After 20 years of serving as a local church pastor, we needed a break. Vocational ministry tends to create a unique brand of difficulty, and somehow we must have signed up for the deluxe package. But little did I know that our decision to take a sabbatical would send me out of the frying pan and right into the fire. After handing over the leadership of our church to my associate pastor, we moved hundreds of miles away from everyone we knew and re-located in a part of the country that seemed more like another planet than another state. I took an entry level construction job which often required me to spend much of my day digging holes at sewage plants and county landfills. Within months of moving, a cantaloupe sized growth mysteriously showed up in my abdomen resulting in the need for major surgery and the removal of over half of my liver. But worst of all, for the first time in my adult life, going to church on a Sunday morning made me feel like I was merely another head in a sea of heads. I went from being a first string Quarter Back to just another spectator who apparently could only afford tickets in the nose-bleed section.
This was just the beginning of a five year period during which I experienced what some have called “the dark night of the soul.” During this time, my identity and self worth came under direct assault. More often than not, my days were marked by a deep depression and an underlying anger toward the Lord for allowing me to go through this kind of mental and emotional torment. “After all those years of serving your people… this is my reward? What is going on? What are you doing to me? This doesn’t make any sense! If this is all there is, just go ahead and take me out.” And so it continued, from anger to apathy, from sadness to despondence. At times my frustration became so intense that I felt I was literally losing my mind. Again, this went on for several years. I now understand that this season was a tailor made time of testing designed to dig up and root out certain mind-sets and thought patterns that I had developed over the course of my life. And though I’m probably only a year or so out beyond the edge of this desolate spiritual wilderness experience, I’m beginning to feel like maybe I can identify a few of the truths revealed to me over the course of that painful hands and knees crawl through the burning sand.
Somewhere in the midst of all my crying and yelling at the Lord, I began to realize that He’s not really swayed by our fit throwing. Though most of my overly dramatic cries for help came in the form of seemingly innocent prayer requests, many of them were actually my attempt to get the Lord to do what I thought he should do. More accurately, I wanted him to do them in the time frame that I thought he should. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that God really does have “all the time in the world” to accomplish his plans and purposes. What feels like an eternity to us is not even a click on the second hand of his watch. So for us to require the Lord to respond to our requests, or even to fulfill his promises in our time frame… well it just doesn’t work that way. Lordship is trusting not only that he’ll get it done, but that it will happen when he’s ready for it to and not a moment sooner, no matter how much we complain or beseech him to do otherwise.
Another key to navigating the wilderness was learning how to stay focused on the right things. Paul encouraged the early church to practice this principle. “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” (Phil 4:8) One of our enemy’s oldest tactics is to rob a believer’s enjoyment of life by simply reminding them of what’s not right. But if we spend our days dwelling on what’s not right about ourselves or our situation or that person at work who makes our skin crawl, then we are basically creating our very own self fulfilling prophecy. Magnifying the negatives and minimizing the positives of our past or present reality will inevitably leave us joyless and oppressed. We must learn to focus rightly because eventually we will become that which we behold.
This principle is particularly true when applied to our relationship with the Lord. If our prayers are focused on what he hasn’t done for us rather than what he has, then we’ll slowly be convinced that he really doesn’t love us the way we once thought he did. This is a powerful deception that literally can ruin our faith, and in turn, spoil our life. Over time, I have developed an inner resolve to focus on the goodness of God and what he has done and is doing for me. Listen up believer, we’re going to spend eternity in paradise with the Lord! We are saved, redeemed, justified, adopted, deeply loved, and accepted just as we are. We serve a GOOD GOD who wants nothing more than to bless us because we are his children. He is true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of our praise. If we choose to believe anything to the contrary, regardless of how dismal our situation may become, then we are walking in a profound foolishness and deception. We must not allow our flesh and our struggle with our own human weakness to skew the heavenly perspective we were created to maintain. Often, the discipline of focus begins with a decision to simply “think about“ the “right” things. We will stay rightly focused as we learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)
Lord Jesus, help us to get this one. We know you are good. We know you love us. Forgive us for listening to lies about your nature. Forgive us for our impatience. You are a good Father and you want to bless us and surround our lives with your mercy and favor. You have provided for us, you have protected us, you brought us out of the darkness and into the light and we give you our praise. We worship you because you are worthy! Thank you Jesus, we love you. Help us to stay rightly focused today. Amen.
To be continued ….
From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”. I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff. I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids. Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement. In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day. Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on. I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy. In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow. Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth. Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.
As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price. “But Salvation is free” you might retort. True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything. You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father. Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality. In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything. This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”. Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it. In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.
Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority. At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth. His defense was both simple and profound. In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23) We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority. True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.
A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles. He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years. He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life. So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered. Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.” At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods. How dare he!
I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events. It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry. They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?” Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works. Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so. And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will. This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t believe me? Is your theology getting tweaked a bit? Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next. I can tell you from experience what will happen. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN… at least not any time in the foreseen future. You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.
Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here. God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend. As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited. But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain. There is purpose in our difficulty. The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.” (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.
“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.” (Isa 53:3, 12)
You don’t have to follow the Lord for very long before you realize that he may sometimes lead you into places you really don’t want to go. In truth, most of our spiritual growth is the result of trial and error and is discovered in the context of difficulty. All parents will eventually figure out that in order for a child to mature, they must learn to endure and overcome tough situations. For example, you would not even be able to understand the content of this article had someone not required you to stick with the process we all go through in order to learn how to read. Put simply, all things of value come at a price and often after having to push forward when the going got rough. This is especially true in the realm of the spirit.
I remember when I was learning how to drive, my Dad would sometimes offer words of advice as he was riding along beside me in the front passenger seat. At one point, we found ourselves on the interstate in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. The rain was coming down so fast that you could barely see past the hood of the car and the water level on the road was rising rapidly. I noticed that several people had stopped on the side of the road and turned their emergency blinkers on. Being a new driver, and already being a little unsure of my ability to navigate in these kind of conditions, I decided that pulling off the road and waiting for the storm to pass was probably our best option. Just as I was about to slow down and veer onto the shoulder, sensing my uneasiness, my Dad very calmly suggested “you know ten miles and ten minutes can make a world of difference in the weather.” At that point I knew the decision was up to me and the adrenaline really began to flow. Do I play it safe and follow the lead of the curb huggers? Or do I press on wide eyed and white knuckled and hope for the best? In retrospect, I’m so glad I just kept rolling, because sure enough, in no time we drove right out of the storm and into the sunshine with miles and miles of dry pavement in front of us. You see, my Dad was a traveling salesman when I was a kid, and I knew he had pounded out hundreds of thousands of miles across the highways and byways of the mid-west. So that little nugget of driving wisdom carried a lot of weight with me.
So it is with the spiritual journey of the Christian. Time and time again we will find ourselves faced with that proverbial choice when dealing with a difficult situation. Do we keep moving forward, or do we pull off the road in a panic? I submit to you today that if we feel like we’re not making much progress in any area of our life or faith, it may be because we’ve simply ceased our forward momentum and declared that we’re in a state of emergency. In truth, I am appalled by how much time I have wasted as a believer wallowing in my own passivity and indecision. So many well meaning Christians seem to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, or mishearing the Lord. What if I go the wrong way? What if that wasn’t really the Lord? Should I take this opportunity or wait for another? What if my motives are impure? What if, what if, what if … and the list perpetually goes on. Meanwhile, because of our limited vision and the fear of what may lie ahead, we sit there on the roadside letting the storm beat the tar out of us.
When we shrink back in fear thinking we might somehow miss the Lord, we are severely underestimating how BIG he really is. Trust me, he knows we’re going to make some dumb choices along the way, and his plan for us contains plenty of latitude for that kind of thing. In fact it is arrogant to think that we’re always going to do the right thing or make the right choice. God doesn’t get mad at us when we’re trying to go the right direction but get off at the wrong exit. Those off ramps turn into on ramps just as quickly. The goal is to keep going, keep driving, keep rolling. In fact, we may actually hydroplane at certain points along the way. Learn to have fun with it! Sometimes a little dangerous out of control driving lets you know you’re still alive. Besides, we can take comfort in knowing that Dad is right there with us and he’s not worried in the least. As our revelation of the loving sovereignty of our Heavenly Father deepens, we will find that if we just trust his leading and keep moving forward, the weather will surely change and we’ll end up where we’re supposed to be. In short, don’t be a fraidy chicken, you’re covered.
Isa 43:1-2 “Fear not… when you pass through the waters I will be with you.”
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:1-3)
When the apostle Paul gave these words of instruction, it is very possible that he had been made aware of a specific situation within the church of Galatia. More than likely, someone had been caught in a sin and now it was the responsibility of the church leaders to respond. If you have ever been in need of restoration, or you have helped someone else through the process, than you may know how difficult it often is to navigate through that particular kind of transaction. But as awkward and trying as the process of restoration may prove to be, our willingness to participate in it is essential for the overall well being of the local church. In the verses above, Paul provides some practical wisdom on the “how to” of restoration.
He first gives the scenario, “if someone is caught in a sin.” At the onset, it should be noted that the difficulty and length of an individual’s restoration can be greatly affected by whether they were “caught” or whether they came forward of their own accord. The scriptures are clear that it is always better to “confess” our sin (1 John 1:9) than to be “found out” by it. (Num 32:23) We can humble ourselves, which is never easy. Or we can be humiliated, which is always painful. If we choose to submit ourselves to another as a result of our own conviction, the process has already begun. However, if instead we are caught in our sin, and we begin to blame shift or try some other diversionary tactic, than we are in danger of removing ourselves as a candidate for restoration. Sometimes the person who is caught may prove to be unwilling or disinterested in submitting to restoration. If this is the case, than it is often best to postpone any restorative efforts and simply release them into the Lord’s hands. Like the prodigal son, sometimes our belly has to get filled up with hog slop before we come to our senses. Forced repentance is not likely to produce true repentance.
Nonetheless, Jesus showed us in his encounter with the woman “caught” in adultery that restoration is available for all who will receive it. By pausing to draw in the sand before addressing her accusers, the Lord demonstrated that judgments of this nature are not to be made hastily or without reflection. Supernatural discernment and the wisdom of heaven are essential if we are to take part in helping a fallen brother or sister back up on their feet. Paul goes on to say that it is “those who are spiritual” who should attempt to restore others. Gentle restoration is truly a learned art. If we handle someone too gracefully, we may fall into enablement and thus set them up for future failure. If we deal too harshly, they may go underground with their sin and hope never to be exposed again. This is why we must seek the Lord for His counsel in each individual case rather than relying solely on our experience or personal “know how.” Each of us is a precious commodity to the Lord and our treatment of one another should reflect that truth. By taking time to consider the uniqueness and complexity of our brother’s situation, we communicate that we have at least some sense of his eternal value. Careless judgment will inevitably lead to unrighteous judgment.
“But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” When this verse is taken in context, it would appear that the warning Paul gives here is not about falling into the same sin as the person we are helping to restore. Instead, his concern seems to be that we may be tempted to feel a little too good about the fact that we are “up” when our brother is currently “down.” Paul adds, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The real temptation is often for the one doing the restoring to feel some sort of pride in the role they are playing. Every believer is capable of thinking that we can somehow be elevated in our spiritual position above another based on our current level of “goodness”. This was the mistake of the older brother who simply could not wrap his mind around the Father’s non-judgmental treatment of the prodigal. Although we have trouble seeing it in ourselves, self righteousness is usually easy for us to spot in one another. If we are truly in need of restoration, we would be wise to try to find a facilitator who has nothing to gain personally from our confession or failure.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Though simple in principle, biblical burden bearing requires a certain skill set and it must be accompanied by a basic level of revelation about the work of the cross. For example, a well meaning believer might attempt to serve as a scapegoat or a “sin eater” for another. Though unintentional and often subconscious, this is a common mistake. Our goal should always be to get another’s burden onto the Lord as quickly as possible. It is also common for the person who is facilitating the restoration to inadvertently minimize the seriousness of someone’s sin rather than magnifying the power of the Lord’s redemption. In our attempts to ward off condemnation, we can sometimes excuse the sin nature instead of emphasizing the need for repentance and renewal. Every believer would do well to learn how to unapologetically speak the truth while maintaining a graceful demeanor. This skill is especially needful when called upon to help others through the process of restoration.
In 1 Cor. 12 Paul explains that the overall health of the body of Christ is dependent on the health of its individual parts, and that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (vs. 26) It is likely that we are currently aware of someone in need of restoration. If we are that person, it is our responsibility to ask the Lord for the courage to seek out those who we are to submit ourselves to. He truly cares about his children and he wants each of us to have a place of usefulness and favor within the body. Maybe we know someone who has become estranged and now stands in need of an outstretched hand. It might be that the Lord is asking us to leave the ninety nine to go after the one. Either way, it is inevitable that in order for a gentle restoration to take place, some sacrifices will have to be made. Though almost always uncomfortable and time consuming by nature, we can rest assured that if we endure with one another through the process, the benefits will far outweigh the cost.
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Several years ago, a friend of mine shared an impression he had received about the spiritual climate of the region in which we were living at the time. In prayer, he saw a stereotypical church building with a huge three-legged stool sitting on top of it. On top of the stool sat a bride and groom figurine like the kind that would normally be seen on a wedding cake. On the legs of the stool there was writing, each leg bearing a different word. On the first leg the word “competition” was written, on the next “recognition” and on the third “suspicion”. As he continued praying, the Lord revealed that the figurine represented the union of Jezebel and the religious spirit, and that they were the antithesis of Christ and his bride the Church. Their position on top of the stool was indication that they had been given much authority in the local church in our area. The stool represented spiritual authority, and the legs were that authority’s support structure. The Lord then revealed that if only one of these legs were to be broken, the whole thing would easily topple over. I believe these three attitudes of the heart: competition, recognition, and suspicion expose some of the enemy’s most common tactics for keeping Christians from working together. More importantly, they also provide a glimpse into the Lord’s plan for unifying his body and restoring life and vitality to the local church.
Competition: If at any point we feel the need to compete with another believer or ministry, we need to consider where that desire might be coming from. Though I am convinced there is actually a kind of healthy competition that can take place between believers as we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24) there is also an ungodly form of competition that is most often motivated by our need for validation. Let’s face it. We all want to be great and to be a part of something great. What we may not realize is that this need for greatness is a God given desire. The scriptures make it clear that every believer was created to take and to hold a place of great heavenly authority. However, we can often loose sight of this perspective in the midst of our efforts to find our place in the earthly pecking order. Most believers would acknowledge that our value is not determined by our level of outward “success” or by how we are viewed by others. And yet, we often have an internal struggle erupt when another brother or sister is openly blessed by the Lord in some significant way. Why do we sometimes grit our teeth when He makes an obvious display of His favor on a fellow believer or ministry? In 1 Cor. 12, Paul explains that “if one part is honored” than “every other part should rejoice with it.” We all know that it can be quite difficult to muster up the appropriate response when faced with that situation. Instead of being genuinely thankful for another’s good fortune or blessing, our first response may be to feel jilted or “gypped” by God.
There are many biblical examples of this form of jealousy. Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, certainly Jesus and the Pharisees, and even the ministry of the Apostle Paul suffered from this kind of ungodly competition. In Acts 13 we are told that when Paul was teaching in the Synagogue he began to draw large crowds of people. And “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” (vs. 45) If we ever find ourselves wanting to discredit or disparage another ministry or a minister that seems to be having more success than we are, we need to quickly reign in our tongue and ask the Lord to enlighten our thinking. Even if a given ministry or leader may at times appear to us to be improperly motivated, we need to be mindful of our thoughts, and intentionally gracious with our comments. Being overly critical of another believer or their ministry is a sure sign of something amiss within us. And rest assured, if our judgments are truly unrighteous and without repentance, they will inevitably lead to our own humiliation.
In contrast, if we will simply learn to “rejoice with” our brother when he is blessed, this will encourage the Lord to release his favor and blessing to us. Our Father really does want to pour out all kinds of good things on his children, but he will never reward unbridled sibling rivalry. When my kids are in strife with each other, I am often compelled to respond quickly with some kind of disciplinary action. But when they are seemingly intent on tearing one another to pieces, I will let them go at it for a while without my intervention. The result is remarkably consistent. In no time, they become truly miserable and then they come crying to me for help. My response is always the same. “I don’t want to hear about what your brother did, I’ll deal with him next. What did you do wrong?” I am convinced that this is also the Lord’s approach to resolution when we find ourselves in the midst of relational conflict. In short, the countermeasure for competition is cooperation.
Recognition: If you have ever had the opportunity to attend a meeting where leaders from several different churches or ministries had come together, you might have discovered that these get-togethers seem to have a tendency to be either wonderful or horrible. There is nothing sweeter than enjoying the heart-felt relationships shared by like minded believers, and nothing more excruciating than having to endure a room filled with posturing pastors or church leaders. Again, this need for recognition is actually a part of our God-given makeup and is there by design. The Father wants us not only to know Him, but also to be aware that we are known by Him. But when we are not in touch with the Lord’s acknowledgment of us, we will invariably resort to drawing attention to ourselves or something we have done in the hopes of getting it from each other. Jesus devoted a significant portion of the sermon on the mount to this very issue.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4)
At one point, I was asked if I would be willing to help clean up our church building after one of our events. I agreed to volunteer and showed up the next morning ready to work. Within minutes, I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning toilets and urinals. Though I immediately recognized that the Lord was closely watching my internal response to this proverbial test, there was still a part of me that really wanted someone to notice my willingness to tackle this particularly humbling assignment. Thankfully, no one really paid much attention to what I was doing or made any comments about how great I was for lowering myself to such a task. And rightly so. Throughout the Gospels, we repeatedly find Jesus trying to enlighten his disciples to the principle of unnoticed obedience. In Mark 9 he asks them this question, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Instead of responding, “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” This statement is truly profound and applies to so many different aspects of our faith. Clearly the Lord is not as impressed by our “greatness” as we tend to think he is. But the scriptures seem to indicate that there is actually huge potential for long term honor and recognition in a lifestyle of unassuming self sacrifice. Therefore, the countermeasure for recognition is servanthood.
Suspicion: Are we prone to give other believers the benefit of the doubt, or do we tend to hold them at arms length until they have somehow proven themselves to us? Even though we understand that appearances and first impressions are not always reliable, I think we often want to “size up” one another a little prematurely. If we have been a part of a local church for any length of time, then we have undoubtedly had our trust betrayed by a brother or sister in the Lord at some point. If we have not yet been thoroughly disappointed or disillusioned by the behavior of another Christian, then we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable. We should also recognize that to be disillusioned is to have an illusion removed from us. Many of us still seem to be living under the assumption that no one in the church should be allowed to hurt us. We should keep in mind that the Lord not only allows us to be wounded by others, but that his deepest desire is for us to die. Through the example of his crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that there are times when we must choose to make ourselves dangerously vulnerable, even to those who have the capacity to inflict great harm upon us.
Of course, this is not to say that we should haphazardly throw ourselves at the mercy of anyone with a fish emblem affixed to the bumper of their van. Proverbs 4:23 says we should “guard our heart” because it is “the wellspring of life.” We should always be mindful of our alliances and discerning of those whom we embrace. But our pre-programmed misgivings toward other Christians can often end up being entirely unwarranted. Our enemy is no fool. He is very aware of the power that is released when dissimilar believers are unified in their goals and purpose. In 1 Tim 6:4, Paul warns his young disciple about those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, and evil suspicions.” Have you ever encountered someone who seems to have an unhealthy interest in controversies? Did they quarrel about words and talk maliciously about others? Unfortunately, we have all probably all been sucked into these kinds of evil suspicions at one time or another. But even worse, if we make it our habit to pre-judge or talk negatively about other believers, than we should expect to reap what we have sown. Instead, we should learn to ask the Lord to show us those divine relational hook-ups that we might normally overlook because of our own personal biases or insecurities. We might even be pleasantly surprised by the friendships that would develop as a result. The countermeasure for suspicion is trust.
It is no secret that the majority of people in this country are no longer attending church. Even many believers have become disenchanted by the notion of committing themselves to a local congregation in any significant way. I believe the Lord is deeply grieved by this trend. Though some have vowed to remain estranged, many others are sitting right beside us on Sunday morning wanting desperately to somehow be more connected. Granted, we probably will not have the same level of affinity or concern for everyone who feels this way. Some we may not want to be connected to at all, but that is the nature of the body. Still, we cannot deny that we really do need each other. So, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10)
“The Three Legged Stool” is used by permission of Don French and Kingdom SEAL Ministries.
We have all heard that patience is a virtue, but as virtues go, this one is clearly somewhere toward the bottom of the popularity list. Heb 6:12 says that we are “to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That passage goes on to explain how Abraham was a great example of someone who was given a wonderful promise from the Lord but then had to endure many years of waiting before that promise began to be realized. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that Abraham’s faith “did not waiver.” But we know that his patience, in fact, did. The result was the birth of Ishmael.
Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of one of the driest and most difficult seasons of my life as a believer. After serving as a pastor for a number of years, I was suddenly without a church, without a job, and facing imminent financial bankruptcy. In the blink of an eye, I had somehow gone from being a “somebody” with a position of influence and authority, to being a “nobody” with seemingly very little to show for all I had been and done with my life. I was depressed, and most certainly disillusioned by my sorry state of affairs. And to make matters worse, just a few months earlier my wife and I had a very dramatic encounter with the Lord where he supernaturally spoke beautiful words of promise and future blessing over us. But this experience was quickly followed by an extended season of testing and trial. And no matter how much I complained, no matter how passionately I beseeched Him to pull me out of the situational mess I was in, nothing seemed to change. Unlike some of the testimonies we have all heard, the Lord did not send someone to my door with a big check, a new car, and a lucrative job offer. Instead of making me feel better, instead of taking some of the situational pressure off, He just got quiet, real quiet. The Lord was making me wait, and it was killing me.
As a believer, we get to chose how we will respond when the Lord’s promises are not coming to fruition at the pace we had first hoped. And I have noticed that it is not uncommon for us to try to force His blessings prematurely through the arm of the flesh if our waiting period lingers on for a while. This is precisely what I did. Rather than remaining patient and allowing the Lord to develop my faith and perseverance, I began to try to alleviate some of my pain and suffering by “blessing” myself. For me this came in the form of a 1964 Harley Davidson Sporster. Granted, I can see why Abraham chose a pretty young maidservant, but there is just something about an old Harley. And as they say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” Even though I had been riding motorcycles for a long time, I had yet to own a Harley. So finding one for sale, glimmering so beautifully there on the side of the road, and at such a great price! How could I possibly pass up this opportunity? It must be God. At least that is the logic I used as I tried to convince my wife what a wise purchase I was about to make. Now in reality, this bike was just shy of what Harley riders call a “basket case.” In other words, all the parts were there, but that was about the extent of it. Still, as far as I was concerned… well let’s just say that love really can cover a multitude of sins.
So I began the process of restoring this lost treasure that I had discovered just waiting for me there in front of the tattoo parlor. What a find, a genuine vintage chopper with a sissy bar and a flame job. I was in heaven, or so I thought. As the expenses piled up and the repair list seemed to grow exponentially, I began to wonder if my labor of love was such a good idea after all. In fact, it did not take long to figure out that I was spending more time trying to get this thing to run than I was actually riding it. Keep in mind, this motorcycle came with only a kick starter. For you non-riders, that means it did not have one of those little red buttons you push to make your motorcycle roar to life. That was a luxury I only later found out was virtually impossible to install on this particular model. So instead, I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and sweated, and kicked some more, and cussed, and then kicked some more, but often to no avail. My beloved Harley, that not so long ago had been the obvious solution to all my problems, had now become my cold blooded arch enemy. And worst of all, all that kicking and thrashing resulted in my having to go through several very painful hernia surgeries.
After months of recovery, I stood there one sunny spring morning looking down on my once beloved motorcycle and debated if a quick ride was really worth what it might cost me. In that moment, I clearly heard the Lord say, “this is an Ishmael for you.” I knew exactly what He meant. Like Abraham, who tried to force the Lord’s blessing rather than waiting for it, in my impatience I too had inadvertently caused myself a boat load of pain and hardship. I was way beyond having a little buyer’s remorse, this motorcycle was literally making me miserable. In Genesis 16 we are told that even the name Ishmael means “misery.” Fortunately, I was able to sell my Ishmael on E-bay to a big hairy biker from West Virginia. And I am trusting that one day my Isaac will arrive. A new Road King would be nice Lord.
The lesson learned is this. Our heavenly Father most certainly wants to bless His children. His plans really are to prosper us and not to harm us. But because only He can see our future with complete clarity, we have to learn to trust that He also must know the best way for us to get there. He literally has all the time in the world to accomplish His will. Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever we are in a hurry to get where we are headed, we will often end up somewhere we do not want to be. In contrast, in Proverbs 10:22 we are told by King Solomon that “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” What a concept. When we wait patiently on the Lord, and we allow Him to bless us, no striving, no pain, no trouble will be added. That is the kind of favor I am looking for these days, a blessing that is initiated and sustained by God with no additional maintenance required. Lord Jesus, help us never to doubt the words of blessing you have spoken over us. We submit ourselves once again to your will and to your perfect timing.