Unnecessary Roughness

Our increasingly abrasive society seems fascinated with demonstrations of power. Media reflects the many ways that we equate power with strength. Whether it’s a game show, reality show, or infomercial, we are constantly bombarded with the message that being strong means being extremely opinionated and self-serving, seeking to “win” at any cost.

This pervasive worldly view is the exact opposite of the teachings of Christ. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” As disciples, or followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to gentleness. Modern society equates gentleness with weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being gentle requires supernatural strength beyond our human capability. Gentleness is a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Gentle behavior requires a great deal of awareness because first, you need to know your own flaws and limitations. Second, being gentle means that despite those personal shortcomings you resist the urge to wrongfully take out your aggravations on others. James 3:17 says “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Our news headlines are brimming with non-examples of gentle behavior. Oftentimes, people commit cruel and insensitive acts, then dismiss the pain they’ve caused, excusing themselves with the simple explanation: It’s just the way I am. True enough, that IS the default behavior and the way that we are in our flesh. Yet the fruit of the Spirit means putting aside our self-centered ways for a more excellent, God-centered way.
1 Corinthians 12:31 says Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”

Fortunately, we are blessed with opportunities each day to draw upon God’s strength and respond with gentleness rather than callousness. It is my sincere prayer that when the next opportunity presents itself, we will respond with gentleness – one of the many spiritual weapons available through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

A Spiritual Legacy

Last week I prophetically declared that The Struggle is Over, because of a particularly intense prayer experience and the breakthrough I sensed in the spirit realm. The rest of the week was a wonderful manifestation of several changes I was trusting God to deliver.  As is often the case with this blog, God uses my personal experiences to highlight spiritual lessons about prayer. Better than any mailman, our faithful and sovereign God delivered on a number of urgent prayer petitions. I spent much of last week astounded and overwhelmed, reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness as prayers were answered in ways far greater than I ever imagined.

In the midst of my rejoicing, one song in particular resonated in my heart “We’ve Come This Far by Faith“. At family reunions on my mother’s side, that song is THE family song. I do not even know when I first heard that song, it is so ingrained into my psyche. Although this song has been interwoven into our reunion activities as long as I could remember, prompting a smile each time I heard it elsewhere, it wasn’t until it sprang up in my heart this week that I realized “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” is, in fact, part of my personal spiritual legacy.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  I am quite grateful for the wonderful, mysterious, and inspiring lessons I’ve learned from a rich community of faith throughout my life that includes my biological family and others who treat me as family – fellow church members, neighbors, friends, classmates, and coworkers. It was during an especially anxiety-ridden time in college that I first read what I now consider my “sanity scripture” James 1:2-4 which says 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.” My paternal grandmother endowed me with the Prayer of Serenity aspect of my spiritual legacy. She used to print that prayer on slips of paper and boldly give them to people as she went about her daily routine.

Spiritual maturation is simply the transition from being self-centered to Christ-centered, motivated by a fascination and desire for godly wisdom, understanding that as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:58 that it is only what we do for Christ that will last.  It is my sincere hope and prayer that you will reflect on your own spiritual pillars – which scriptures and songs anchor your spiritual journey? When life blindsides you, which fundamental truths empower you with hope and remind you that better days are coming? Does your lifestyle include prayer, praise, worship, and serving others as a priority or prerogative? Are you cultivating and sharing a spiritual legacy to inspire and fortify the generations that will follow you?

If you’ve never thought about it, or haven’t thought about it in a while, I encourage you to think back and look forward, asking God to reveal or remind you of your spiritual legacy – a gift that blesses you as well as future generations.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” 
-Deuteronomy 30:15-16

Plan “Be”

I was anticipating a fun-filled weekend when suddenly it happened – an unexpected knee injury sidelined me for three days. Disgusted, I reshuffled priorities, bowed out of commitments, canceled appointments, and prayed for healing even as I practiced the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method in hopes of accelerating my recovery.

Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse, I received a disturbing phone call where I learned that a friend of a friend had taken her own life. I was jolted out of my self-pity party and plunged into a different type of despair.

I think many of us have had moments where life felt so burdensome that escaping temporary troubles with a permanent solution seemed like a feasible option. We considered giving up and surrendering to defeat. Our highest hopes, best-laid plans, or greatest expectations went into a sudden downward spiral, wrecking our hearts, troubling our minds, and shattering our dreams in the process. In other words, our Plan A was ruined.

Fortunately for us, Plan A is not the only one that exists. In His sovereign wisdom and everlasting love, the Lord allows our self-designed plans to fail so that we can grow and He can be glorified. Let’s face it: Our Plan As seem grand to us, but may be limited compared to God’s plans.  Also, if our Plan As always succeeded, then we would glorify and praise ourselves instead of the Lord. Only God can step in and take us far beyond our subconscious, self-imposed limitations. When situations don’t initially work out in our favor, rather than falling into a pattern of distancing ourselves from God, we must operate according to the Holy Spirit. It may feel counterintuitive to our human nature, but we must seek God as never before. Only by spending time and aligning with Him can we prepare for the next phase of our journey. Our eternal Father invites us to consider His alternative Plan “Be”, one that is ultimately more beneficial than anything we could imagine. When you are frustrated by your Plan A, pray and ask God to reveal His Plan “Be” which reminds you to [BEs capitalized for emphasis]:

“He says, “BE still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” -Psalm 46:10

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will BE given to you as well.” -Matthew 6:33

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to BE still.” – Exodus 14:14

“But as for you, BE strong and do not give up, for your work will BE rewarded.”
-2 Chronicles 15:7

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts BE troubled and do not BE afraid.” -John 14:27

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not BE dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“BE on your guard; stand firm in the faith; BE courageous; BE strong.” -1 Corinthians 16:13

When your Plan A fails, rejoice because God’s Plan “Be” is springing into action!

IMPORTANT: If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, know that I am praying for you! Please click here to connect with local crisis resources for your country.

How Big is Your Praise?

As I left a lovely worship service with echoes of “Ride on King Jesus” still stirring in my heart, I went to get a palm branch – a tangible reminder of the victory we have in Jesus – when I was thunderstruck. The palm branches were so large that they were not in buckets but in large barrels! Delighted, I took a palm branch that was nearly as long as I am tall. This plant set my spiritual imagination on fire as I imagined Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem with people waving these huge palm branches and laying them down on the road as he humbly entered the city. It was a far cry from my original vision where palms were the size of a small hand fan.

As I rode along with the edges of the palm leaves blowing behind me, I began to think about the importance of praise and thanksgiving. Earlier this week, I received a thought-provoking text which asked: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you had thanked God for today?” That convicted my heart. We take so much for granted every day. We tend to focus on what’s next or what we don’t have, instead of acknowledging God’s faithfulness which constantly blesses us in so many ways.

Praise and thanksgiving are essential parts of a rich prayer life. Praise gets God’s attention. It shifts focus from us to our Creator. He is the one who can make things happen. John 15:5 says “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is interesting that we can holler, cheer, and cry during a performance or sporting event but praise for our Creator often arrives in hushed and reserved tones. Psalm 100:4 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  Everyone likes to be appreciated. Hasn’t a compliment lifted your mood? When your sacrifice is acknowledged, doesn’t it make the sacrifice feel worthwhile? How much more is it with the Master of the Universe? When The One who knows us intimately knows that we appreciate and acknowledge what He does, it gets his attention ahead of submitting our petitions.

I believe just like palm branches of yesteryear, my praise used to relatively small and somewhat mechanical. However, as God brings us through difficult trials, our faith grows. As our faith grows, our praise grows. As our praise grows, our thanksgiving grows. We more readily reflect on situations where He has stepped in to correct, deliver, help, heal, comfort, provide for, and keep us. We see His favor at work in our lives. We experience joy unspeakable as we come into an awareness of Him moving on our behalf. We learn to watch for God’s leading and have a sense of peace that goes beyond our current circumstance. Our life focus shifts, moving from a self-centered existence to one where our every action become an act of worship as God becomes the center of our joy.

I encourage you to wave your spiritual palm branch, honoring God with your praise, worship, and thanksgiving. I believe that no matter what size your praise may currently be, giving thanks to ALLmighty (that’s not a typo) God helps your praise to grow. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

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.”

Holding Pattern

While an aircraft awaits clearance to land, it typically flies in an oval-shaped flight path over the destination airport. That flight path is known as a holding pattern. Sometimes we find our lives in a holding pattern – a place where God allows us to see our goal or destination but doesn’t provide immediate clearance to arrive. Life’s holding patterns can be frustrating and discouraging. Here are a few considerations to help you fly into your God-given destiny with confidence. Holding patterns:

  1. get our attention – When we are not bombarded with concerns that we normally experience on the ground, we can hear from God more clearly. Proverbs 2:1-5 says “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
  2. are designed to build you up, not break you down – Holding patterns boost your strength, patience, and endurance. Romans 5:3-5 says Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
  3. allow time for removal of dangerous obstacles – the Lord is preparing your destination, divinely arranging and rearranging obstacles that would otherwise hinder or compromise your successful landing. Isaiah 57:14 says “and it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
  4. keep you focused on your destination – the longer your holding pattern, the greater your desire to land safely and arrive at your intended destination. Philippians 3:12-14 says Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

  5. require clearance from The Control Tower – Admitting our inability to land independently is both an admission of our weakness and a confession of God’s strength. John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
  6. give you greater appreciation for your “arrival” – overcoming adversity and cultivating a closer relationship with God during your hold makes your landing far sweeter. In the midst of a holding pattern, God can expose talents and gifts that you didn’t even realize you had. Genesis 50:20 says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
  7. bless you in new and exciting ways – landing victoriously after enduring a difficult holding pattern allows you to experience new dimensions of God’s provision, protection, grace, mercy, and favor. James 1:12 says Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” 

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