Jesus is on the Way

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
~Mark 5:1-5

The Word of God meets everyone right where they are living, and maybe, today, this is where you live.  On a recent read-through of the Gospel of Mark, it stood out to me just how common this man’s circumstances are in this day and age.  The Bible can seem very disconnect from our modern way of living, but everything we could face in this world is right there in black and white.  In the case of this man, it was cutting.  His demonic bondage had him in such agony that all he could do was scream and cry out, day and night, and find ways to try to destroy himself.

I can remember feeling like that…

People had tried what they could to restrain him.  Maybe some of them were family who cared and wanted him back.  Others might just have wanted to give him under control so he would stop scaring people and making a scene.  Either way, they couldn’t control him.  He snapped the ropes and cords, even the chains broke off of him the longer he was under this power.  With no one who could help him, he lived his life in the wilderness and in tombs and graveyards.  If he had lucid moments, maybe he really believed that it was the only place for him to belong.  I don’t know how long he was there, with no one to love him, no one to help him, and a legion of demons for company, that tortured and tore him the way dogs would handle an old sock.

He was someone society had thrown away.  The Jews on the other side of the lake kept the laws so that they would keep from sin and stay close to God.  They never would have touched a human bone, let alone live in a graveyard.  The people of his region (called “the other side” by the Jews) had compromised their faith.  They lived for whatever made them happy, whatever made them great, and served any god or goddess who would get them there.  Maybe at one point this man had been happy.  Maybe he had been close to being great.  He surely must have tried.  Now, he was the last person anyone would want to be seen with.  He was the last person anyone would want to see.  Between the ten great cities in that region, everyone would have heard him coming through the wilderness and among the tombs, and they would have gone as quickly as they could in the other direction.

Everyone but Jesus.

And Jesus was on His way.

Jesus had been teaching the people earlier, and had been interrupted by a man with a demon.  I don’t know how long this man had be enslaved to this demon.  I don’t know if anyone else had known before the demon lashed out against the pain of hearing the Savior speak.  With a word, Jesus freed the man from his nightmare, and gave him peace and hope again.

The people were overjoyed.  His disciples must have been awestruck and trilled to see the goodness and power of their Rabbi.  Yet they were confused and afraid when He told them that they were going to “the other side.”  They could not imagine why anyone good should go there.  Jesus knew what He would find there.  I think that in His heart He must have been thinking of a dear son He had lost: a son that He was going to bring home.

The man didn’t know it, but Jesus was getting into a boat and coming for him.

The devil knew, and he was not pleased.

The storm that rose up caused the life-long fishermen to fear for their lives.  They knew that the other side of the sea was the devil’s domain.  Now the powers that could keep a man from being bound with any rope or strong chain were pounding them again and again and again with violent waves and gale-force winds.  Try as they might, they could not reach the other side, and they were giving up hope even on living to tell the tale.

Even as the demons fought to keep claim of their victims and slaves, the Prince of Peace was asleep in the front of the boat.  No fear touched Him when He awoke to the storm.  He had no thought of turning back.  Nothing, no power of Hell, no scheme of man, would stop Him from reaching His lost child.

He rose from His seat and, with a voice perhaps no louder than a decisive whisper of “Peace, be still” the rage of devils, that could tear chains and overpower a crowd, was as submissive as a sleeping child.

 

Imagine.

The wail of the wind still ringing in their ears.

Now the only sound is the sleepy lapping of the water against the boat, and the pounding of their own hearts.  I imagine they whisper more than they speak.

Who is this man?

I wonder if the sun and wind had dried their storm-swept clothes by the time they reached land.  Did they even have time to recover from the experience before the next storm came tearing down the hillside?

Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;  and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”  For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And He was asking him, “What is your name?”And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.  The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.”  Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
~Mark 5:6-13

The calm of the sea is broken as the boat crunches on the gravelly shore, and immediately this all but God-forsaken creature is before them, perhaps running down from the tombs, or appearing from behind a rock before throwing himself at Jesus’ feet and screaming.

I don’t know if he had very much of his own control over what he did.  The demons are the ones that answer.  I don’t know how many more demons he had than the man who was freed earlier, but it seems to have been very many.  Whether or not they or he had witnessed the storm, they knew that a power that could finally hold them had come.  Perhaps, deep down somewhere, it felt almost like hope, but the pain of being in the presence of Jesus must have been searing to every facet of his being that was controlled by such evil.  It always burns at first, when we are confronted by His presence.  Sometimes it is enough to want to hide or run away.

Now, after all of those endless hours of torment, his demonic captors are begging for mercy.  The blackness inside is replaced by a searing, burning pressure that builds and builds until suddenly it breaks, and all he can hear is the lap of the waves and the beating of his own heart as he catches his first shaky breaths, cries his first hopeful tears, as a free man.  And perhaps that first reassuring touch came from Jesus as the man received the first clothes, so warm after all of those nights in the cold, that anyone could remember him wearing.

Jesus showed others how it felt for this man to be free.  A storm of two thousand pigs, used as unclean sacrifices to false gods, unable to be contained by their herders and keeps, rushed into the sea and were drowned.  I don’t know how many of these temples this man had visited for worship, but I don’t believe he ever did again.

Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened.  Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.  And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
~Mark 5:14-17

With His healings among the Jews, Jesus often tried to be discreet.  He told people not to tell anyone, and often silenced the demons before they could say anything about who He is.  In this case, He seemed to want everyone to know whom it was that He loved.  I don’t know if the swineherds knew that the man was set free before they lost all of their pigs.  Perhaps they would not have noticed Jesus coming if the demons had not been allowed to enter the pigs.  At hearing that the swine were lost, the people came out to see that the possessed man, the man no one in their culture was smart enough or strong enough, or wise enough, or loving enough, or godly enough to save or control, was resting contentedly at Jesus’ feet.

Who is this man?

Perhaps they felt some of that same pressure, that same burning.  We know we are unworthy.  We can’t believe He would care, so we beg Him to go away.

As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.  And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
~Mark 5:18-20

Imagine.

A crowded city market.  Shouting from vendors from every corner.  Jostling from every direction as loads are carried in and out, some for selling, some having been bought.  Important people discussing everything from politics to poetry under the statues of Caesar and the other greats.  She doesn’t concern herself much with them as she make her way to a strong-smelling shop stand covered in all manner of herbs and incense.  Maybe, just maybe, they will have something to heal her son.

She squeezes her heart to be still and to hold back tears when there seems to be nothing that can be done.  She barely notices that the crowds begin to whisper and tentatively pull away.  A cheerful, almost strong, voice says “Hullo!”  She looks up to see whom she has almost run into, and pulls back with a start when she sees that his face and his hands are covered in scars.  She can’t bring herself to meet his eyes.  She knows who he must be, the dead one from among the graves, but his eyes are so cheerful that they make her feel afraid of what he might see in hers.  A part of the crowd keeps quiet as he tells an extraordinary story.  How can it be real? but there he is, right in front of them, sometimes laughing, sometimes with tears rolling down his scarred cheeks.  She listens, hardly daring to hope.  But maybe, just maybe.

And then Jesus is on the way again.

It was through another storm.  This time, He came walking on the water before calming the storm from the boat, because nothing would stop Him from healing His lost children.

When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.  When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him,  and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was.  Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
~Mark 6:53-56

If you are fighting a battle with self-harm, contemplating suicide, or hating yourself or your body so much that you want to destroy it or break, I want you to know that there is hope.  Not just happiness or distractions from what you’re going through.  All of those things are the work of a real enemy with real servants who want to see you hurt, and want to keep you in pain and in the dark.  There are so many ways you’ve tried to fix it, so many people who have tried to help, but none of it seems to hold up against that storm.

Jesus is on the way.

No storm can stand against even His slightest word.

Run to Him.  Shout to Him.  You know His name.

Jesus.

Son of the Most High God.

He will rescue you from everything that torments you.

Even if you can hide it on the outside, He knows that you were never fine.

Come into His presence.

Don’t hide.  Don’t run away.

Jesus is on the way.

by Stephanie H.

Hearing the Truth Through the Whispers

What has ever happened in your life that was actually good?

There are days when I can think back over my life and see so clearly what Jesus has done at my best and worst moments to give me every good thing that I have.  A light shines on every moment to show me the blessings of His care, and the joy that even the trials have brought to me.  Those are the days when it is hard to keep a smile from becoming a laugh, just to think of how the King of all things delights in brightening my day.

Then there are times that the light seems to turn off like a switch.  The days when the above question seems painfully real as I grope in the darkness for the things that I know have been blessings to me, but that I just cannot seem to find.  Whispers creep into my head and argue with me at every point, telling me that all of the things that I know on the warm days, full of light, are just my imagination.  Was it ever really so nice?

Boy, the devil has a lot of gall.

Thank God that we are given strength in Jesus to be unshakable more than just some of the time!  Here are a few things you can do to keep your footing on the days when the light seems dim and the whispers seem overwhelming.

Don’t Panic!

The first thing we often feel at these moments is that all is lost.  It must be that something didn’t quite click when we first trusted Jesus, and that this is what life is going to be like from now on.  It was so happy, following Jesus.  If we don’t feel that way, it must be something we did, right?  Our actions do affect our relationship with Jesus.  If we are sinning, or have not surrendered something to Him, we will struggle.  However, that is not always the cause of our distress.  Read the Psalms.  The are full of distress, and the reminder that the Lord is faithful in the midst of our adversities, even if He seems completely absent through them.  Reading Psalms twenty-two through twenty-four is an especially good reminder.  The first verse is what Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  If the Son of God can feel that way, then all is not lost for us when we struggle under the burden of a fallen world.  Those three psalms are actually believed to be all one before the chapter divisions came along.  I find reading them all at once deeply comforting.  Try not to dwell on feeling in the dark, but do remember that it’s okay to feel that way.  Overcoming that tendency to panic is usually half of the battle.

Know the Shepherd’s Voice

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
~John 10:1-5

The devil works overtime to deceive us.  In our moments of distress, he will do everything he can to convince us that it is God who is accusing us.  Our Father does discipline us, and so the devil finds ways to imitate the Shepherd’s voice while telling us a lie.  The best way to keep from being hoodwinked is to spend so much time with Jesus that we see the counterfeit instantly.  The devil will still whisper in countless and seemingly new ways, but if we are walking hand in hand with our beloved Christ, learning the depth and newness of all of His ways, it will be rare that we are taken in and led to greater distress.

Cite Your Sources

The best way to conquer distress is to take the offensive.  Don’t wait for the confusion to set in to decide to hide God’s Word in your heart.  Sometimes the distress is too much to take, and I can’t find any words of my own for how I am feeling and what I need in order to see the light again.  At those times, there is such a deep comfort in being able to quote Scripture.  I have a few of the Psalms committed to memory, and sometimes just the fact that I can speak them and have a solid piece of God’s Word available is enough to block out most of the pressure from the enemy.  Keep the references in your heart too.  Sometimes the exact words or the context can get lost, so don’t be afraid to pull out your Bible or your concordance, or do a quick web search when you can only remember a few snatches.  It’s a great reminder that the promises of God, and the concrete truth of His presence are defined by more than our own ability to hold onto Him.  It is such an encouragement to me that Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12, wrote,

“for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Sometimes, that is all I need to hear.  This is a very productive habit to start in the New Year.  If you are at a time when it seems like more should be happening, use the time you have to hide God’s Word in your heart so that you will be ready when things get more active.

Bring a Friend

Isolation is a great way to overcome someone.  When we are alone, it is so much easier to believe that all of the feelings in our own heads are what is really true.  I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t want to allow others to know my problems, since I know that they have their own lives to handle, so it isn’t uncommon for me to hold things inside for longer than I should.  When I do share something with one of my brothers or sisters, it is so deeply encouraging.  When I am distressed about the pressures of the enemy, or about a difficult thing the Lord wants me to do, just the honest “Yep, that sounds like what the devil would do,” or “Wow! He is calling you to something great!” is enough to remind me that I am trusting my life to the One with all of our best interests at heart.  It does often happen that I cannot reach anyone at the time of my distress, but Jesus is still there with me.  There have been numerous times that I have been so exhausted in my spirit that all I can do is ask the Lord to have someone else be praying for me at that time.  I can usually feel the burden eased almost instantly.

Remember too that distress will not always lift instantly.  It can be something that the Lord uses to remind us to be in prayer for someone, or as part of the process of really, truly understanding something about His character that we may have known on paper, but not experienced with Him before.  However, this does not mean that we have to be pulled back and forth by the whispers of doubt that come up, prompting “did God really say…?”

If you are struggling, and would like prayer or a chance to work through something with us, please leave a comment or an e-mail.  Also, if you would like to share a Scripture verse that has been a faithful friend to you in the midst of your distresses, please let us know in the comments below.  We love being able to connect with you.

by Stephanie H.

The Darkness is Real

The devil is real.

We all “kind-of” know that… but, truth be told, we often aren’t really sure what that actually means… or how to deal with it.  Some of us may not really want to think about it all that much, because we’re afraid… or confused… or maybe you’re one of those who knows the devil is real, and has experienced his presence, but you don’t know what to do about it or how to get out of his grip (or help those who are).

Today I’m going to share with you an interview with a girl who is very dear to me.  A girl who has been through an incredible amount of pain, grief, and darkness in her short life.  But God has brought her out of it all safely, and she is now full of the joy of His presence.  My hope is that her testimony is both a help and an encouragement to those of you who are stuck in fear and bondage to the devil—that there IS a way out!

AND, for those of you who are still skeptical about the devil’s existence and the reality of his presence in our world and his work amongst the young people of our society today… I hope this testimony is eye-opening to you, and moves you to earnest prayer on their behalf… and I hope it stirs you to action to rescue any you can from the devil’s grip.  This is reality.  This is why there are so many suicides and kids filled with darkness and despair.  We cannot sit passively by while the devil deceives and destroys lives with impunity.  We MUST fight back.

Can you fill us in a bit on how you grew up, and what “normal life” looked like for you as a child?

I grew up without the guidance of either parent.  My dad left right away, and my mom was an alcoholic.  I was tossed between family members and my mother’s friends.  My mom dated a lot, only, she dated women, as she is a lesbian.  I saw her blaze through so many relationships, including those which sometimes involved other kids.  I saw the damage done by these relationships, and I often got the blame when they ended.  Normal life for me was never staying in one place; it was living with whoever my mom dated, and often getting left behind so she could go out drinking.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for months, and didn’t know if she was coming back.  I became depressed, suicidal, and got into self-harm.  I was medicated and anorexic and I began to look for comfort in all the wrong places.  Those wrong places led me to a cult and to demons.

 

When did you really start to get into dark, demonic things yourself?  What was it that drew you in?

I really started to get into dark, demonic things in my sophomore year of high school.  I liked the feeling of having the protection I thought I was being promised.  I was drawn in by the promise of never being alone and having a “spirit” to look after me; a “spirit” I could call my own and which would defend me.  I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, and I figured I could do that if I were something more than human.  There was a “pack” of demon-bound students in my school, which I joined up with.  Each pack member got a demon which stayed with them, and was always supposedly in the form of a wolf.  These students would enter the bodies of their demons and command them to go about and to kill other demons.  I wanted to be a part of something like that because it was bigger than myself, it was adventure, and because I craved the closeness of a pack.

 

Can you summarize what it was (as far as the demonic activity) that you were drawn into?

When I got into the pack, I didn’t know it was a cult because they seemed like regular high school kids, and like they didn’t want to hurt anyone.  When I joined, I was bound to a demon that controlled fire, and was taught how to use this demonic power… BUT, by getting that close to demons, I attracted other demons to me that tried to kill me and control me.  I had voices in my head all the time.

 

How prevalent was all this in your school?  How connected through the rest of the country—or was this an isolated group?

There were at least a dozen students bound to demons in my school that I knew about, but they knew another pack in Nebraska (a state not at all close to where I lived).  This particular cult is spread all across the U.S. and Canada.  I cannot even fathom how many people are stuck in this mess.  It was definitely not an isolated incident; there are SO many kids involved in it.  There are even little kids “in training” that are relatives of those who are already bound to their demons.

When did you start to want to be free?  How easy was it to get free?  What kind of process did God have to take you through to get you free?

I was sitting behind my door one day, at home alone, and I was crying out to no one in particular.  I had been hurt, and the demons wouldn’t leave me alone.  I was so tired of cutting myself and feeling worthless.  I had grabbed a kitchen knife and wanted to slit my throat.  I had thought about overdosing so many times, but never went through with it.  I raised the knife to my throat but I hesitated, and in that moment, God called out to me.  He asked me where I was going—where I would go when I died?  Of course I knew I wouldn’t be going to Heaven—only good people went there, and I was into all things demonic.  But God told me He had plans for me.  He had found me in the darkest place and still He came for me.  God loved me so much that even with all I had done, He wanted me.  He didn’t look down on me and say I was too far gone.  He didn’t want anything from me—He wanted ME!  Even though I had nothing, even though I was bound to demons, even though I was broken and dead inside, He wanted me—even when I was so, so filthy.  THAT is when I wanted to be free.  I wanted God because He wanted me… just because He loves me.  It was a while after that that God began healing my heart and washing me clean, and He had me surrender anything related to the cult that I had.  Then, I prayed for the bonds to be broken… and… I was free!  There was a lot of healing to come, but I was free of demons, and I felt the weight of them fall off of me.

 

What would you most want to say to someone else who is stuck in a similar situation?

I want to tell the people stuck in a situation like this that it isn’t a game.  It isn’t “safe” to play around with… and there is a greater Love for you!  God won’t treat you like the demons do.  He won’t put that much pressure and weight on you.  There is no love in those kinds of cults.  God will not leave you alone, He won’t let you suffer, and He will stay with you all the days of your life and protect you for REAL.  Demons may promise protection, but they cannot deliver what they have promised.  They are liars, and their way is death.  But God is real!  He is more powerful, and He is good.  When you surrender your life to Him, He will guard you from their grip for real.

 

What do you think parents, grandparents, and church-goers who don’t know what to think of the devil or the current amount of demonic activity in the world need to know and do?

I want to tell those who don’t know what to think about the devil that he is VERY real.  Demons are very real, and they aren’t trying to help you, and they don’t actually give you power like they promise.  There is so much demonic activity in the world that Christians need to be on high alert.  It is far more common and widespread than anyone thinks it is.  Please pray for the Lord’s guidance, and be active Christians.  Remember: this is a battle.  Tell your children and grandchildren about the devil; tell them the dangers of these things while they are still growing up, and train them in battle.

 

What is the best way to help kids who are stuck in these things find their way out?

The best thing to do for kids who are in this is to pray for them, take every opportunity you can to talk about Christ with them, and show them His love.  Most of the time kids don’t even know what it is they have gotten into, and they don’t know how serious the devil is (he isn’t playing around, even if they are).  Tell these kids that the devil is real.  Take Proverbs 22:6 seriously when it says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

 

Is there a way to tell what kids are stuck in these things?

It is so hard to differentiate who is stuck in these demonic things and who isn’t.  There is no specific behavior or mark to identify them.  That is what makes this so scary; it is like a plague with no symptoms.  The devil has created a seemingly perfect trap.  There is no specific age, no specific gender or race.  However, kids stuck in this trap usually stay away from Christians and withdraw from family… but then, most teenagers do those things today anyway.

 

Now, looking back, what are the biggest differences you see between serving demons and serving God?

Serving God has brought me more joy than I ever knew I could have!  God does not endanger me.  He keeps me truly save, and promises me real and lasting love for all of my days.  Serving demons was being on edge everyday, not knowing when the next attack would come… but knowing it WOULD come.  Everything about me became different when I began serving God instead of demons.  I became happier, healthier, at peace, and I started seeing my family more often.  I became a real person again, instead of being controlled by the whims of the devil.  God doesn’t think of you as a slave like demons do.  He is a Father that only has His children’s best interests and well-being in mind.  There are no words to describe how loved you feel when you serve God.

Jesus Has Little Sisters

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having as dear and sweet a friend as Jesus.  I don’t even know where to find the words for the love He has shown me.  The joy, the thrill, the sense of humor, all make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Hearing from Him and spending time with Him just makes my heart sing in a way I never knew was possible.  Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I never expected to have Jesus for an actual real best friend.

All of those thoughts made Matthew 13:55 and 56 stand out to me recently.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

When the Son of God came to earth; the one who carved out the mountains, painted nebulae, and fed sea monsters; He came into a family where He would have little brothers and sisters.

It is still so easy for me to turn prayer into business meetings and memos, and time in the Word into browsing for what my next assignment is.  Like the Nazarenes in Matthew thirteen, I forget that the One who organized the functioning of the entire world and wrote all of the rules is also the Father who made petunias smell sweet, designed the family, and gave us the ability to know love.

I just imagine little girls coming to their big brother Jesus with their skinned knees, their fears, and their clumps of fresh-picked flowers.  I wonder how often they shared hugs and laughs, and how many of them He watched get married.  The One who said “let the little children come to Me” knows exactly what to do with them when they need Him.

I don’t have many memories of being a little girl.  I remember being very young, but the thoughts I remember having then were as analytical as I always seem to have been.  I don’t know if I was born an old soul, or if I just forgot those innocent joys, but Jesus doesn’t just have the little sisters He grew up with, He adopts all of the broken girls too.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
~John 14:18

I think one of the reasons I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to be loved by Jesus, is that I finally don’t have to.  I don’t have to think through a full ten minute oration on why I’m stressed or confused or why I need His comfort.  When I do try to explain, He often doesn’t let me.  He just sets aside the problems that I’ve handed Him, and holds me close instead.  He is gentle when I am most vulnerable, and He shows me how He loves me when I least believe it.  It’s love I’ve never known from anyone on earth, but it is never too late to be Jesus’ little girl.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,“Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
~Matthew 12:49, 50

When He adopts us, Jesus not only cares for the broken girls, but He heals us and teaches us how to become unshakable.  Arguments and situations that used to give me anxiety become places where I can feel His strength, and where He has taught me to love when I never could have on my own.  There are some struggles that return again in different ways as we work through them together, but they give me a chance to see a deeper part of His love I never knew before as He grows me into a sister and daughter He can be proud of.  It is a walk that so fills my heart, that I want to show everyone what it is like to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Jesus has little sisters, and you are one of them, precious girl.

by Stephanie H.

Battle Prayers: Thy Tents Shall Be Our Home

 

I struggle constantly to share prayer needs with others.  I often have no trouble talking to God about various things on my mind, but I have also struggled personally to pray for my own prayer needs, and to pray without ceasing over the daily actions and routine of my life.  The biggest reason for this is that I have a hard time counting many things as needs.  It can be easy to pray wishful prayers about what I would like to see happen, but over which I have no control.  Yet there are plenty of other times that prayer just seems… impractical.  Barring an unforeseen disaster, why would I need to pray for strength to get a jar of peanut butter off of the shelf when I could just do it?  Surely praying without ceasing does not require me to be imagining that I break my arm doing the most simple tasks!  That kind of imagination also wouldn’t be very good to apply to corporate prayers, knowing now many others have serious and present needs.  It is often so much easier to see Jesus as Friend than as Lord.  These blocks have added a layer of awkwardness to my prayers for years.

I still can’t tell what sparked the process, but the Lord put me on a train of thought recently that has overwhelmed my prayer life.  It didn’t come all at once like some of God’s lessons.  It was half of a thought that sat for some time before it blossomed.  The beginning that I can remember was wondering, “What am I missing when I keep my prayers to myself?”  I know that there is power in prayer, so why do I so often isolate myself from the prayer of others, when prayer brings us into such sweet communion with our brothers and sisters, even over the small things?  That’s not to say we make the focus of prayer meetings be the strength to open pickle jars.  On the contrary.  How often do we pray for normal rather than for extraordinary?

Our entire life as disciples of Jesus is a spiritual war, and prayer is the most vital battlefield.  Yet so often we can make the focus of our prayers the desire to stay safe and to stay normal.  It is easy to see how so many of my prayers have been defensive: focusing on keeping my head down, my shield up, and hoping that my prayers add extra strength to my rock, fortress, and high tower that God promises to be in Psalm 18.

But we really have no reason to pray defensive prayers of safety from inside God’s mighty fortress.  Read Psalm 18 in its entirety, and try to imagine our hopes and thoughts being able to add any sort of power to the unyielding storm of our Heavenly Father when His children are in trouble.  It isn’t our job to keep Heaven from crumbling, or from protecting God from His enemies, and the enemies and dangers we face are so numerous, that we would be crushed just by being aware of all that God protects us from without our knowledge!  In a manner of thinking, none of our prayers are defensive, because God’s kingdom will never fall.

Battle metaphors speak to me, so I love coming back again and again to Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus takes His disciples to this pagan city, the location of a cave called “The Gates of Hades” where demons were actively and grotesquely worshiped, to give them a clear and lasting image of their role as His disciples.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
~Matthew 16:18

Gates don’t make a habit of going out and attacking other castles.  Gates are made strong to protect their cities.  Gates can stand strong and overpower attacking forces, but those forces have to come to them first.  We are the advancing forces, not the gates.  At the same time that our treasures are stored up safely beyond the gates of Heaven, we are on the march.  When we are spiritually attacked, it is because the Lord is pressing us forward into enemy territory, and they are rightly terrified of losing.  The battle belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31), and no weapon that is formed against His armies will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

When we neglect to pray over situations we can handle ourselves-on a physical level-we are skipping over our battle training.  We are disconnecting ourselves from our fellow soldiers who will need us in the fight.  We may feel safer and more comfortable, but we won’t be useful in rescuing anyone or spurring each other on to greater effectiveness on the battlefield.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
~2 Timothy 2:4

Our battle prayers do not have to be complicated to be offensive instead of defensive.  “Lord, I want to be chosen for the front lines of the battle.  Let this situation equip me for the fight.  Keep my focus on you so that I can reclaim lives for you.  I don’t know how getting a jar of peanut butter off of a shelf will be a strike against the enemy, but if it can be, make it count!  Keep my armor and my resolve strong when your enemies lash out in self-defense.”

That is not to say that we can never pray for our own protection.  Our hearts and our treasures are safe in the stronghold of Zion, but we must go out against the gates of Hell, where we will be attacked.  There is a hymn that has become a favorite of mine that paints a very good picture:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:

A tent is not nearly as defensible as a castle, but it is where we find the fight.  Remember that the church is built on the very rock that was named “The Gates of Hades”, so we are in full range of the attack.  Our souls are safe with our Father, but our bodies, minds, and hearts will be wounded and broken on the battlefield.  Choosing to fight for our King will mean choosing to live in dangerous places.  It is not wrong to pray for healing and for protection here, but we cannot withdraw from the fight in order to keep ourselves safe.

Training will be hard.  The fight will be long.  The more we pray, the more we will be attacked, and the less normal life will be, because God will put us into more significant battles as we press on.  Never pass up the opportunity to become a stronger, more fierce, more devoted soldier.  As you leave normal comfort behind, the Lord will be your source of joy and peace.

Dear Sister, press on and let the enemy know your Sword, let the captive know your love, and know Who has rescued you and given you both.  Never hold back, never look back, and pray because lives depend on it.

You have been chosen for this fight.  Take your stand, choose this day whom you will serve, and do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go.

 

by Stephanie H.

Living in the VICTORY of the Holy Spirit!

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately praying for the Lord to fill me with the strength and tools I need to be able to do His work and not lose heart. And not only to do His work…but to do it *well*. In particular, I have spent a lot of time praying for Him to fill me with JOY in all the varied situations we find ourselves in, and His LOVE for the people we meet — a love that would compel me to reach out to them, and not be content to just let them pass by on their courses to hell.

But then, one day, I stopped in the midst of my prayers. I suddenly realized that each of these things I was pleading for — joy, love, peace, faithfulness, etc. — they are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, as Galatians 5:22-25 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. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

“Okay…” you might think, “I know those verses. I’ve sung the fruit of the Spirit song since I was three. I know all that already. What is so groundbreaking about that?”

Well, I sang that song all my life too. But here, just take a look at some more verses with me real quick…and then I’ll explain it:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV)

“….and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 ESV)

 

The Holy Spirit IS the power that we need to live victorious Christian lives, full of vibrancy and light! HE is the source of all JOY, all LOVE — all that we need for serving the Lord! Without the Holy Spirit, we do a pretty poor job trying to live righteously and godly in our own strength. We don’t need to try to manufacture these things in our own hearts — we can’t ever muster up enough faithfulness or love to live as God’s hands and feet in this world. We don’t need to spend hours and hours pleading with God to make us more loving, kind, or joyful! In fact…we need to get past our self-focused prayer times, and start using our prayer times to storm the devil’s fortresses, and set the captives free! We weren’t saved to feel good about ourselves. We were saved to serve our King…and to rescue others! And the fruits of the Spirit aren’t so people can think about how wonderful we are – they are to cause us to be better, bolder, more selfless soldiers who don’t back down from advancing the Kingdom of God! The Holy Spirit comes in to win victories for the Lord!

So…how do you get the power of the Holy Spirit then…if I just said that we need to stop our self-focused pleading every day for help to stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t, and start doing the things that we should…???

 

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE CONTROL.

Yep. That simple. Each of us has a “driver’s seat” of our lives. There is one of three chauffeurs. It’s either going to be yourself, the devil, or the Holy Spirit. Now, the devil is no gentleman. He just barges in whenever he can find a crack to squeeze through. But the Holy Spirit IS a gentleman. And He will never force His way in. He will always wait to be asked. Kinda’ vexing. 😉

So for starters, we must ask the Holy Spirit to actually not only fill us, but to take control of our lives, that we might actually BE the hands and feet of Jesus, doing HIS will, and not our own on this earth.

However, for the Holy Spirit to actually be ABLE to take control, we must be willing to surrender anything that is contrary to God’s Spirit within us; anything that would hold us back from being completely surrendered to His will and heart. In fact…any time we feel like we are lacking the power we need to serve the Lord more effectively, or when we are lacking the vibrancy and joy that we know belonged to those who have gone before us as they served — people such as Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward, Jackie Pullinger, Jonathan Goforth, D.L. Moody, Reese Howells, etc. — it is likely that there is something we are holding onto. Something that we have not been willing to let bow before the Lord.

And this is why I was so excited to begin thinking this way. Instead of pleading with God to give me more joy in my life, I can take hold of the Holy Spirit’s power in my life in a deeper way…and it comes from surrendering my heart and life more fully to His service!

How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Well, there is much division over things of this nature. Some believe there is no more Holy Spirit (I have already seen this disproved enough in my life that I don’t even consider it a valid argument any more), some believe that you automatically receive the Holy Spirit when you become a Christian, others believe it is a separate experience. Whatever the case, if you are already a Christian, it cannot hurt to just humble yourself before the Lord and be honest with Him. Just say something like, “Holy Spirit, I desperately need you in my life. I need you to live through me, to give me victory over my flesh, and to cause me to be fruitful in the Lord’s service. I invite you to take control of my life…and I want you to live through me, to do the things that the Father needs done on this earth. I also understand that it will mean surrendering my own desires and the things in my life that are displeasing to you…and I don’t know where to start…but I want to be willing. Please come in. Please make me willing…and please show me the things that are in my life that are hindering me from serving you with total abandon, and then, root those things out so that there’s not one particle of them remaining, but only YOU.”

And that is where I, too, am at today. Eagerly expecting the Holy Spirit to begin to work through me in a deeper, more effective way; making me more one with the desires of God’s heart. I want to be His hands and feet. Do you?

 

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 2


Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

 

Sometimes it is so easy for us to take things apart and look at them piece by piece, and forget the big picture in the process.  Remember that fear does not exist in a vacuum.  The same God who is the God of love is also the God who judges every man according to his deeds.  He is just because He is merciful, and merciful because He is just.  So what other attributes of God do we need to remember as we consider how fearsome He is?

Omnipotence
God is all-powerful.  He created the world, and there is nothing He cannot do with it.  All throughout the Old Testament, we have pictures of the immeasurable power of God, from the creation, to the flood, to the plagues of Egypt.  The history of Israel, the Psalms, and the speeches in the book of Job all show that God is worthy to be feared.  When we think of someone wanting to be feared, it is usually a human being who wants to be in control of others, and wants everyone to know that they are in control.  They want fear to do all of the work for them so that staying in charge is easy.  God really is in control.  He doesn’t need to show off His power and use fear just to keep us in line.  Often, His shows of strength were to remind His people of how weak the enemies of God are (Exodus), and to remind those with a great deal of power that they were not to play God (Daniel).

Holiness
God is separated from all things that are evil (Psalm 5:4).  He is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  Darkness and light cannot live in the same place.  If there is light in the room, there is no darkness.  If the light leaves the room, darkness can return.

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
~John 3:19

This is why we are so often afraid to enter the presence of God.  When we love evil, we can feel the darkness in us being burned away in the presence of the true light.  The devil is very good at convincing us that this means we can never be at peace with God.  We identify with darkness, but know that God is light.  We then fall into the trap of believing we are condemned to Hell whenever we discover a sin we had overlooked before.  Here is where there is hope:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
~Hebrews 4:12

Darkness cannot stand in God’s presence, but we can ask God to have our love of darkness surgically removed, and He is more than willing to do so!  He can take away anything in us that is at war with Him, so that we will be able to have joy in His presence rather than wanting to run and hide.  That is why there are two different responses to fearing God for the enemy of God and for the child of God.  An enemy refuses to leave his sin, and hates the thought of it being taken away.  A child fears the pain of the surgery and the unknown of the life afterward, but trusts his Father to do what is best for him.

Love
We often think of love and fear as opposites because we are used to fear and hate being so close together in our experiences.  There are so many things in this world that can cause destruction that it becomes easy to find numerous examples of evil and fallen things that we fear.  It is hard to think of things that we love as being fearsome at the same time.  Waterfalls, fire, dogs, and driving can all lose their loveliness if we personally experience the side of them that can be destructive.  Some of us like roller-coasters of skydiving because of the thrill of controlled fear, but it is very hard to find an earthly example that can do justice to fearing and loving the Lord.  The only example I can think of are the people of the Lord themselves.  There is not one godly person in the Bible who did not face great hardship.  Even Jesus’ own mother and step-father faced the most humiliating and difficult circumstances in bringing a child into the world.  Following Jesus is a terrifying thing because it mortifies our flesh.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
~Matthew 16:24

Those who follow Jesus do not face an easy life.  At times it seems that much of our lives are destroyed when we come to follow Him.  That is not only because God has enemies, but also because God allows the things He loves to be broken so that they can be glorified beyond what they ever could have been before they were broken.  Thing of how much more Job had after the Lord restored him.  Think of Jesus Himself after He became flesh and was broken before His enemies.  That refining process still scares me.  Just thinking about what the Lord might have me face next as I write this has made my stomach a little uncomfortable because I know that He always considers me ready for more than what I can handle on my own.  He’s always making me nervous!  But then He is always showing me more of Himself that I never would have seen if we were going at my pace, and He is making me more like Him the more He takes out of me.  As much as it scares me, I so much more desperately want to be with Him where He is working.

And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
for our God is a consuming
fire.
~Hebrews 12:26-29

 

Faithfulness
God is trustworthy to keep His promises, and He has not been shy in making them.  He is the God of all power, we have nothing to offer Him for a bribe, and He allows His people to meet with some of the most terrible trials imaginable.  Yet, in the midst of all of this, He has promised us joy, comfort, and peace.  That is not to say that God will give us pleasure and laughter in the midst of every circumstance.  We often expect this to be true, and that is why we so often hate fear.  Fear can be terribly unpleasant, but the Lord uses it to teach us trust.  There have been many times for me already when it seems as though everything is going the absolute opposite of the plan God has told me He will accomplish.  Those are times when I have to choose to believe what He says in His Word more than what the world around me is trying to convince me is true.  It is like a plant having all of it’s green chopped off until it is just the roots.  That pruning can ache for so long, but those roots will dig deeper while they are not focused on feeding the leaves, and deep roots are terribly difficult to pull up.  David speaks constantly in the Psalms of the painful circumstanced the Lord had him face, and yet he always fell back on the promise that God would not abandon him.  Job is a man famous for having faced more than most of us could imagine, yet he said,

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
~Job 13:15a

That is not to say that Job was more faithful to God than God was to him.  Quite the contrary.  But he knew God well enough to know that there must be a bigger picture that he could not yet understand.  The more time we spend with God, and the more we read of Him in His Word, the more we come to trust who He is, and believe that what He does really is best for us, and for countless others He will influence through us.

Humility
God is unbelievably humble.  I felt weak and inferior when I stood in front of that tiger in the museum, knowing that there would be no way for me to beat it at its own game if it had been living.  I cannot even imagine now insignificant I should feel in the unfiltered presence of El Elyon (God Most High).  And yet, He likes to make me laugh.  He feels my pain when I grieve, and He wants to teach me to do work that He could accomplish without so much as the snap of fingers.  When we keep in mind that God is fearsome and omnipotent, we often lose sight of just now much He wants to be involved in the lives of such insignificant people.  What scares me about tigers, landslides, and snapping turtles is that they don’t know me from anyone.  It isn’t personal, it’s just what those things do.  But the fearsome, omnipotent God is my Dad.  If I felt His presence wash over me while standing in front of a real tiger, it would be very hard for me not to grin or even laugh.  Why?  Because the powerful cat is just one of His playthings.  It may still be able to hurt me or even kill me, but only if He says so.  Moses was able to encourage the fleeing Israelites with these words:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Take your stand and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.
The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
~Exodus 14:13,14

 

I cannot say that Moses was unafraid of the Egyptians when he spoke these words, but He feared the Lord, and there was no room for any other sort of fear to make decisions for him.  It is the same promise given in Joshua 1:9 and all throughout the Old Testament, in the Great Commission, and straight through to Revelation.

We have no reason to be afraid of fear itself.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of life, and keeps us untouched by evil.  In the darkest circumstances, it is like hearing the trumpet blast and the thundering hooves of a faithful king’s army.  Remember whom you have believed, and feel the thrill of His power and love.

I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul know it very well.
~Psalm 139:14

 

by Stephanie H.

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 1

 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
~Proverbs 9:10

 

If you have grown up in the church, perhaps you have heard this verse often enough to be thinking already, “It’s not really fear though.  We’re supposed to have a healthy respect for God, but we’re not supposed to run away screaming at the thought of Him.”

Well, there is a bit more to it than that.

True, we aren’t meant to dash out of the room when we start praying because we felt the presence of God (though I have been in the place of feeling that way, as well I should have at the time), but we cannot simply treat God the same way we would a tame fire in the fireplace.  We know not to touch the fire because of its power, but having that casual respect is not the relationship God wants with us either.

Here is an example that may help to shed some light on the topic.  I love animals, and am often very good with them.  I have never been afraid of dogs because, since I was a kid, even the big hyper ones listened to me when I told them what to do.  None of the local wildlife scares me, because I know enough about them to know how to react to them to make the most of the situation.  Deer won’t hurt you unless they’re cornered, coyotes get timid if you make loud noises and wave a stick, black bear will charge you if they’re really scared, but if you hold your ground, they lose their nerve.  All of these creatures have their own comfort zones, and I respect that and don’t go out of my way to bother them, but none of them have ever really scared me.

However, I was at a museum recently, and met a creature that made me feel rather differently from my relationship with the locals.  It was a tiger with paws the size of my head and a head four times bigger.  The fact that it was stuffed did not keep my stomach from dropping.  As I stood in front of a hunter that was all muscle in life, and as long as a small car, I knew I had no tricks that could save me.  I just stood there a moment and thought that if I had met this tiger in life, there would be nothing I could do to be in charge of the situation.  I like knowing that I have a way to be in control of things, but I wouldn’t have in that case.  If I were to survive, it would have to be his choice, not mine.

The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,
And before honor comes humility.
~Proverbs 15:33

That tiger gave me a very small hint of what it is like to fear the Lord.  Still, admitting that we are not in control is only scratching the surface.

I was curious to see if there were different words used in the Greek and Hebrew for fearing God than there were for fearing other things.  Often the original languages add so many helpful visuals because of how specific words can be in their original context.  There are dozens of words for fear in the Bible.  Here are a few that I found most interesting: (If you’re a nerd like me, I hope you enjoy these, but if things like this overwhelm you, just meet me at the bottom of the list.)

‘arats: fear, oppression, to break (Joshua 1:9)

Charadah: take care of, dread, extreme anxiety, trembling (Proverbs 29:25)

Chuwl: dance, writhe, wait anxiously, suffer torture, pain of childbirth

Dechal (Aramaic): fear, make afraid, awesome, dreadful (used only in the book of Daniel [which was Aramaic in part] to refer to the greatness of the king, the statue, terrible dreams, and fear of God)

Giyl: rejoice, be glad, tremble with fear (Psalm 2:11; Psalm 51:8)

Guwr: be a stranger, sojourn, dwell, stir up trouble, dread, stand in awe

Zachal: to shrink, crawl away (sometimes used as a word for reptiles [called crawling things])

Did any of those give you a picture of different kinds of fear?  It was hard for me to keep the list short…  Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar (yet), but every word I found but one was used to refer to fearing God as well as to fearing other things. ‘arats is used in a positive way when fearing the Lord, even though it is a horrible thing when fearing man.  The words that mean “reverence” are also used to mean being utterly terrified, even in the Greek, where we get words like Phobeo.  Yare’ is a form of the most common word for fearing the Lord.  It literally translates as a feeling in the pit of your stomach.  It is the word used in Proverbs 31:30.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty if vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

 

The only word that I found which did not refer to fearing the Lord was chath.  It is only used twice in Scripture.  Once in Genesis 9:2, speaking of how all creatures will be afraid of mankind, and in Job 41:33, to refer to fear that God does not have.  Every other word seems to be used to refer to being afraid of God Himself.  Now, sometimes that is the difference between enemies being afraid of God, and God’s people being afraid of Him.  The creeping away describe in zachal is not used in the same way as the fearful joy of giyl.  Neither is deilia, the Greek word used in 2 Timothy 1:7 used in a positive light.  We are not meant to flee the presence of God, but if we are pursuing sin, we will want to hide when He is in the room.  Even that fear is a gift to remind us that we must become right with Him again.

One last thought before we leave the linguistic discussion.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
~1 John 4:18

This is a verse where we love to take comfort, but it can also be tricky.  To help understand how it fits in with fearing the Lord, remember that it uses the same words as this next passage, phobos and phobeo.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~Matthew 10:28

 

Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

by Stephanie H.

Kneeling to Pray

 

 

by Stephanie H.

 

We can read about it in classic literature, we see it in paintings and other art in the church, even modern comics and movies that feature little children show little pajama-ed knees bent in prayer, sometimes with teddy bears sharing the same posture.
So why do we kneel to pray?
Sure, we don’t always have to kneel to talk to the Lord.  If we’re to pray without ceasing, we’re going to have to stand up and walk around at the same time!  So why is it so traditional to kneel while praying?
Consider this parable from Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, on a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’  But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
 
Now, don’t think that the only way to approach the Lord in prayer is to crawl up in agony because of all of your sins.  Look at the contrasted postures of these two men.  The one was praying “thus to himself” (an interesting choice of words), thanking God for how great he himself was, but talking of himself more than anything.  If this were a conversation with the Lord, what would the Pharisee expect Him to say?  Meanwhile, the tax-gatherer begs God to act on His promise to be merciful to the repentant.  He is humble, and knows that the Lord is the one with the power to be merciful, rather than believing, like the Pharisee, that he is the one who can make himself good enough to talk to God.  We don’t earn the privilege to talk to God by being important enough for His attention.  No one could ever be important enough to get the attention of an eternal God.  We can best approach Him in prayer when we realize that He is willing to come down to listen to people that will never really be worth anything all by themselves.
Have you ever tried to make a business deal with God?
“Dear Lord, I would really like to have this, and here is what I would do for You if You let me…” or “Dear Lord, my friend needs help, and here are all the reasons they deserve the best…”
They are sincere prayers, but when I pray this way, it always leaves me anxious, wondering if I have said the right things in the right way to convince God that it really would be in His best interest to listen.  Sounds rather like the Pharisee again, doesn’t it?  It is so easy to imagine that prayer gives me the power to tap into God’s attention and favor if I can just say the right things.
I teach at a small Christian school, and one of my favorite portions of our morning prayers reminded me recently of the true posture of prayer.  Every person that is able kneels on one knee as the Great Commission is read:
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  ~Matthew 28:18-20
 
What are those first words?  “All power is given unto me…” 
 
Jesus is the one who has all power in heaven and in earth.  Because of that, He’s given us a job to do.  It isn’t a project we are left to figure out on our own, execute on our own, and then hope that it is good enough for His liking.  “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
 
If your reading this, I’m guessing the world hasn’t ended.  That means that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is present with you, and eager to show you the work that He has prepared for you to do.
Imagine a good and honorable king, at war with a vicious enemy.  At the moment, his wise eyes are surveying little figures on a mapped table that represent the movements of his troops and the enemy’s.  A knight rushes in and kneels before hastily making his petition:
“Sire, several of your men have been captured, and are being held in the enemy’s fortress.”
Or perhaps…
“Sire, the battalion on the northern front is desperate for supplies.”
“Sire, the enemy is spreading lies that are crippling morale, and causing many of your troops to lose hope.”
What is this knight expecting to hear?  An order.  Of course, he will eagerly watch to see how his king will respond to this news.  If he is a young knight, he may worry when his king acknowledges the need and dismisses him, or when his king gives him an order that does not make sense, but the king is wise and careful.  His plans have far-reaching results beyond any short term solutions his young knights may offer.
Our prayer is when we come into the presence of the King, remember that the battle is His, and spend time in His presence, to learn the depth of integrity of His character, and be involved in His will in whatever way He chooses.
Now, the effectiveness of our prayers do not rely on us literally kneeling, or imagining kings and knights and battles when we pray, but it has been something that has really helped me in my prayers lately.  The more time that I spend in prayer and in the Word, the more I come to trust the Lord with some things.  Even so, it is very easy for me to work myself up into distraction as I try to pray in such a way to earn immediate results.  When that happens, one of the quickest ways out of that state of worry…
Surrender my plans.
Kneel before the throne.

Holding Back Our Feet From Evil

 

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Well, here I am again, after a long silence! I apologize for my lack of posting lately. Life has been incredibly crazy (and I only foresee it getting crazier as baby #2 joins our lives sometime in the next few weeks), and I have been longing to post, but haven’t had the time or energy…and it has been making me so very sad. But today, I seized a little spot of time I had, let the clothes sit in the dryer for a little longer, asked my daughter to quietly read a book in her room…and I just want to share with you one little verse that I’ve been pondering the past couple days. I’ve been reading through Psalm 119 again this week, and this is one verse that stuck out to me (and perhaps I’ll share more at some point too, because Psalm 119 is chock-full of good stuff!):

“I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep Your Word.” Psalm 119:101

This verse implies a purposeful holding back of oneself from evil…on purpose (did I mention on PURPOSE??)…just because we love God, and love His Word, and His commands! Now, I point this out because it is easy to fall into the mindset – especially for a new Christian – that once you pray for Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, things will change, and you will become free from all sinfulness and sinful desires. And, while it is true that Jesus sets us free from the power sin once held over our lives, and gives us hearts that can desire what is right and good…it is also true that we still have to purposefully keep ourselves from what is evil. Because the devil is not passive in his attempts to deceive us, and turn us back from doing what is right, and following Jesus….and on top of that, our sin nature is still very much intact, and it takes a lot of discipline to get it to come under submission to its new Ruler. It’s also a misconception to think that keeping God’s Word will just come naturally to us, without any real effort. Doing what is right, and resisting the temptation to sin and do what is wrong will always be difficult…because temptations to sin are always something that appeals to and/or gratifies our flesh…and doing what it right doesn’t usually have immediate gratification for those sinful desires — “only” the peace and joy that God will fill us with, which can never be found apart from doing His will.

So, first, we must read God’s Word so that we will know His standards and what He wants us to do and not do. It never works to call ourselves Christians and to try to live like one without really getting to know our King, and reading His Word. We must understand what He asks us to do, so that we can understand what we must do in order to live in a way that honors and blesses Him.

And second, we must purposefully obey His Word…even when it is hard, and even when it is something that doesn’t come naturally to us. For instance, if someone does something hurtful to you, it is only natural to be angry, to hate them, gossip about them, snub them, and hold onto bitterness in your heart. That is the easy way. BUT, God’s way is to love them, pray for them, forgive them, let go of bitterness and anger, and even seek reconciliation and friendship with them again. But this is the difficult way, and it takes work to do this — HARD work. It takes work to keep ourselves from thinking angry or bitter thoughts. It takes work to cultivate love after your heart has been wounded. It takes work to stop yourself from gossiping about the ones who hurt you to all your friends, in an effort to make yourself feel better and more justified in your distain. BUT, it is what we must do, if we wish to honor the Lord’s commands and live as a true Christian. As Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” We cannot do all of those things that go against real love and still call ourselves a Christian, because a Christian is a lover and follower of Christ…and to love and follow Him, we must love and follow His commands, and His good character.

We must hold back our feet from every evil way…asking God for His strength and the power of His Spirit to resist the temptation to sin…and asking Him to show us how to keep His Word.

And those, friends, are my ponderings of the day. 🙂

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