The Snare of Looking Back

“…and Lord, don’t let our country push You out of everything, bring prayer back into the schools, help us regain and restore the reverence for You which was lost…”, the brother prayed.

A sister continued, “Lord, keep our hearts from looking back, from lamenting over eras gone by…Lord, fix our eyes upon Your promised future, upon Your promised return….”

“Stop!” the brother snapped, “this prayer is over!”  Earnest prayer before the Lord erupted anger!

Aligning our prayer and walk with Jesus is essential so, we must ask, which way is He going?

Yes, we’re called to pray for our nation, our families, our neighbors – that they may come to repentance and be saved from the sure judgment to come.  However, prophetic certainties make futile any attempt to regain America’s ‘reverence to God’.  That train has left the station, it’s on route to a slow crash which no one can stop. 

Whether we’re lamenting our nation’s past or personal losses of life, health, prosperity, or passions, looking back can be a snare.

In fact, the Bible is forward marching, relentlessly into eternity – a new heaven, a new earth.  When we’re born again, we join in that march.  Not ‘happy-clappy’ or ‘easy believism’ but a hard discipline to reframe our thinking forward – heavenward – through God’s word.  

Only turning from the past and this temporal life can we find living hope and true freedom.  As Joseph M Stowell writes,

“Eternity is the only reality that can resolve life’s insolvable dilemmas.  Only an eternal perspective enables us to adequately cope with life’s disappointments….Followers (of Christ) view all of life – its good times as well as its bad – through the lens of eternity.” excerpt from Following Christ

Scripture holds ongoing admonishment to forward march – our Commanding Officer is ahead of us! From Lot’s wife looking back, to the Israelites’ lament over ‘life in Egypt’, the risk of ‘mental backsliding’  gives ground for Satan to move in. When God seems to strip our life, crush our expectations and obliterate our plans, we don’t want Him to do a ‘new thing’, we want the old back!

But our life in Christ hinges on that forward march, detaching ourselves from this temporal world and everything in it – even our very ‘self’.  Pain, loss, and suffering often pry loose that grip and lead us desperately into God’s word.   

Stowell further states in Following Christ,

“Followers can reduce all of life to the question, “What is it that my Father in heaven wants for my life in this moment?”

Looking back is often a snare that opens our soul to regret, remorse, guilt and futility –  a muddied road that can lead to depression.   God continually calls us to, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”, “…to be transformed by the renewing of your mind”,  “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”.

Thankfully, that praying brother and sister, almost immediately, reconciled in prayer.  The Lord humbled them through the upstir and brought clarity.  Prayer resumed!

Heal us Lord, from past things that haunt and grieve us, even draw us in.  And lead us Lord, as Your Body, in a forward march to follow and serve You.       

“We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on You.”

 

When God Puts You on Hold

When a service provider or agent puts us on hold, our flesh rises exponentially with each passing moment.  Of course, we can hang up, yell in the phone, and even write bad reviews online….“Bad customer service, was on hold for 10 minutes!”

But for followers of Jesus Christ, our lives, our hopes and expectations,  can be put on hold for days, months, even years.  “We belong to God” does not imply membership but ownership, we’ve been bought with a price.  God heard our cry for deliverance, for healing, for financial breakthrough, for a call to serve – for purpose and fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God – and yet oftentimes He puts us on hold.

Noted English evangelist Leonard Ravenhill speaks of God’s “University of Silence” in his book, ‘Sodom Had No Bible’.   Many spiritual giants endured years of ‘silence’, such as Joseph imprisoned for many years and Moses’ 40 years of shepherding.  Jesus Himself lived 30 years, seemingly silent, while observing religious hypocrisy and all kinds of human suffering.  Noted in Matthew, Jesus surely had divine wisdom and discernment at a young age. But even as God incarnate, Jesus maintained perfect obedience as a Servant – waiting for the Father’s perfect timing to reveal Him as Savior.

As servants ourselves, we may find our particular ministry with its passion and calling, come to a season’s end.  It is a tremendous loss as nothing compares to ‘co-laboring in the fields with the Father’ with the joy of God’s Spirit moving.  Yet, there are times when our assignment lies only on the sidelines, waiting for God’s perfect timing, His open door and call to service.

“Most of us hate to be under-rated.  We may not seek to head the parade, but – and this is our pitiable weakness – we must be in the parade.”!  (Leonard Ravenhill)

The ‘University of Silence’ separates us, not only from the world, but often from broad fellowship with believers.  God desires an intimacy that comes from separation – often a separation unto Him brought about by loss and suffering.  Why separation?  Why loss? Why suffering?  Why should our hopes and expectations be on hold?

How long should we wait at life’s juncture before God opens the door, reveals His will, or leads us to those “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”?   Obedience requires that we wait indefinitely, faith requires that we hope expectantly!

Conversely, we can create possibilities, try to ‘make things happen’ – but that is not a call of God.  That’s the ‘call of King Saul’ who lost the kingdom through his own willfulness.  Saul lost his kingship when he ‘appointed’ himself priest and later, void of all spiritual discernment, lost his life after consulting a witch.

When God has us ‘on hold’, when we’re stuck at some juncture, God’s word assures us of His sovereignty and purpose over our lives.  He also warns us though, of acting outside His will – it is the dependence upon Him and the surrender to Him that undergird a life pleasing to God.

It is actually an honor to be in God’s ‘University of Silence’.  When we are living right and yet He calls us out of the parade and away from all that seems fruitful and winning, He’s calling us to Himself.  Being obedient in the everyday ordinary and sitting at the feet of our Lord is not a demotion, it’s a preparation.

God may keep us “on hold” but will never hang up.  He is working in that silence, in that wilderness, even in an undeserved ‘prison’.  I pray, in these last days, to walk with obedient patience, and yet with living expectancy of God’s call into a new season.

The Secret Strength in God’s Heroes

Anchored in the Cross Ministries is a site that daily exhorts and encourages readers in the word of God.  Without fluff, challenging encouragement gives life to the Proverb, “…a word spoken in due season – how good it is!”.

On The Burning Lamp, ‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed  this Texan brother offered a beautiful comment, nailing a strength found only in the Holy Spirit, the very essence that undergirds every spiritual hero.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it, but I know we need it more and more…holy grit!

I will not ‘google’ the words or analyze them.  If faith is believing, then holy grit is what gives life to that faith when everything unravels, darkens, and fails.  When bleak circumstances are magnified before us, holy grit determines to magnify God and His unchanging word.  Through the Holy Spirit, holy grit empowers us to move forward no matter how heavy laden our feet.

Thank God, our spiritual forefathers walked in this power, determined to go on with God in spite of raging armies, undeserved imprisonments, betraying ‘friends’, and painful afflictions.  When crushed by God, natural strength proves useless – only holy grit undergirds us to stand, however distressing the juncture.

There are spiritual heroes today whose holy grit truly inspire and encourage.  Bill Sweeney at Unshakable Hope  is one such believer.  Although his life went from utterly perfect to completely ravaged, he stands in victory with a ministry brought forth as oil crushed from olives.  An unspoken hero, his wife stands by his side, a faithful testimony to the call of ‘helpmate’.  I pray that others will visit Bill’s site.

Knowing the word, even believing the word is not enough – “even the demons believe and tremble”!  It is the determination to stand on God’s word, no matter what fiery darts fly at us.  Holy grit per se is not mentioned in the Bible.  But I believe it’s there, in the hearts of heroes and in the exhortations of God.

Perhaps it is the unction that arises within us, compelling us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand…”  Perhaps it is holy grit that emboldens us to stand for God’s honor in this dark world.  May the Lord compel us in this steadfastness,  determined of His sovereignty and faithfulness, through every desperate trial that threatens our faith, “…and having done all, to stand.” 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  1 Corinthians 16:13

Only He can enable us.

 

Living Waters Flow From Afflicted Servants!

The final discouragement to pound the afflicted or fallen believer is the lie that they are inadequate to serve God.   “God is finished with me” is the echoing cry that reaches our ears from the pit of hell.  Believe with me, the opposite is true!  

Whether battling torrents of trials and heartache or clawing out of a miry pit of sin, the decisive heart toward God, willing to believe and obey, opens every opportunity for spiritual victory.  In our weakest, even defeated condition, Sovereign God confounds the powers of hell and prevails over them.

Walking in victory, forging ahead for the Kingdom of God, is not at all contingent upon our physical abilities, mental capacities, finances, or social status.  In fact, those personal ‘strengths’ often prove to be subtle snares, leading us to depend upon our resources.  In whatever the Lord brings upon us, whatever He takes away, whatever He allows inflicted upon us…we must hold on to the truth that He is in charge of this temporary suffering. 

If we continue in faith, no matter how weak it seems, the Lord will use our tears to mold the clay for divine purposes.  In His hands, our suffering has great value!

In his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Afflictions”, Pastor David Wilkerson preaches,

“We want quick-and-easy deliverance.  But our afflictions serve no purpose whatsoever if we do not understand why God permits them.  The truth is that every affliction, trial, trouble, difficulty and disappointment in our life is allowed by the Lord.  And He has a specific purpose behind all of them.  Why?  it is because He is taking u somewhere–trying to accomplish something in us and through us!”  (printed sermon available online)

Whether we are chastised from sin or amidst a storm or wandering in a spiritual wilderness the devil will harass with the same lies, “God has abandoned you”, “You’ve sinned once too many times”, “You are useless and weak, your best days are over and done!”  Not so with God.

The word of God demonstrates the victory of God through fallen and weakened man over and over, too many times to list in post here!  Many of the testimonies of suffering, struggling, defeat and affliction are well known.  But not only must we open the Bible and find these refreshing truths but we must believe that God is ready to intervene in our lives as well. 

When our lives are trampled upon and damaged, the greatest challenge in healing and recovery is finding security once again in God’s love.  All the human effort and intellect may be unable to configure our suffering with ‘love’.  It may seem impossible to believe but there are times when we need only be willing to believe.

The willingness to believe opens the window of heaven.  When our world is rocked, the willingness to believe positions us before the word of God and awaits living waters to pour out upon us and revive us, even if it seems drop by drop.  Our healing comes through our willingness to drink. 

We need not be healed, happy, healthy or prosperous to be victorious servants of God.  In fact, the Lord seems to excel through broken vessels. 

“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up.”  Psalm 71:20

In these last days, we must decide to ‘face forward’.  Our Savior Jesus Christ won the victory over sin and we are forgiven all.  While in this world however, He does not promise to remove all suffering nor repair all damage.  Given to Him, He is uses all affliction with divine purpose for His Kingdom and glory.

 Let us not wait until we feel whole, totally healed, or even ‘happy’ to avail ourselves to God’s service.  Let us not ‘Waste Our Afflictions’ but present ourselves, in whatever state we’re in, as a living sacrifice unto God.  (Romans 12)  The ‘gifts’ He bestows upon us to serve and honor Him are not at all contingent on merit or ability!

I believe that our greatest healing and restoration comes when, even in our weak and broken conditions,  we position ourselves before God in prayer with a decided willingness to believe in His undying love.  The certainty of God’s love in our hearts opens our faith again, even stronger, and avails His living waters to flow into us and through us into the lives of others.  That is great and profound joy that overcomes the darkness.

 

“This Will NEVER End!”

said the devil.

For those most vulnerable to anxiety and depression, open-ended and ongoing calamities are most difficult.  Chronic illness, marital betrayal and mistrust, serious family discord, rebellion and dysfunctional behavior plow the heart and water roots of anxiety and depression.  If you are a follower of Christ, you have a powerful enemy  whose vested interest goes beyond emotional suffering.  The devil’s trophy comes when we no longer see God as trustworthy, all powerful, and all loving.

The circumstances under which we suffer are secondary to what we believe while  suffering.  As a child of Sovereign God, the devil’s assaults are measured and restricted (although it seems at times he goes full speed!)  Satan cannot increase the magnitude of the circumstance but he makes all effort to magnify it in our heart and mind.  Herein is the essence of the war for our faith.

War Propaganda

Oh Lord, hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked…who aim their words like deadly arrows.  (Psalm 64)

 

Like the airborne propaganda campaigns of WWI and WWII, the enemy strikes a massive assault to: convince us that destruction is imminent, encourage us to abandon our post, and even offer rewards to those who surrender. 

The campaign need only convince us: This will NEVER end!  This will NEVER change!

Yesterday new events erupted in my own longstanding, anxiety provoking circumstance. I sought encouragement from a mature sister and actually blurted out, “This will NEVER end!”.  Moments later I realized that I had repeated the lie of the enemy.

I am grateful that issues in my heart were exposed and saw lies fueling my anxiety.

While not called to be ‘happy-clappy’, we are called to ‘stand our ground’ and ‘stand firm’.  I opened my Bible and began to pray.  Alongside this, I searched for posts in WordPress with words like ‘faith’, ‘anxiety’, ‘God’ and, after some scrutiny, found real encouragement from brethren with similar battles of faith.

Alone with the Lord, He spoke to my heart.  Firstly,  “NEVER” is not a word for any circumstance in this temporary world.  Our lives are but a vapor and our eyes should be fixed toward ETERNITY, which shrinks and deflates any ‘never’ in this world.   Secondly, refreshing my heart with Biblical truths and the testimonies of brethren reminded me that God is the supernatural game changer, even when it looks like things will never change!  But more than any change in circumstance, my heart must rest in the assurance of His love, His faithfulness, and sovereignty.   God is in control.

Oh Lord, root us in this truth, that You don’t waste our afflictions as we trudge through this temporal world…but You use them like refining fire to change us….preparing us to live with You for eternity. 

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your love, O Lord, supported me.  when anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  (Psalm 94:18-19)

 

The Timely Death of Believers

 

the Lord directs our steps

 

While writing A Ragamuffin In God’s Hall of Fame,  overviewing  the life of Rich Mullins, I  often came across “his untimely death”.  Yes, he died at the young age of 41.  Even younger at death was Keith Green, 28, whose godly music and message continue to glorify God.

Almost everyone in this fallen world can testify of an “untimely death”, as do I, recalling my brother’s death at age 38.  (Noted in this post) 

But ultimately for the believer, however, there is no “untimely death”, it is an “appointed death” (Hebrews 9:12).  The last steps of our life are, as all other steps,  are “ordered by God”.

Why is this so important?

  1.   As followers of the Lord, we must wrap ourselves with the truths of His word before the battle begins.  A perpetual focus of life in this world robs us of  the spiritual truths and fortitude we will need when death comes upon us or our loved ones. 
  2.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” and as such, we must have a living word in our hearts ready to shine into the grief and confusion of those who face death.

There is no hint whatsoever that God “allows” one of His followers to die, as though He were a mere witness to death;  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”  God is sovereign, not a bystander in our lives.  One can meditate upon the lives of godly servants in Scripture and find that, in spite of very real and ongoing death threats and attempts, they ‘were immortal until God’s work through them was complete’.  King David, the Apostle Paul and our Savior Jesus Himself are striking examples of men whose lives were sought by powerful foes yet they remained alive and victorious under God’s protection.  

After coming to saving faith in Christ, God’s purposes that we increasingly “conform to the image of God’s Son”.

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless.  Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.”

“You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes.  That’s the point of judgement.”    (Dr. Lovett)

Often the life of a fruitful and godly believer is so needed and cherished here and now that his death seems only senseless and tragic.  But the Alpha and Omega may see that believer at the pinnacle of his faith and walk with God.  The Lord alone can see the future backsliding, pitfalls and snares…His view of us is always eternal.

Only a Biblical view of death and heaven can prepare us for grief and heartbreak.   And only detaching ourselves from this world can release the truths of death and eternity into our hearts.  Can we affirm with Paul, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ?  Can we trust God that His timing and view of our eternity is always accurate, even perfect?

In II Kings 20, God directed an ailing King Hezekiah, “Get your house in order, you’re going to die…”  Yet, while claiming great faithfulness and devotion, Hezekiah actually revealed his attachment to his kingdom here, pleading with God for more time.  The additional 15 years that God granted brought forth the fruits of a spiritual downfall.  His pride burst forth, he lost his discernment, and during this time sired the most wicked heir, King Manasseh.

“When God tells us that it’s time for us to die, we must be willing to leave the earth immediately.  For God alone knows what is best for us.  So, when God tells us it is time to go, we should not want to stay on in this rotten world any longer.”  Zac Poonen

And yet, what of the deaths of unsaved loved ones?  Contemplating their end must serve to embolden us to proclaim the Gospel as though they stand on the precipice of eternity because that is where they are.  Like the thief on the cross alongside Jesus,  their last steps may land upon that ‘narrow road’ of salvation.  But as representatives of God in heaven, we must pray for boldness to speak the truth.

Like water through a funnel, we are swirling faster into the end days.  Many believers however, are lulled into complacency and comfort, having sought and gained satisfaction in this world.  I pray that we, together, will seek the full counsel of God on matters of life and matters of death and eternity.  Whether our last steps are ordered days or years from now, let us fill ourselves with enough truth to pour out to those who are dying without it.

“At every turn in your life, keep the end in view”  Thomas À Kempis

Anchoring Up Against Anxiety

I am perhaps one of the few conservative believers that does not broad stroke anxiety as a “sin”.  Anxiety is not synonymous with unbelief.  I have actually begun a book on this subject (which may or may not get finished!).  The crux of the issue – is anxiety a ‘punishable’ offense such as adultery or stealing?  Would a parent ever punish or chastise a child for worrying or having an anxiety attack?

The truth is, God almighty urges us not to worry or be anxious because, all knowing and completely sovereign, He has everything under control.  He urges us for our good, our inner peace and well being, not because He will punish us.  

Anxiety and worry may cause us to miss out on God’s best but the journey to His perfect peace can open up His word and deliver healing and victory on the way.  While therapeutic interventions can bring relief and understanding, only God’s word as He reveals and unveils it to our hearts can bring deliverance and spiritual healing.

“Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors”   Psalm 119:24

Anxiety, often trauma based, can become an emotional default and grow into free-floating distress.  But, unlike sin, God can use this condition to reveal spiritual truths and step by step lead us to higher ground.  The Lord calls us to grasp a hold of Him, ‘partner up’, and let Him walk us through this miry clay.  No matter how far the distance, step by step He will lead us to that solid ground, to those ‘green pastures and still waters’.  

Unhurried prayer and meditation upon scripture leads us…

“Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”  (Psalm 119:105)

For the believer, an ’emotional default to anxiety’ in our thinking can occur when trauma or a series of crisis wounds our mind and soul and damages our faith.  The frailties of  our heart and the wiles of the enemy can rout everything into a fearful framework of anticipated harm, failure, deception, and betrayal.

I pray that, day by day – even hour by hour – incrementally -we can begin a process of re-anchoring.  As one injured and disabled may rehab slowly to walk, let our hearts and minds rehab daily toward living hope, confidence and courage.  I would not discourage anyone from helpful medical or therapeutic interventions.  But through prayer and God’s revealed living word, I pray that our thinking increasingly climbs up the chain onto the sure anchor….

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.  (Hebrews 6:19)

and into the secure and glorious place of our Lord’s presence.

Only the Holy Spirit can dislodge our dark anxious thinking, anchored in the depths…and begin to ANCHOR UP our minds and hearts toward heaven where the Lord can heal us with His presence and truths.  There, “the truth will set us free”. 

Our Heavenly Father is not judging but inviting.  May the Lord speak to our hearts and uplift us closer to Him today.