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Surrendering Anxiety

Did you know that just being afraid of something is not considered a phobia? The fear must altar your behavior in some way to be considered a phobia. The same is true of anxiety. Many times we may be anxious, but when it causes us to change what we’re doing, we are considered to have anxiety. It shows up in different ways. Many times, we try to altar the situation ourselves, but that can make things worse. We don’t make the best decision when we are worried. I know that for me, it causes me to run through scenarios trying to find the right way to fix it. I lose sleep and can’t concentrate on things throughout my day. In turn, it affects every area of my life until I’m so desperate that I force the issue.

You’ve no doubt heard the Psalm that tells us to be still and know that He is God. What you may not know is that the Hebrew words for be still mean to let hang down; to be relaxed, especially the hands. It can also mean to not make an effort or exertion. Meaning take your hands off the situation and let God handle it. The Passion Translation takes that into account and writes that verse this way, “Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). So many times anxiety has altered our minds to the point that we lose sight of God in our situation. God wants to remind us that He sees us, and knows what we’re going through.

It’s tough to take our hands off the situation. It’s better to ask God for wisdom in how to handle it though. Ask God to give you peace in your mind and clarity of thought as well. Surrender your anxiety to Him, recognize He is in control and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our behavior change in a situation should not be out of anxiety, but rather out of thoughtful prayer after we’ve handed it over to God. If you want to see God in what’s going on, be still, put your hands down and relax. Breathe. Pray. Listen. Begin to thank God for all He’s done, and all He’s going to do. Your life is in His hands and He is in charge of the outcome. Trust that He will do what’s best and grow you through it. God is at work and it’s for your good.

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Being Around God

Have you ever been around someone and thought you knew what they were like? You could have been around them for years, but then you got to know them and found out they were different than you thought. I had a guy at church approach me like that years ago. I had greeted him, been in conversations in a group of people he was a part of and even spoke to him a few times. Then one year I helped take the youth to camp and his teenage daughter was on the trip. He came up to me a week or two later and said, “My daughter says you’re the funniest person she’s met. I don’t get it. I’ve never seen you be funny.” I replied, “You haven’t gotten to know me. You’ve only been around me in certain circumstances.”

I’m afraid that’s how many of us are with God. We’ve been around Him at church. Maybe we’ve felt like He’s spoken to us before, or we’ve been in prayer meetings where everyone is talking to Him. When someone talks about who God is, it may not line up with who you thought He was. It’s hard to reconcile that, but it could be that you’ve just been around God, but have never truly gotten to know Him. You may even be able to tell me facts about Him because you were raised in Sunday School and have attended church your whole life, but if you don’t know Him, you’re missing the point of what He wants.

In Hosea 6:6, God says, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (NLT). God is more interested in having a relationship with you rather than you doing all the religious rituals. The way to get to know Him is to be quiet in your prayer time and listen to Him rather than speaking. Another way is to read your Bible with the intent of God speaking something to you through it rather than trying to read a certain amount for the day. Just like any relationship, it takes time to build and it requires you to listen and ask questions. As you get to know God, you might find He’s not like what you’ve imagined He’s like. His desire is for you to know Him. Ask Him today to reveal Himself to you, to speak to you and to take you into a deeper relationship with Him.

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A Change Of Heart

My pastor said something that really resonated with me. He said, “In the history of the world, church has never been done better than it is today, yet never have we had such little impact on our culture.” It has me thinking, “Are we focused on the right things corporately and individually?” What are we concerned with? Is the music too loud? Is there too much fog in the sanctuary? Is it too cold? Are we concerned more with our entertainment than reaching the lost? Are we too focused on our comfort and not enough on the lost? Do we spend our time talking about God rather than to Him? I don’t know, but I know that if our ability to impact the culture around us is going to improve, it has to start with us as individuals.

After Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh, he went outside of the city, sat down and waited to see what would happen. Even though he had obeyed God, in his heart, he still wished that God would destroy the city. To expose his heart, God caused a plant to grow up and provide him with shade. The next day, the Lord sent a worm to eat the plant. Jonah was mad enough to want to die over it. God responded in Jonah 4:10-11, “This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn’t do anything for it and you didn’t make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!” (GNT)

God is concerned with people and their salvation. Scripture says that it’s His kindness that draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We need to pray what Bob Pierce prayed, “God, break our heart for the things that break yours.” Jonah was more concerned for his comfort than 120,000 people dying. That’s a recipe for not having an impact on culture. God was able to move then, and He’s able to move now despite our heart. It’s much better though when our heart is aligned with His. I wonder if the story of Jonah ends abruptly right there so we don’t miss that point. As Jonah pointed out in verse 2, God is loving and merciful, always patient and kind, ready to change His mind and not punish people. Shouldn’t we be the same way?

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Power In Praise

There’s a worship song out that says, “This is how I fight my battles. It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.” I love that song because it’s a great reminder of the power of praise. It also reminds me of a time when I was in high school and I came under a spiritual attack that presented itself in a very physical way. A guy I knew attacked me in my home. One of my parent’s friends was there at the house and walked in at just the right moment. She told me to go collect myself. I went to the bathroom and began to praise because I recognized what was happening. When I came out, I was ready for battle, but God had already delivered me from the situation.

The story was similar in 2 Chronicles 20. A massive army came out against Israel. They prayed and fasted Seeking God’s help. They still had to go to battle, but they understood that the battle belonged to the Lord. On the way, the king consulted the people and they decided to send singers out in front of the army who were worshiping God. Verse 22 says that the moment they began to praise, the other army started fight among themselves and killed each other until no one was left. It took Israel 3 full days to gather the plunder left behind by the army. The Israelites were so grateful to God for the victory, they named the place “The Valley of Blessing”.

Verse 26 says, “On the fourth day they gathered in the Valley of Blessing, which got its name that day because the people praised and thanked the Lord there. It is still called the Valley of Blessing today” (NLT). If you’re in a valley facing defeat, spend time praising God. Not only does it invite His presence into your situation, it gets your focus on Him rather than your problem. Praise is a powerful weapon that we must learn to use in our darkest moments. People all throughout the Bible used it (Joshua at Jericho, Paul and Silas in prison, etc), we should be too. You may not feel like praising God in your current situation, but that’s precisely when you need to. There’s power in praise.

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Fighting God’s Battles

We all get into situations where we don’t know what to do. There are also times when we’re in over our heads and fighting battles we can’t win on our own. Should we turn and run? Should we seek counsel? Should we just give up? Should we stay and fight? Just because you’re in one of these situations, it doesn’t mean you’re out of God’s will. So many times our thought process is that when things are going wrong that somehow we are out of God’s will or we’ve done something wrong. While that can be true sometimes, the truth is that if you’re in God’s will, you’re going to be tested, fought against and opposed. God’s desire for each of us is to trust in and rely on Him more than we do. Often the way to a deeper faith is through situations where we can’t do it on our own.

King Jehoshaphat of israel loved God and was instrumental in turning the nation back to Him. He tore down idols, trained the people in God’s Word, returned priests to their roles and sought God. It was during this time that armies from three countries united against him. He was terrified by the size of the army, but instead of being paralyzed, He sought God through fasting and prayer. He then encouraged others to fast and pray with him. In 2 Chronicles 20:12, he finished his prayer with, “We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help” (NLT). This is the key. So many others, ourselves included, do everything we can first, then we seek God for help. When we seek God first (and His Kingdom), then we will receive wisdom, favor, help and victory.

God responded to King Jehoshaphat the way He responds to us. In verse He said, “Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” I have to wonder how many times we try to fight God’s battles thinking they’re our own. When we seek God, and wait for His reply, we’ll know which are His and which are ours. In both cases, God expects us to dress for battle and show up to the fight. Sometimes He delivers victory while we watch, and other times He asks us to fight and He supernaturally gives us the victory. Whatever insurmountable thing you’re facing today is no match for God. Seek Him through fasting and prayer. Ask Him what to do, then listen for His voice. Sometimes He’ll speak through His Word, sometimes through others and sometimes through His still, small voice. No matter how pressing the situation is, there’s always time to seek God first for wisdom.

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Getting God’s Attention

From my earliest childhood, I remember hearing the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel from I Kings 18. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Elijah was the sole prophet of God in the land, and the people were following false gods. He called out the prophets of Baal and challenged them to a public duel on top of the mountain. They each prepared a sacrifice and would pray to their god to see whose was real. The god who was real would answer by fire and burn the sacrifice up. As the prophets of Baal tried for hours to get their god’s attention, Elijah mocked them.

I always thought very poorly of those prophets and even laughed at the way Elijah mocked them. But now I wonder if we are any different than they were. We may serve the God who won that duel, but we have resorted to their tactics to get His attention. We seem to believe that there is something you and I can do to earn His favor or to get an answer to prayer. We pray loudly, we stomp, we circle, we make promises and even put ourselves in danger to test God to get Him to answer. But God isn’t looking for that from us.

What He’s looking for is found in verse 37 in Elijah’s prayer. He said, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God, and that you are bringing them back to yourself” (GNB). The prayers God responds to are ones that bring Him glory and allow Him to do the work. Religion is all about working to get a god’s attention and favor to do something for us, but Christianity is about letting God draw us to Him. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He does. He hears each one of our prayers according to 1 John 5:14, and He sees our intentions. You don’t have to do anything crazy to get His attention. He loves you and is constantly drawing you closer to Him.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing 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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The Place Of Provision

I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Elijah in I Kings 17. After he prophesied there would be a drought, God said, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve commanded the ravens to feed you.” It wasn’t long though before the brook dried up because of the drought. Then God told him to go to a certain city and live there. He told him that he had instructed a widow woman to feed him.

My question has always been, “Why did God allow the brook to dry up?” After all, he went to the place of God’s provision. Why did he have to leave that place? He was where he was supposed to be. Then I looked at the story from the other side. Think about the widow. She knew she was about to run out of flour and oil. She knew there was nothing more she could do. She knew that when her flour ran out, she and her son would die. Knowing that, I can imagine her calling out to God in desperation for help. I can hear her crying each night wondering when God would answer her prayers.

Then, one day, God speaks to her. He said, “I’m going to send a prophet to you. Prepare him a meal and you will get your answer.” As each day passed, she looked for the prophet. Each day that passed without his arrival the flour and oil went down. Finally she was down to her last bit of flour and oil. Death was around the corner. She had quit looking for the prophet and was looking for sticks to burn in order to prepare her last meal. As she was scouring the ground for firewood, a voice came from behind her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug?” She barely looked up and nodded. As she headed to the well, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”

I’m sure her eyes lit up and she whipped around. “Could this be the prophet,” she thought. Only one way to find out. “I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die,” she said. Any stranger would have let her eat her last meal, but the prophet would still ask for it. She had to make sure so she could be obedient if it was him. Elijah told her not to worry. He said, “Make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go and make a meal from what’s left.” The oil and flour didn’t empty until the drought was over.

We rarely know why God moves us from a place of provision or causes the brook of blessings to dry up. In this case, I believe it was to answer the widow’s prayer. God needed Elijah to move so he cut off his source. For the widow, she had to wait until she was down to her last meal. She was then asked to give it up in order to be blessed. Both had to trust God. Both had to be obedient or both would have died. God asked both to give up what they had for the other. What has God asked you to give up? It may be all you have, but it will be the gateway to miracles. Where is God trying to move you to? You may not understand now, but your obedience will lead you to another place of provision. Obedience is always required before the blessing.

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