Saturday, April 15, 2017

Stop, Drop and Pray

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7). When God spoke these words to Cain, His kind warning was unfortunately ignored. Instead, Cain yielded to the covetousness and envy in his heart and took the life of his own brother. As I consider the tragic outcome of his choice, I am all too aware of my own sin nature and the opportunity I have each day as a Christ follower  – to listen to God’s Truth, trust and follow Him or do it my way and suffer.

It seems an easy choice up front. In fact, I don’t think any logical person if presented with this story and the options would choose to ignore God’s leading and walk in misery. But, interestingly, we do it every day. The Lord shows us that going to bed angry or with unforgivness in our heart will result in a root of bitterness (Eph 4:26), but we often ignore the warning and refuse to let go of the anger. He says that if we worship idols we’ll become like them and our hearts will be darkened (Ps 115:8), but we reason that He couldn’t be serious and continue to bow our hearts to money, people, pleasure and our own selves hoping for the best. He says that if we leave “jealousy and selfish ambition” in our hearts, our lives will be chaotic and filled with all kinds of evil (Jas 3:16), but we refuse to let go of what we want and disregard the warning.

Like Cain, “sin is crouching” at the door of our hearts and desires to have us. It’s only as we submit to God, resisting the enemy and choosing instead to walk in the Spirit that we have victory (Jas 4:7). But how do we actually “do” this in the midst of hectic lives and not nearly enough time and space for reflection?

When we lived in Korea, we often exercised on the trails by the ocean and mountains nearby. It seemed I got a pebble in my shoe almost every time we walked, but I usually tried to ignore it to keep from stopping. I didn’t want to lose my momentum, but the pebble became so distracting that ignoring it became far more frustrating than the inconvenience of stopping for a few seconds to get it out. That’s the way it is with sin in our lives throughout the day. As soon as we notice that something is not right, that we’ve lost God’s peace or that we’re convicted of saying or doing something we know in our hearts is not pleasing to God, it’s time to stop. Delaying dealing with it only steals from what could otherwise be a joyful and peaceful day.

Once we realize that our communion with God has been breached and we stop to acknowledge it, there’s the opportunity to either yield our hearts to Him in prayer or keep moving forward, maybe with excuses and even good intentions to deal with it later. This reminds me of when the girls were young and would start crying about a problem. Depending on how focused or busy I was, I was tempted to ignore it, which only made it worse and usually the tension escalated. If, on the other hand, I would stop and carefully consider what was happening, drop what I was doing and deal with the struggle it was much more quickly resolved.

The decision by faith to go before the Lord and ask Him to show us specifically what has happened to unsettle our hearts really doesn’t take much time and it frees us to keep a clear conscience.
Not only that, the answer is guaranteed! He promises that when we ask for wisdom with sincere hearts, He’s not going to turn us away but will show us His truth (Jas 1:5-6). When He reveals what we’ve done or not done or how we’ve taken offense at another person’s action or inaction or allowed our emotions to rule us, we can acknowledge and repent of these sins and claim the cleansing blood of Jesus over us (1 Jn 1:6-8). As we strive in the Spirit’s power to keep a clear conscience before God and others, we not only experience inner peace but we are able to reflect Christ’s light and love (Acts 24:16; Matt 5:14).

It Makes All the Difference
We may think that it doesn’t really matter if we leave sin in our hearts, but we see from Cain’s life that it made the difference between life and death. Not that we’ll have such a tragic ending, but each day we ignore God’s Spirit nudging us to listen, trust and follow, we become less and less spiritually sensitive and our relationship with the Father grows cold. This, in turn, impacts our relationships with others. As we grieve the Holy Spirit, we lose interest in reading the Word, praying and seeking God’s Kingdom and our hearts begin to chase after other idols to satisfy the longing only Christ was meant to fill (Eph 4:30). As our hearts become hardened, we cease living in joy and fellowship with the Father, which leads to many other sins (Rm 1:21-25).

Cain’s struggle is our struggle, too. And God’s warning to Him is the same one He gives us. As His children, we have access into His presence at all times (Heb 4:16). Not only that, we’ve been given all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and we have His promise of forgiveness for all our sins --- past, present and future (Col 2:14). But we have to choose to walk in this truth to experience His love and freedom (1 Jn 1:7). It’s a choice we make throughout the day that can certainly seem cumbersome, but dealing with the sin that seeks to master us is by far the wiser choice that trying to ignore it. Like a pebble in our shoe, the sin and the Spirit’s conviction remain until we stop, yield our hearts and turn back to Him, confessing and forsaking those things that separate us from a life of loving fellowship with the One who loves us perfectly!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Darkness Can't Extinguish the Light

Spiritual darkness tries to overwhelm and even destroy believers using different techniques, but the goal is always the same – to extinguish the light of the Christ. Since darkness seeks to overcome the light, it’s only logical that everyone who walks in darkness, rejecting the Gospel, hates the light (Jn 3:20-21). Or, as Jesus said, anyone who isn’t following Him is against Him (Matt 12:30). The same suffering Christ endured from the enemies of the cross we'll have to endure as well (Jn 15:18).

It’s a scary realization that we have an enemy who wants to defeat us. But we’re promised in John 1:5 that “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We have the assurance that God has won the victory and overcome the enemy (Jn 16:33). However, I’ve learned as a Christian it’s easy to walk in defeat.  I’ve experienced it many times when I don’t stand on God’s promises and resist the lies of the enemy with the truth.

Over the past two years I've been in spiritual boot camp (at least that’s what it feels like). During this time, I’ve suffered defeat more than I’d like to admit. Once I’m down, I start asking the Lord to show me how to get back up, and more importantly how I got knocked down so quickly in the first place. I know there are a myriad of tactics the enemy uses against us, but three of the most common ones he uses in my life are trying to shame me into quitting, seeking to beat me down with discouraging thoughts, words and actions, and then, when I’m knocked down, trying to convince me I’m alone in my fight or that I’m seriously outnumbered.

Every time I think of shame, I’m reminded of Hannah and how she endured the constant mocking of her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, over her lack of ability to have children. Any hope that burned in Hannah’s heart for a child was quenched by hateful and shaming words about her barrenness.

Instead of losing faith in God's goodness she kept praying. Thankfully, we get to witness one of the most tender moments in the Bible as she’s crying out, unrestrained, pleading with God for relief from her barrenness and the shame that relentlessly follows her day after weary day.  Instead of simmering in anger and bitterness (one of the enemy’s purposes behind the hateful speech) Hannah ran to the One she knew could deliver her. God answered with a gracious promise she would never forget and a son the entire world would forever remember.

She pressed past shameful accusations and mocking words and kept believing God, something I’m learning to do. Though my enemies are often my own thoughts and fears, I’m being challenged to keep asking, seeking and knocking – refusing to let shame beat me down and keep me from believing God has a tender and merciful heart toward me even in the worst of circumstances. People may hate me and my own conscience may assail me, but because of what Jesus has done on the cross I can literally shake it off, right onto Christ who not only bears my sins but carries my burdens and promises that shame has no place in my life anymore (Is 61:7).

Discouraging words and actions

Nehemiah endured intense opposition, along with abusive words, as he tried to fulfill God’s call to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. The attacks started with hateful speech – words designed to shame him like the one's Hannah endured. But when the enemy saw his determination to press on in spite of their mocking, they took the attack up a level and threatened them. When that didn’t work, they made a plan to kill them (Neh 4:7-8, 11).

I’m astounded at Nehemiah’s courage and the perseverance of everyone rebuilding the wall, even when it meant keeping one hand on a sword as they built with the other. Nehemiah and his team were on a mission and refused to let the enemy’s words or weapons stop them.  In fact, the greater the opposition, the greater their determination. The more they were threatened, the more they prayed. The more they prayed, the more wisdom God gave them. With increased wisdom came miraculous progress so that after only 54 days they were able to rebuild a wall that was previously in ruins.

I long to turn to God with relentless determination every time opposition hits – to shut out the mocking words of the enemy and his attempts to threaten my safety and future. God alone is the one who reigns, and He promises that no one and nothing can stop His plans. No one and nothing can destroy the works He’s called His children to do. If we're faithful to press on past opposition, we will see the beauty of God’s restorative work in the lives of others as He rebuilds broken down hearts, relationships and even institutions. The enemy will always be there trying to threaten us when God calls us to a work, but like Nehemiah, we don’t have any obligation to listen.

Abandoned with no help

I think that more than any other tactic, this one cuts straight to my heart, causing me to lose momentum and give up. As long as I have a sense that God’s with me and that He’s helping me press on, I can endure intense opposition. But when all my circumstances start to point toward failure and God becomes silent (or so it seems), I want to curl up in a ball and surrender.

That must have been how Elijah felt after being used by God to defeat the prophets of Baal and how Jehoshaphat must have felt when he was told a vast army was coming against them and there was virtually no way of escape. While both men were faced with powerful and advanced opposition, Jehoshaphat responded in such an inspiring way that's unforgettable.  Questions were hurled at him, “What are we going to do?” But instead of taking the bait and fretting, he immediately called the people together for an emergency prayer and praise meeting – not a meeting to organize their army, but one to ask the God of the army of angels to fight for them (2 Chr 20:3).

Thankfully, I’ve never had to fight in a literal battle or go to war with real weapons. But I’ve experienced spiritual, verbal and emotional attacks from those who are much stronger and more powerful than me. Their force and ability to bring damage to my life through slander and evil plans have been much greater than my ability to endure without God’s help. I’ve discovered that being paralyzed with fear doesn’t do anything toward finding victory, but instead just makes me an easier target for the enemy. Yet when I decide like Hannah, Nehemiah and Jehoshaphat to cling to God and fight back in the Spirit’s power with the Word, then I discover the enemy has no ability to destroy me with shame and no power to wreck God’s plans for my life through physical or verbal weapons.
Though my situation may appear desolate and everything around me witnesses to the fact that I’m alone and outnumbered I can have great confidence that God is not only with me, fighting for me, but He’s more than able to bring victory and fulfill every good purpose He’s called me to.  For surely He has promised that He will fight for me and all His children and we need only to be still and see His deliverance (2 Chr 20:17). The darkness may come with great vengeance, but it can never extinguish the light!