiped it. God became angry and told Moses what was happening. He then told Moses that he was just going to destroy them all and start over. He was through with these stubborn people.
Moses quickly came to their defense. He reminded God of all the things He did to bring them out of Egypt. He didn’t want the Egyptians to take credit for their deaths. He then reminded God of the covenants He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then in verse 14, the Bible says, “So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people” (NLT). There it is! Right in the Bible in black and white. Moses changed God’s mind.
Whatever you’re facing today, your prayers can make a difference. They can change your situation and even the mind of God about what’s happening. Your prayers matter to God and He’s listening to them. Moses reminded God of the promises He made, and we can too. Don’t be afraid to ask God to change His mind. Who knows what He will do? What we do know is that prayer changes things, including God’s mind.
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.
I remember as a kid when someone would ask, “Do you promise?” I’d quickly give them a “Yeah.” Then, if they asked, “Do you pinkie promise,” I’d have to think carefully before answering that one. It was like I could promise something and possibly go back on my word and everything would be ok. However, if I went back on a pinkie promise, I’d never get their trust again. I guess it was around that time that I learned the importance of trust and keeping your word. I’ve carried that into adulthood. When I talk with someone who is new to a leadership role, I explain the importance of keeping your word. Without trust, you can never lead anyone. Think about it. Name any leader in your life that you will follow anywhere, and think of how much you trust them. The more you trust them, the farther you will follow them.
Abraham was a person who trusted God enough to leave his family to go to a land that God would show him. He trusted God when he was told he would have a son at 100 years old. He kept on trusting God when He told him that through that son, he would become the father of many nations. I think the greatest trust was shown when God hawked him to sacrifice that son. I love in Genesis 22:5 where he tells the servants, “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back” (NLT). Abraham trusted God’s promise enough that even if he sacrificed His Son of Promise, God was able to raise Him up and fulfill it. He knew that no matter what happened on that mountain, they were both coming back.
Romans 4:20 says, “He (Abraham) was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.” Are you fully convinced that God is able to do what He promises? Remember earlier, I said that you can only follow someone as much as you trust them. That applies to your relationship with God as well. Are you trusting in what your situation looks like right now or in God’s promise? God is able to revive dead dreams, irreparable relationships and impossible situations if it means keeping His promise. Number 23:19 says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” You and I can trust what God says implicitly. When we do, we can go farther than we’ve ever gone and live the life we were created to live.
2020 was a crazy year. Pretty much everyone’s plan for the year was shot deadline by Covid-19. Everyone was affected by it in some manner. Some experienced loss of income, some loss of home, some loss of family members and some loss of relationships. In times when we’ve needed to be around others for their support and encouragement, we’ve had to face the hardships alone. Churches, businesses, restaurants and places where we gather with others we’re all shut down. Gallup did a poll in November, like they do every year, on mental health. Almost every demographic showed people’s mental health ratings go down and the total population reached a new low. However, people who attended church regularly, were an outlier. They did not show decline in mental health.
Churches had to get creative in providing ways for us to gather this year because of all the requirements and guidelines. On one of the first few weeks of the shut down, almost every church used Facebook Live to air their services. I remember it overwhelmed their system and they couldn’t handle the amount of videos. Small groups began to use Zoom in order to meet. For Easter, families were encouraged to dress up and join live streaming services in their homes with families. Just like the Early Church, people began to gather in homes instead of buildings. The Church in essence went back to its roots this year and provided connection for people when everything else in their lives was disconnected. Pastors understood the importance of finding ways for people to meet safely, whether virtually or in person, because we were created for connection and relationship.
I heard Hebrews 10:25 quoted several times this year. It says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (NLT). Whether you assemble virtually or in person, you need to be getting together with other people and encouraging each other. Clearly this has been a mentally tough year on people. God’s design for you to be connected to a body of believers was built to withstand Covid-19. He provided a vehicle in the Church for believers to meet and stay connected throughout the centuries. It has survived persecution, pandemics and people who have tried to stop it. If you are one of the ones who feel like your mental health has declined this year, let me encourage you to get connected to a church and attend regularly. You will find hope and people who will love you and encourage you.
If you ever see my son, most of the time it feels like he’s wearing high water pants. No matter what we do, we just can’t seem to keep pants that fit him. He’s constantly growing and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We always joke with him about it asking him if he can stop it or grow younger instead. Even as a child he knows that you can’t stop growth and that it happens naturally. It’s the same thing in the animal kingdom, with plants and most living things. They naturally grow and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. God designed physical growth to be natural, but he made other types of growth to require effort in order to create it. If you want to grow your knowledge, you need to apply effort in education. If you want to grow your muscles, you need to apply effort in working out. There are many things like this in life including your spiritual growth.
One of the main concerns of the writers of the New Testament was our spiritual growth. It’s not the type of growth that occurs naturally like physical growth. It’s like the others where it requires effort and discipline on our part. They wanted us to know that there’s more to Christianity than just accepting Jesus as our savior. That’s the beginning of a lifetime of growth. Sadly, for many Christians, the stop there or just past that point in their growth. They fail to adopt spiritual disciplines that will help them grow closer to Christ and to become more like Him in their life. The writer of Hebrews, Peter and Paul all addressed Christians to encourage them to move from milk to meat and to go from infants to mature believers (Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Peter addresses is again in 2 Peter 3:18. He wrote, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growing into mature believers is our goal, but it requires that we do more than go to church once a week. It requires reading the Bible, doing Bible studies, spending time in prayer, reflecting on Scripture, sharing our faith and applying what we’ve learned. If we do these things, we will grow in God’s grace and in our intimacy with Him. The point of sending His Son to save us was the restore the relationship between us. Growth in relationships don’t occur naturally. It requires that we spend time getting to know the other person. The more our relationship grows with someone, the more we adopt parts of their personality into our life. The same is true when we grow our relationship with God. We become more like Him and that’s His desire for each of us.