Seeing Beyond Circumstances

There is an appointed time for every thing. Ecclesiastes 3:1 begins by stating that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Oftentimes, we think of seasons only in terms of positive times of health, peace, and prosperity. In truth, seasons can be positive or negative, but are often an ongoing combination of both. Difficult or unexpected challenges demand our energy, attention, and resources, making it difficult to focus on anything else. If we examine carefully enough, we can still identity blessings even in the midst of the most disheartening circumstances.

When facing challenging seasons, it is important to think of your difficult situation as temporary yet rich. Even when the challenge translates to continuing your life in a different way, such as major health crisis or the loss of a loved one, the event may be permanent or have longstanding repercussions, but your perspective and attitude about the ordeal can gradually change. Challenging seasons are temporary because they are designed to strengthen and mature us, to provide an opportunity to strengthen our faith. Every aspect of our identity intensifies when we we are crisis.

The Lord allows us to endure challenging seasons so that we can experience Him at work and He can be glorified through our lives. In the midst of challenges, many people around you are watching to see whether your previous declarations of faith withstand your current situation. Will you still declare God’s goodness or do you lash out, and distance yourself, as if you are punishing The One who holds all power in His hands? James 1:2-4 reminds us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Building our faith involves cultivating a vision that allows us to see beyond our current challenges. Hebrews 11:1-2 tells us  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” It is easy to praise and glorify God based on what we see, but how often do we declare God’s goodness based on what we do not yet see, feel, hear, touch, or experience? We must speak life over ourselves in every situation. Speaking life helps us to fully internalize the truths that God is working everything together for our good, that we are His masterpiece and the apple of His eye, that the Lord loves us from everlasting to everlasting and will never leave nor forsake us. Speaking life and shifting our focus from our circumstances to our Creator makes it easier to see beyond whatever challenge we currently face. Our heavenly Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Those gifts go beyond surface appearances to address our deepest and most intimate needs for hope, love, joy, healing, deliverance and peace. If you feel uncertain of God’s love and intentions towards you, ask Him to open the eyes of your heart so that you can fully receive His love and every blessing He has designated to lift and carry you through your challenging season. 

 

Moving Forward

I observed an important lesson as I walked into church one brisk fall morning. A lady and her young daughter were walking into church ahead of me. The little girl was crying and screaming. She didn’t want to wear her hood, despite the chilly wind. She cried as she walked. The mother encouraged her daughter telling her things like it wasn’t much further, she was doing well, and that they were just around the corner. When the mother said “Look! I see the door!”, the little girl stopped crying altogether as they entered the building.

I admire both the little girl and her mother. The mother encouraged the child and stayed next to her, holding her hand the entire time. The little girl wailed and cried but never stopped walking.

In our journey of faith, we must learn to walk with the Lord, just as the daughter walked with her mother. Just as the little girl trudged forward through the freezing wind, even as distressing winds blow, we too must be determined to move forward. Despite our pain, despite feeling distracted, uncomfortable or unhappy, we must continue to hold the hand of and look to the one who can see far beyond our current place. Proverbs 3:5-6 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Life presents its share of surprises, but nothing takes God by surprise. Psalm 139:16 says Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Through every difficulty, we must continue to trust God. It is our heavenly Father, the giver of every good and perfect gift, who equips us to move forward. Deuteronomy 31:8 reminds us that The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The next time you feel that you cannot go another step, think of that little girl. If you don’t feel you have enough faith, strength, or courage to move forward, pray and ask God to provide what you need.

What are you wearing?

Our clothing decisions are the hallmark of many special occasions. On a global scale, fashion is nearly a trillion dollar industry. Clothing is a daily decision of personal expression. Our self worth is often reflected in the way that we dress. In addition, societal norms also influence how we choose to clothe and adorn ourselves.

Although it is important to consider our outer garments and how we represent ourselves as we navigate the world around us, we must guard against becoming overly fixated on our outward clothing. Matthew 6:25 says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Our spiritual attire is far more important. We must prayerfully consider which characteristics fashion us above any physical garment we might wear. When we attempt to navigate the world without wearing the spiritual armor that the Lord issued to us when we joined His victorious army, we are naked and vulnerable, no matter how impressive we look on the outside. When challenges confront us – what are we wearing? Do we wrap ourselves in anxiety and depression like a shawl? Are we short-sited, wearing rebellion or rebellion like a jacket, daring anyone to approach us? Do we accessorize our biases with gossip and envy? Are we taking every step with guilt, regret and shame as our primary footwear? Stop right now and take that ugly stuff off. If you can’t bear to part with some of those familiar garments – ask God to help you shed them.

The world is rough. In part, John 16:33 tells us “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Just a few minutes of any daily newscast provides an extensive list of reasons why we must spiritually suit up and prepare for each day wearing our full armor. Details about the entire ensemble are available in Ephesians 6:12-17: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

As familiar as they are, the Lord wants us to trade in our old rags for the beautiful outfits He has custom made just for us. Isaiah 61:3 says “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

Peace in the Midst of Storms

Life is never all good nor all bad. It’s an ongoing combination of both. If you think about it, you could find something wrong with every good event. Likewise, you can find something positive even during bad events. In every situation, we make a choice about our area of focus. Life situations can take us by surprise and disrupt our sense of peace, security, confidence, (and if we are honest) control.

The Holy Bible includes many mentions of storms. Just like recent weather reports, the storms of life are unpredictable, forceful, and potentially dangerous. Oftentimes, the threat of so many unknown factors can fuel fear, amplify anxiety, and distract us as we try to chart a course of action to survive the storm. In the midst of life’s storms, we can erroneously assume that the Lord has turned His back and distanced himself from us. This is far from the truth. God is not like man. He will never leave nor forsake us. Hebrews 13:5 says “Don’t fall in love with money. Be satisfied with what you have. The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us.” As difficult as they are, storms can be ultimately beneficial. Consider these silver lining benefits that can occur. During a storm, God:

  1. Has your attention – when life is going smoothly, we can become complacent and fixated on ourselves instead of seeking God’s will. We are not blessed for self-glorification, but to be a blessing to others. Proverbs 11:24-25 says “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” 
  2. Makes you prioritize – a sense of loss often accompanies storms. But, sometimes a physical loss is a spiritual gain. We can rejoice as we develop a stronger sense of awareness and gratitude about the way God provides for our essential needs – the physical and as well as the spiritual. Luke 12:29-31 says And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
  3. Allows you to recalibrate – the aftermath of life storms, can serve as a vehicle for a new beginning. The Lord can renew a right spirit within us and give us opportunities for a fresh start. Deuteronomy 30:3-4 says then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.”

Each storm you face is designed to mature you, not ruin you. In the midst of every storm, the Lord is faithful. He is omnipresent. We need only trust in Him and operate with faith-filled anticipation about Him bringing us out of the storm with a renewed since of faith, hope, joy, and peace. Philippians 4:7 says “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Storms allow us to view situations with new eyes where we can see God directly intervening on our behalf.

Psalm 107:28-31 says Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

 

Trusting in God’s Timing

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins with “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” We often have a plan, our own mental movie starring us and others who figure prominently in our lives. In our movie, we write scenes and timelines, develop our plans, and are deeply disappointed when delays occur. Waiting on God is a bold, spiritually mature, and worthy endeavor. Waiting on God is excellent in theory, but far more difficult in practice. Psalm 27:14 advises that we “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Instead of deferring to God’s divine timeline through His all-seeing and all-knowing filter of wisdom, we want what we want, when we want it. When situations do not occur according to our timeline, it seems that we are more likely to question God instead of ourselves. Although Proverbs 3:5 tell us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not into your own understanding.” We are often guilty of viewing the world through our needs and desires instead of seeking God’s will for our lives. God is not interested in torturing nor discouraging us. He wants us to live a life of abundance. John 10:10 says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” God also wants to bless us with wonderful gifts. In fact, He wants to give us the desires of our heart. James 1:17 says Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Psalm 37:4-5 tells us to “4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. 5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” When the Bible speaks of God’s benefits, it is preceded with instruction. All too often, we focus on the benefit, such as receiving the desires of our hearts, because it aligns with our will instead of the instruction based on God’s will.

The key to trusting in God’s timing is to focus on our relationship with God and obedience to His will, instead of a specific result or timeframe according to our will. To trust God is to glorify God. Our Heavenly Father wants to us to cultivate a relationship and build an atmosphere of trust with Him. As we seek His face and His will, God also wants to guide us toward being who He designed us to be, and to bless His kingdom in specific ways. The key to trusting in God’s timing lies in our relationship with Him. The ability to patiently wait on the Lord is a byproduct of a deeper level of trust with our Creator.  It means releasing our pre-conceived notions and plans to defer to God’s plan which is far greater and ultimately more beneficial. Isaiah 40:31 reminds us “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Praying God’s Will

We have an innate desire to be in control. We often blame God when things go wrong without praising God when things go well. Drastic, painful, and unexpected situations are often met with platitudes about a situation being in God’s will. Is it God’s will that so much suffering, violence, and mayhem occur in this world? Does watching the nightly news reveal more about man’s will or God’s will?

I believe the root of this issue is that we toss around the “God’s will” phrase as if there is only one kind. There are two components within God’s will – directive and permissive. Our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God uses this combination of wills to accomplish His divine purpose for our lives. Through Jeremiah 29:11 God tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God’s directive will is divine, perfect, and unchangeable.

Permissive will is what God allows. God’s permissive will often involves testing us so that we may grow. The Lord tests. The enemy tempts. The enemy has no new tricks. Although the Lord allows temptation to occur, He also provides a means to escape. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13

In the acclaimed devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers, explains “it is our reaction to these things allowed by His permissive will that enables us to come to the point of seeing His perfect will for us.” Through Romans 12:2, God reminds us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I once heard a preacher share a story of a father who planned to give his son a bicycle for his birthday. Over several months, the father planted seeds of suggestion by occasionally mentioning bicycles to his son. The son heard his father’s suggestions and began to earnestly want a bicycle. When his birthday arrived, the son was delighted to receive exactly what he wanted. And so it is with our need to align with God’s will.

Each time we pray, we make a choice to pray God’s will or our own. Wikipedia defines will as “the strongest desire from among the desires present.” Our prayer life often reflects our faith journey. The risk in praying our will is that it is short-sighted and often temperamental, based on our emotions at that time. By contrast, praying God’s will is an act of faith because it goes beyond our understanding of immediate situations. We cultivate faith by acknowledging our trust and desire for God to resolve every issue according to His divine plan. If you find yourself struggling to pray God’s will, begin by praying for a willingness to obey God’s will. As you progress in your spiritual journey, you will begin to desire the things of God. The chasm between your will and God’s will narrows until it is one and the same.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, though Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”-Hebrews 13:20-21

Your Prayer Door

Doors are mentioned throughout the Bible. The sixth chapter of Genesis references the doors of Noah’s Ark. In the twelfth chapter of Exodus, lamb’s blood was used to mark the door frames and spare God’s people. The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy encourages us to abide by God’s commandments, writing them on the frames of our doors and gates to help us remember. Even the book of Revelation asserts that God stands and knocks at the doors of our hearts, seeking entry.

What are doors, really? Literally and figuratively speaking, doors are barriers – they are intended to be protective entrances.  Doors are designed to provide a measure of controlled entry. If any and everything could come through a door, then the door itself would serve no purpose.

If your prayer life were represented by a door, which type of door would it be? For some of us, prayer is a revolving door. We go before the Lord with confessions and requests. However, the moment the prayer ends,  we recover every burden we just dropped at the Lord’s feet and take it back into the world with us. The Lord wants shoulder our burdens, but we must do so willingly. Releasing our burdens to God Almighty is one of the best practices we can ever learn. Giving burdens to God liberates us, allowing us to focus on His will – His assignments for us instead of being preoccupied and weighed down by the issues and concerns of this world. Matthew 11:28-30 says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

For others of us, prayer is a swinging door. We make our requests known to God, but then go back and forth between doubting and believing. James 1:6-8 warns against this mindset, stating But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” 

Then, there are those with renovated hearts who consistently trust in the sovereign and absolute power of God. They have demolished the old revolving or swinging door, and spiritually installed a solid, stable entry door. The new door is magnificent! It does not spin, swing, nor go in circles. It is the door to our hearts that we wisely and willingly open to invite God’s power to manifest in our lives. The clear panes in this door allow us to look out into the world, yet be in a safe place, knowing that God is in control and working out all things for our good. Jeremiah 17:7-9 describes it this way: But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” When we open this strong and beautiful door, joy and love go out as faith, hope, and peace enter in. Worry, anxiety, fear, and bitterness are perplexed because they cannot gain access and rush in the way that they used to.

Are you ready for your prayer door makeover? The good news is that it’s yours for the asking!