The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Yesterday’s sermon was a sobering reminder that our unforgiveness towards others actually hinders God from forgiving our own sin and from answering our prayers. If that is not proper motivation; I do not know what is! Sometimes we must forgive others, ourselves, and even God in some cases.

forgive

The core problem with unforgiveness is the longer you hold onto it, the harder it is to let go. And this only gets worse with time, as the unforgiveness creates a stronghold in the individual’s life, which continually spreads like cancer and permeates all areas of thought and being. I once heard harboring unforgiveness being described as, “drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This way of living is so unhealthy, especially considering that forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion.

As long as we harbor unforgiveness against someone, that person will always have power over us, so I implore any readers to release yourself from the prison of unforgiveness. It may sound counter to our way of thinking, especially to believe that we are prisoners of our own choosing, but perhaps this story will be a better illustration of being a prisoner of one’s own choosing:

In Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, he described the life of Raynald III, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”

After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.

This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked nor barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, all he needed to do was lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods to entice him. So, instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald only grew fatter.

And when Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. But by then his health was so ruined that he died within a year … a prisoner of his own appetite.

Hear me now: Unforgiveness is the cell we construct around ourselves, which not only cuts us off from the world we are so supposed to be transformed by, but it also hinders our union and fellowship with God. Remember, forgiveness begins with refusing to play God and moves us towards releasing people from any personal judgment. It does not condone any action committed and it certainly does not mean forgetting any offense, because that in turn would mean not learning from the past. Instead, forgiveness is the act of surrendering judgment to God, which then allows you to live a joy-filled-life, one full of freedom, love, mercy, and grace!

Forgiveness transforms anger and hurt into healing and peace. Forgiveness can help you overcome feelings of depression, anxiety, and rage, as well as personal and relational conflicts. It is about making the conscious decision to let go of any grudge.

Advertisements

Make Room For God 21 – Day Prayer & Fasting Guide

Make Room For God

Welcome to the Make Room for God 21 – Day Prayer and Fasting guide. This guide is meant to be a resource for you as you join Generations United in prayer and fasting. It’s designed to provide unity of heart and mind as we grow together in Christ. For each new day of the fast, we will read one chapter from John’s 21 – chapter Gospel, so it works out perfect! And, in the back of this guide there are some great insights into the practice of fasting. While you’ll need to consult your medical provider for specifics on what you could do that aligns with your unique health and well-being, this is designed as a source for ideas and inspiration.

Now, let’s think about prayer for a moment…When we don’t know what we should do, we should be people of prayer, but even when we do know what we should do, we should still be people of prayer. In every situation, whether good or bad, we must never doubt the importance/power of prayer. Sadly, and in many cases, people often act first and then want God to bail them out of their situation, making prayer a last resort, further demonstrating why prayer must be a crucial part of our daily lives. It’s how we talk to our Abba Father.

Understanding the necessity of prayer is not enough. In order for it to become a part of our daily life, it needs to become something we look forward to doing. Prayer allows us to grow closer to the Lord, while also providing guidance and assurance in the areas of life that God is calling us into or out of. I have found that most people who don’t enjoy/understand prayer stems from them either never being taught how to pray, or from them having never prayed or read Scripture on a consistent basis. You see, there is a rhythm in each of our lives, so over these next 21 – days, as we receive new insights, blessings, & breakthroughs from God, we must first be ready to release anything that hinders us from drawing closer to Him.

During our journey together, we will reflect on the importance of fasting, in order to show how abstaining from food/things will heighten your hunger for the things of God. This guide is ultimately designed to bring joy into your time communing with the Lord, so as you discover the beauty of daily conversations with Him, you’ll experience the presence of God that will forever change your life. As you learn how to pray, prayer can easily become a powerful part of your everyday life, because prayer has the power to change everything!

As we read and reflect on the Gospel of John, I want you to discover how what Jesus taught and what He did are tied inseparably to who He is. John shows Jesus as fully human and fully God. Although Jesus took upon Himself full humanity and lived as a man, He never ceased to be the eternal God. This is the truth about Jesus, and the foundation of all truth. If we cannot or do not believe this basic certainty, we will never have enough faith to trust our eternal destiny to Him. That is why John wrote this Gospel—to build faith and confidence in Jesus Christ so that we may believe that He truly was and is the Son of God.

Day 1 – Read John Chapter 1: The Word Became flesh

Key Verse: “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.1.NIV

John starts his account of Jesus’ life with His birth. Where Mark begins with the gospel message and Matthew and Luke have their birth stories, John takes us back in his opening to the eternal purpose of God. Here, we would expect to see maybe a star, a manger, animals grazing, angels singing, or even the wise men. However, John doesn’t tell us of Jesus’ beginning, but ours. You see, Jesus was with God when the world was created. He left heaven and entered the earth the way we did – through childbirth. Jesus was fully human, but he was no ordinary man!

Jesus became flesh, which means He entered into His creation, in order to walk among us and move into our neighborhood. Why would He do such a thing? John sets out to answer this question for us and in doing so, he also displays God’s unending love for us.

Jesus became flesh so He could have a relationship with us and so that we might have a life worth living. By doing so, Christ became (1) the perfect teacher— in Jesus’ life we see how God thinks and therefore how we should think (Philippians 2:5-11); (2) the perfect example—as a model of what we are to become, He shows us how to live and gives us the power to live that way (1 Peter 2:21); (3) the perfect sacrifice— Jesus came as a sacrifice for all sins, and His death satisfied God’s requirements for the removal of all sin (Colossians 1:15-23).

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me as I learn to trust in Your ways and Your timing. Thank You for not only performing miracles in my life, but making me a part of them. I pray at the end of these 21 days to have a deeper relationship with You as I make room for You in my life. Please guide me as I seek to reflect your love and compassion to a lost and hurting world. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What do I need to stop doing?  Look back over the year of 2018.  What wasted all of your time that produced no results?

What do I need to improve?  You can’t change your whole life in a month, so pick the area you want to focus on improving and make it your project for 2019.

What do I need to focus on?  Ask yourself, “Is there an area in my life that really produced great results that I should put my total focus on?”  The “Pareto Principle” says that 20% of your activity produces 80% of the results.  Focus on that and invite Jesus into every facet of your life.

Remember: As you set apart 21 days to seek God, know that God has already heard your prayer. He is already at work on your behalf! What specific clarity of vision or breakthroughs are you seeking from God during this time? Write these down and use them in your prayer time so you can reflect on each of them at the end of the 21 days. Spend some time fasting and praying for God to speak to you and give you the strength to accomplish what He has called you to do.

Day 2 – Read John Chapter 2: Jesus Changes Water to Wine

Key Verse: “Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” so they filled them to the brim.” John 2:7 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.2.NIV

In chapter 2, we see the first of Jesus’ seven signs/miracles found within John’s Gospel. Interestingly, we read how Jesus begins His ministry at a wedding fiasco in Cana. When the host ran out of wine, Mary tells Jesus about the dilemma. I love what happens next because Jesus could have easily spoke a word and the six 30-gallon stone jars would have been filled to overflowing, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus gave the opportunity to be a part of a miracle to the servants. As a result of their faithful obedience, and when the disciples saw Jesus’ miracle, they believed. The miracle showed His power over nature and revealed the way He would go about His ministry—helping others, speaking with authority, and being in personal touch with people.

Have you ever felt like you were waiting on God? It can feel as though you have been so patient, but you are beginning to question when/if God is finally going to come through in your situation. If this is you, I would ask, “What if God is waiting on you?” When we bring our problems to Christ, we may think we know how He should take care of them. But He may have a completely different plan. We should submit and allow Him to deal with the problem as He sees best.

Miracles/signs are not merely superhuman events, but events that demonstrate God’s power. Almost every miracle Jesus did was a renewal of fallen creation—restoring sight to the blind, making the lame walk, even restoring life to the dead. So, believe in Christ, not because He is a superman but because He is the God who continues His creation, even in those of us who are poor, weak, crippled, orphaned, blind, deaf, or with some other desperate need.

Prayer:

Father, I acknowledge that everything I need today will come from You. You made the heavens and the earth; You are more than capable of handling any situation I’m dealing with, so I give it to You completely (specifically talk to God about what is on your mind and heart right now and give it to Him). I look to you to help me, sustain me, and give me Your peace. Remind me of Your hope and power today. Thank You in advance for taking care of my needs. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

Am I giving God my best?

What would it look like in my life for me to fill the water jars to the brim?

What next step of obedience is God calling you to take?

What in your life do you need more of and less than?

Remember: Jesus wants to be part of your everyday life, not just emergency situations.

Day 3 – Read John Chapter 3: Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

Key Verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.3.NIV

Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16 demonstrates how Jesus promises that He did not come to condemn us for our sins, but to save us from them. Because Jesus took our punishment, the very definition of mercy, we receive complete forgiveness. And when we confess and expose our mistakes to the light, is allows God to use them for good. Ultimately, when people see God doing great things through imperfect people, He looks even greater!

Seeing Jesus doing great signs/miracles compelled Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, to seek a meeting at night with Jesus to see what he was missing.

Whether or not we want to admit it, we have all been afraid of the dark. But what makes darkness so scary? For one thing, it confuses us. When we can’t see anyone or anything, we feel isolated and alone. Walking proves difficult because we can’t see the path. Although we’re usually safe, our imaginations run wild with the dangerous possibilities that could surround us.

We all lived in darkness at one point. Unable to see and believe in God, we lived with a constant sense of loneliness. Uncertain of where to walk, we did things we would probably rather not admit. As unpleasant as it is, we often prefer to stay in the darkness rather than enter the light. We think darkness helps hide the mistakes we don’t want anybody to see. We think if people knew the truth about us, they would judge us. But Jesus tells us it is safe to confess our sins. You see, God loves us exactly where we are, but He loves us too much to leave us there. He then promises that He did not come to condemn us for our sins, but to save us from them. Because Jesus took our punishment, we receive complete forgiveness, when we expose our sin to the light. God can and wants to use all of our mistakes for good, if we will surrender them to Him.

Prayer:

Father, I come to You in prayer today thankful that I am Your child. I know I am a sinner, but You have forgiven me and adopted me as Your own, and I am so grateful to call you my Abba Father. Thank you for loving me. I love you. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

When people confess their sins to you, how do you respond?

Are you forgiving or do you tend to judge people?

What about your response needs to change as a result of the grace Jesus has extended to you?

Remember: Nothing but faith in Jesus can save.

Day 4 – Read John Chapter 4: Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Key Verse: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.4.NIV

This is one of the most profound chapters in the New Testament as Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and asks her for a drink. Overcome by what Jesus knew about her and what He had to say, the woman brought everyone from town to meet Him. From there, Jesus then traveled to Galilee and healed a government official’s son.

Jesus wasn’t concerned about hanging with the “in” crowd. In this chapter, we see Jesus initiate a conversation with a highly unlikely character—a Samaritan woman who had five husbands. Her gender made her culturally inferior, her race labeled her as one to be avoided, and her lifestyle choices marked her as one to be condemned. But Jesus ignored all the social barriers meant to separate them because His concern wasn’t for appearances; His concern was for people. All people. Hurting people. Searching people. People who make bad choices. Empty people. Because that’s all of us, right?

In John 4:15, the woman refers to the hassle of returning to the well so often to quench her thirst. In the same way, she has repeatedly returned to the “well” of failed relationships to fill her emptiness, to quench her persistent disappointment. In John 4:13–14, Jesus offered to heal a hurt the woman didn’t even realize she had. Today He offers the same for us. While we stuff ourselves on what the world offers—money, success, relationships, sex, possessions, entertainment—the satisfaction is momentary at best. Jesus offers us peace, joy, love, and a relationship that is fulfilling. Jesus alone satisfies our every need, quenches our every thirst, lasts forever, and never disappoints. He approaches us in our current state and offers to meet our greatest need—the need for a Savior.

Prayer:

God, thank You so much for offering me the gift of forgiveness. Show me any areas in my life that I need to bring before You in order to receive forgiveness and healing. I confess that I have been struggling with sin and I know that You want me to be clean again. Please forgive me for my sin. Thank You for showing me unfailing grace. As You have so freely forgiven me, I also want to freely forgive others. Please help me let go of all of my offenses. I release to You those who have hurt me and I trust You to handle any situations according to Your perfect will. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

How have you tried to fill your own emptiness with the things of the world?

Just like the woman found herself returning to the well to try and fill her thirst, what sins do you find yourself returning to in an effort to fill the void in your heart?

How have you experienced Jesus’ peace, joy or love in your own life recently?

Remember: To be full of God, you must cultivate a hunger for the Word of God.

Day 5 – Read John Chapter 5: The Healing at the pool

Key Verse: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.5.NIV

Religious leaders get angry when Jesus heals a lame man on the day of rest. They get even angrier when Jesus claims to be God’s Son.

For most of John 5, Jesus speaks to the Jews who criticize Him for healing the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The Jews had rules upon rules about what good Jewish people could and could not do. One of those rules prohibited any kind of work on the Sabbath. Healing was work and, according to their rules, should be saved for the other six days of the week. Allow the absurdity of that to sink in. The religious Jews were essentially saying, “How dare you perform a miraculous healing in defiance of the Jewish law! How dare you change this man’s life on the Sabbath! How dare you end his 38 years of suffering! That can surely wait until tomorrow.”

Jesus continues to call them out in John 5:39–40, where He points out their diligent study of the Scriptures but their blatant disregard for believing them.

The whole Bible is about Jesus. Even the Old Testament tells us about God’s plan to send His Son to save us. The Jewish people, specifically the Pharisees, knew those Scriptures well, but failed to recognize Jesus as their fulfillment.

If we aren’t careful, we too can turn our relationship with Jesus into a bunch of rules we follow, a bunch of words we read, and a bunch of songs we sing. By doing so, we can completely miss Jesus and the miracles He is doing all around us.

Prayer:

Father God, nothing is too hard for You! Through Your great power, all things are possible. All authority is Yours, all might is Yours, and I know that Your victory will be complete. You are amazing, and I worship You. I praise You for Your power and presence in my life. You are my God, and You are worthy of all praise. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

How has Jesus performed healing in your life?

Why is it our tendency to make our relationship with Jesus a checklist of good behaviors?

What changes can you make today to break that cycle?

Remember: God is interested in our desire, not our ability. He will never call you to do something He is not prepared to enable/equip you to do.

Day 6 – Read John Chapter 6: Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Key Verse: “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.6.NIV

Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, walks on water across stormy seas in the middle of the night, and follows that up by declaring to a crowd of people that in order to live they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Let that sink in!

To be honest, John 6 can be a little scary. Not because Jesus talks about eating flesh and blood, but because it is hard to accept. Many in the crowd felt the same, “from this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.”

Walking on water and making bread join a long list of miracles/signs along with raising people from the dead and opening blind eyes. Jesus’ miracles and His controversial “eat my flesh” statement all convey the same message: Jesus is the point. In this life and the next, we can never be satisfied apart from Jesus. And on the opposite end of that spectrum, if we have nothing but Jesus, we have everything. To live is Christ and to die is gain!

It’s understandable why some walked away. They didn’t want to surrender everything to Jesus. Some people probably wanted a show, others wanted to be a part of something powerful, while many simply wanted to have a personal need met. Their world was very similar to our world today: looking for more money, more things, more options, and more religion. “More” was the focus of their desires, actions, and attitudes, while more of God should have been the emphasis.

Jesus spoke in direct contrast, saying “I am” the answer.  Jesus did not come to leave us wanting; He came to give us everything. He is everything. Like Peter, we can say with joy, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Prayer:

Father God, You are so good, and You deserve all my praise and more. Thank You for the many ways You have blessed me and for watching over me. Today, I pray to experience Your presence and Your love in a fresh new way, as I make room for You in my life. I thank you that Your mercies are new every day. I thank you for Who You are and all You have done for me. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

How can you make more room for God in your life?

What, if anything, are you scared to surrender to Jesus?

Is anything in your life holding you back from a 100 percent commitment to Him?

Do you think you are living a full life? Why or why not? Ask God if He wants to change the way you live.

Remember: Trials aren’t meant to beat us down, but to build us up. Whatever you’re going through, God will use it in your life to make you more like Him!

Day 7 – Read John Chapter 7: Jesus Goes to the Feast of Tabernacles

Key Verse: “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the One who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” John 7:18 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.7.NIV

As Jesus becomes more well-known, everyone has an opinion about what He should do next. His brothers ridiculed Him, a crowd calls Him demon-possessed, and religious leaders attempt to arrest Him.

Sometimes following God can lead you to lonely places. Jesus’ own brothers questioned His divinity and seemed to mock Him, pushing Him to go public and show everyone who He really was. Jesus dealt with criticism from His brothers, criticism from neighbors, and death threats from the religious leaders who should have been on His side.

The very people who should have supported and sustained Jesus’ ministry turned against Him and yet He continued to do the right thing. Jesus did not grow bitter or angry; He did not plot revenge or plan a public relations campaign to promote Himself. Instead, Jesus chose not to take His rightful place as God. He chose to humble Himself, stay out of the confusion, and offer spiritual refreshment to anyone who was looking for something new (John 7:37).

We can take heart because we’ve given our lives to the same Jesus that dealt with real life problems. When we feel lonely and left out, we know He felt the same way and responded in love. We can rest in the knowledge that Jesus suffered and faced hardship, but it never conquered Him. That means sorrow, loneliness, and hardships do not have to conquer us. No matter your circumstances, Jesus understands exactly where you are and He wants to help you stand strong. Because Jesus faced loneliness, you do not have to face it alone.

Prayer:

Thank You, God, for making a way for me through Your Son. Jesus, thank You for the sacrifice You made for me on the cross. You saved me, and You set me free. I praise You for being my Healer. Thank You for being my Redeemer. You rescue me and give my life purpose. Thank You for transforming my life with Your love, for making me new. I want to continue in growing to be more like You. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about the motives of Jesus from this chapter?

Do you have a troubled relationship with someone in your life? How can you respond to this person differently knowing you have the strength Jesus offers?

Are you putting off a decision because you are afraid of the outcome or worried about being ostracized? How can you proceed?

Remember: Jesus quenches every thirst. The living water is not just for your own enjoyment, but to be a constant blessing to others. If the Spirit of God is in control of your life, it will be an abundant and joyful experience, caring more about Christ and others than yourself.

Day 8 – Read John Chapter 8: Jesus Goes to the Mount of Olives

Key Verse: “Very truly I tell you, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.8.NIV

When religious leaders bring an adulterous woman to Jesus for judgment, it becomes a lesson in not judging others. Jesus then goes on to explain He is the eternal Son of God and they are illegitimate children.

Using the name God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14, Jesus makes an audacious claim: “Before Abraham was, I am!” Jewish leaders heard this statement and became so angry they wanted Jesus dead. The Pharisees were considered the ultimate authority on God’s Word by the nation of Israel and had an incredible knowledge of the Scriptures. Jesus brushed off their personal attacks and reminded the Jewish leaders that they may know the Scripture, but they do not know God.

What a dangerous place to be—to know the Bible cover to cover yet not know God. In John 8, the Jewish leaders knew enough of the Bible to debate Jesus but failed to apply it to their lives. Reading and applying the Bible should always point us to Jesus because knowing Jesus is more important than knowing Scripture.

However, when we know Scripture and apply it, we look like Jesus at the beginning of chapter 8. We shield the helpless, forgive the sinful, offer hope in hopeless situations, and rebuke the self-righteousness. When Scripture is applied, it points us to Jesus instead of preparing us for debate.

Prayer:

God, I confess my sins to You and turn away from them (tell God any sin you know is in your life and confess it to Him with a sincere heart. Ask Him to show you any other areas that need His cleansing). Thank You, God, for freely forgiving me. As I turn away from my sin, I turn toward You, and I offer myself to You. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

While reading your Bible today and over the next few weeks, begin your time by asking God to meet with you and allow you to know Him, not just His words.

Is there a verse or idea from today’s reading you can apply to your life right now?

How can learning about Jesus through the Bible change your actions and attitude?

Remember: Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone.

Day 9 – Read John Chapter 9: Jesus heals a Man Born Blind

Key Verse: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:5 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.9.NIV

Jesus meets a blind man and heals him with a combination of dirt, spit and the Holy Spirit. When the man’s neighbors learn about his healing, religious leaders come to Jesus looking for answers.

Can you imagine living with absolutely no vision? Your view of the world would be the images someone has patiently painted in your mind. John 9 describes a man blind since birth. Some of Jesus’ disciples assumed the blindness had been brought on by sin, maybe his or maybe even the sin of his parents. However, Jesus assured them that the man’s troubles had not been caused by sin, but “…so the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

If you were blind, wouldn’t you be willing to try just about anything to be radically healed? Can’t you see yourself thinking, “Cover my eyes with a fresh mud pie made out of spit? Good plan!” Because that’s exactly what Jesus did. After covering the man’s eyes with mud, Jesus told him to go wash his face. In an instant, his dark world became light.

Religious leaders overlooked the healing miracle because they wanted to ensure it happened according to their regulations. Was this the same man who had been blind, the beggar? If so, who had healed him? Didn’t Jesus know He wasn’t supposed to heal people on the Sabbath? Their interrogation ended abruptly with the former blind man proclaiming, “I was blind, but now I see!” (John 9:25)

Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior has a before and after story. If you’ve gone from darkness to light, your story has been written so the works of God might be displayed in you. Your story is just as miraculous as the one in John 9. You were blind, and now you can see!

Prayer:

Thank You, God, for giving me Your Word. I commit to reading it, and I ask You to reveal Yourself to me through it. I want to know You more. Help me to grow more in love with Your Word and to be more dependent on it. I claim the promises You have for me, and I meditate on the truth of Your Word. Give me fresh revelation from your Word today and every day! I am hungry to see You more clearly through Your Word. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What do you think was Jesus’ favorite miracle to perform?

Who do you need to share your story with today?

Not sure where to start or if you haven’t given your life to Jesus, today is the perfect day. Email jdavis@genuchurch.com to talk with someone about Him.

Remember: Don’t discount the value of your testimony. It’s never too early to stand up for what Christ did on the cross and what He continues to do for each of you.

Day 10 – Read John Chapter 10: The Shepherd and His Flock

Key Verse: “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved.” John 10:9 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.10.NIV

Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd who feeds and cares for His sheep. Tired of Jesus’ metaphors, religious leaders corner Jesus at the temple and ask Him directly: Are you the Christ?

How can we live abundant lives? We all want that, don’t we? But we can’t answer how until we focus on the more important question:  What—or Who—is the source of abundant life?

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Chasing anything other than Jesus will steal what God has blessed you with, kill your dreams, and destroy your purpose in life. Only Jesus can restore the blessings that have been stolen, bring life to dreams that have died, and give our lives purpose. Possessions come and go, as does the enjoyment they bring. The only way to experience joy that never leaves is to have something that cannot fail. An abundant life only comes from Jesus, who never fails.

There is a story about a millionaire named John D. Rockefeller who, when asked by a reporter what amount of money was enough to make him happy, replied with, “Just one dollar more.” Nothing on Earth is ever going to satisfy us. But if you ask anyone who has made Jesus the Lord of their life, they will tell you that they are blessed beyond anything they could have ever asked or imagined. A life apart from Jesus will always leave you lacking, but a life centered on Jesus is full of abundance.

Prayer:

Thank You, God, for Your presence. I know that You are here with me. I worship You and You alone. I know God, that You are:

My Righteousness – Jeremiah 23:6

My Sanctifier – Leviticus 20:7-8

My Healer – Exodus 15:26

My Provider – Genesis 22:14

My Banner of Victory – Exodus 17:15

My Peace – Judges 6:24

My Shepherd – Psalm 23:1.

Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

Who is the source of abundant life?

What do you strive for in life?

How does what you strive for differ from what Jesus strived for?

What are some common traps that keep us from living the full life Jesus promised?

Remember: When you accept Christ’s invitation, you can rest in the security of your salvation.

Day 11 – Read John Chapter 11: The Death of Lazarus

Key Verse: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:26 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.11.NIV

Jesus’ friend Lazarus falls ill but by the time Jesus reaches Lazarus’ house, it’s too late. Jesus weeps for His friend then raises Lazarus from the dead!

Have you ever wondered about God’s timing? You’re not alone. Some of Jesus’ close friends did too. When Lazarus became deathly ill, his sisters, Mary and Martha, asked Jesus for help. They knew Jesus was traveling and His ministry was growing, but He was a close friend. Surely, He could take a few minutes to heal their brother. But Jesus didn’t show up. Two days later when He arrived, it was too late. Lazarus was already dead.

Martha and Mary were not only grief stricken, but deeply troubled by Jesus’ apparent lack of concern. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21–23). Jesus replied to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Even hearing Jesus’ words, the sisters were probably wondering, “Lord, what are You thinking now?!”

As they traveled to Lazarus’ four-day-old gravesite, Martha questioned Jesus’ timing again. His response to her was clear, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” After thanking God, Jesus called out loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did. Lazarus, still wrapped in strips of linen, but fully alive, walked out of the tomb.

Maybe you’ve questioned Jesus’ timing. You knew exactly when He needed to show up and what He needed to do, but it didn’t work out the way you had planned. Even when we don’t understand, He can always be trusted. Isaiah 55:8–9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

Prayer:

Thank You, God, for creating a way through Jesus for me to have Your presence wherever I go. I ask You, God, to be present with my family. Bless them and keep them from harm. For those in my family who don’t know You, I ask that You meet them where they are and guide their hearts toward You. I pray that You will bring the lost into our church, and that they will have a positive experience and come to know You. Please keep us moving in Your vision and Your goals. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

Have you ever doubted God’s timing? What did you learn from that situation?

If you’re unsure about God’s plan or timing in a situation now, would you surrender it to Him? How could trusting God’s timing change your thoughts and attitude about your circumstance?

Remember: Sometimes God chooses to deliver us from hardships, and sometimes He delivers us through them.

Day 12 – Read John Chapter 12: Jesus Anointed at Bethany

Key Verse: “Mary took a pint of an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John 12:3 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.12.NIV

Mary washes Jesus’ feet with perfume. The next day, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as crowds praise Him. Jesus explains why He’s going to die and makes a plea for the Jews to believe.

What would you consider your most valuable possession? Maybe it’s a car, a family heirloom, a computer or a house. We all have things that we value and take great care to keep. In the beginning of John 12, we see the thing Mary considered precious—a bottle of expensive perfume. This perfume was not just a fragrance to Mary. It was worth nearly a year’s wages. Mary wasn’t just saving this perfume for a special day. This bottle was her financial security.

In an act of worship, Mary poured her perfume onto Jesus’ feet. She knelt to the ground and washed His feet, ignoring the opinions of others. Mary gave radically. She gave not knowing if she’d be able to live through the day, but trusting Jesus anyway. She gave with such extravagance that the disciples told her she’d given too much.

To put Mary’s situation in today’s terms, it would be like you going to church next Sunday, feeling called to give and writing a check for your entire year’s salary! Yet, this is the same way God gave to us. He gave His best: Jesus. God not only calls us to radical faith, He calls us to radical giving.

Prayer:

Your Word tells me that if I seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness, You will lead me to a life of blessing, purpose, and freedom. I am Yours today, God, and I give this day to You. Help me to focus on Your priorities first, sharing Your love and making Your Name known. I know that by focusing on You rather than myself, I will receive joy and peace. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

What’s holding you back from pouring your security out at Jesus’ feet?

How does this chapter show us that we can trust Him with what’s most precious to us?

Is there anything in your life you have not given to God?

Remember: The fear of man brings a snare, so always keep your guard up. The enemy has all sorts of tricks up his sleeve. If he can’t get your heart so hardened that it rejects Christ, he will settle for crippling your effectiveness as a Christian through discouragement. But we have a great incentive to live solely and publicly for Him—His imminent return.

Day 13 – Read John Chapter 13: Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

Key Verse: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:15 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.13.NIV

Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and they share one last meal together. Jesus warns Peter about the separation to come, but Peter doesn’t understand.

We’ve all had to wrestle with forgiveness. We can’t escape hurt feelings or being wronged, and neither could Jesus. In this chapter, Jesus models forgiveness in a way that doesn’t allow us to hold grudges.  He is sitting at the table with His disciples, fully aware that Judas and Peter are about to betray Him.

Jesus’ forgiveness extends beyond simply saying “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is not just something He says; it’s something He puts into action. Jesus kneels and selflessly serves them as He washes their feet, including Judas and Peter. He makes no exceptions. He offers His forgiveness to everyone, no matter what they have done or will do.

We can often read this chapter and be amazed these men sat at the table with Jesus and then turned their backs on Him. We can wonder how Jesus offers forgiveness to men like this, but falsely believe we cannot do the same to the people that have hurt us.

The game changer is when you and I realize we are the same as the men at the table with Jesus. We are the ones who deny Him, and He washes our feet. We were far from God, denying Him with our life and deserting Him in our choices, yet He still came for us. That kind of grace cannot stop with the one who benefits from it—we must extend grace, too.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You have promised that if I draw near to You, You will draw near to me. I need more of Your presence today, and I am drawing near to You through prayer, worship, fasting, and reading Your Word. I open my heart to You and ask You to be near to me and change me to be more like You. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

Have you accepted Jesus’ forgiveness in your own life?

Are there things you can’t believe Jesus would ever forgive you for?

To whom in your life do you need to extend forgiveness?

How can you forgive that person today?

Remember: God accepts you as you are, but He won’t leave you that way.

Day 14 – Read John Chapter 14: Jesus Comforts his Disciples

Key Verse: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.14.NIV

Jesus gives final instructions to His friends, explaining what they should do when He’s gone and tipping them off about the Counselor Who is to come.

Obedience is not easy and submitting to someone’s authority can be very difficult. It may seem easier at times to do what we feel is right. However, in John 14, Jesus is very clear about Who is in charge and—He is obedient to the Father.

We can find a concise definition of obedience in James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” An important part of obedience is reading the Bible. However, reading words is just the first part of being obedient. The more important part is putting those words into action. When we read about giving generously to the poor, we actually go do it. When we read about forgiving our neighbor, we actually forgive them. This is the true act of obedience, especially when no one is watching!

In John 14:15–23, Jesus tells us why obedience is such a big deal. He connects our obedience to our love for Him. He declares that our love for Him will give us a desire to be obedient. As we learn more about Him and fall deeper in love with Him, we will want nothing more than to be just like Him. The love of God prompts our obedience, not the other way around.

The world offers a false-peace that is only a temporary escape. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other fleshly temptation. But Jesus doesn’t give peace like the world gives—He gives a lasting peace. So, how do you encounter this comfort, communication, and peace? How do you get “filled with the Spirit?” The same way you get saved: Realize your need and ask in faith. Like any other gift, you must choose to receive it.

Prayer:

God, You are my Provider, and I know You will take care of me. Thank You for guiding me to places of rest. You are my source of energy and passion. You keep me going and lead me toward a life of purpose and freedom. You have chosen me, and I have chosen You, and that means I will be with You, in Your presence, forever. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

What areas of your life don’t look much like Jesus?

What is one thing you can do today to make your life look more like Jesus’ life?

Remember: Through the Holy Spirit, we have comfort, communication, and peace.

Day 15 – Read John Chapter 15: The Vine and the Branches

Key Verse: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.15.NIV

Continuing His parting words to His friends, Jesus explains that the way to stay connected to God is by following His example. He also warns that they will be hated and misunderstood.

Pruning is the process of cutting limbs from a plant to keep it healthy and productive. If there are branches that are not producing any fruit, they will be cut off completely. As we follow Jesus, we also require pruning in order to grow and change. God is a gardener, and if we are all branches on His vine, then when we each bear fruit and we are all playing a part in His end game. The beauty is that others are blessed by this process; those attached to the vine, and those not. In a vine, not every grape has the same purpose—whether raisins, wine, jelly, or juice. Likewise, we all have different gifts that lead us to being used uniquely, helping the whole vine to grow. On top of that, our fruit attracts unbelievers to the vine, thus grafting them into the vine as well.

Love is a fruit. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, faithfulness, goodness and self-control are all fruits (Galatians 5:22–23). These characteristics are evident in people who are connected to Jesus, the vine. What others see is a reflection of what’s going on inside of us. As a follower of Jesus, others should see fruit in your life. If you are not seeing fruit in your life, maybe it’s time to connect with Jesus. Get connected to the source that will give you abundant life and produce that fruit in you.

If you are in a season of pruning, it is because you are connecting to Jesus. You are growing, you are changing and He is making you into something more beautiful, something richer and better than what you already are. Jesus is not content with letting you stay the way you are—He wants more for you. He wants the absolute best for your life! 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” He cares for you and although the process may be painful and uncomfortable, He is not okay with letting you stay where you are when something more beautiful is waiting. Jesus will perfect you because He is concerned for you.

Prayer:

Father God, I ask You to search my heart. If You find anything in me that is offensive, please show me and help me remove it from my life. Lead me to live a life that draws people to You. Help me live my life on earth in a way that impacts eternity. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

Is there evidence of fruit in your life?

What are some practical ways to stay connected and growing in a relationship with Jesus?

Remember: God wants you to grow, but sometimes that means pruning.

Day 16 – Read John Chapter 16: The Work of the Holy Spirit

Key Verse: “When the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.16.NIV

Jesus teaches His friends about the Holy Spirit and His role in their lives. He also teaches them the power of praying in His name.

In this world we will have trouble—that’s a given. But there is hope! In John 16, Jesus explains to the disciples that while He would be leaving this earth, they would not be left alone. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. He is our comforter, our peace, our strength and our teacher. That was part of God’s plan from the beginning. The Holy Spirit is ready and available to be part of anyone and everyone’s life. God did not leave us to navigate life in this world on our own.

Depending on your background, you may find the thought of the Holy Spirit weird or even scary. But the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, and God only gives good gifts. The Holy Spirit’s main role is to bring us comfort, encouragement and understanding.

It took a heavenly perspective to realize that the short-term loss was nothing compared to the long-term advantage. Similarly, we at various times may sense God doing things that are not in our plans. Maybe it violates our comfort, our happiness, or our 5-year-plan. In those times, we must ask God to reveal what He’s doing and see how it will be used for the better.

God sent the Holy Spirit to lead us and comfort us. The Holy Spirit corrects us and lets us know when we need to address sin in our lives. He guides us, nudges us and leads us as we take our next steps in faith. The Holy Spirit also reveals truth to us, truth that brings about change in our hearts, our minds and our character as we seek Him and obey Him. He brings us peace, comfort and strength. He is our companion.

Prayer:

Holy Spirit, I ask You to fill me up. I need Your presence in my life, guiding, directing, comforting, and counseling me. You are the Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, and Knowledge. Give me a holy fear of the Lord, helping me to be in awe of who God is and what God does. Work in me, Holy Spirit. Teach and transform me. I honor You and ask You to empower me with Your spiritual gifts for the good of the church. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

Is there something the Holy Spirit is nudging you about?

Do you have a next step to take or a sin that needs to be addressed?

Do you trust the Holy Spirit and know that He is always with you? Why or why not?

Remember: God turns short-term loss into long-term advantage.

Day 17 – Read John Chapter 17: Jesus Prays for Himself

Key Verse: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” John 17:20-21 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.17.NIV

Before heading to His death, Jesus stops and prays for Himself, His friends and all of us who would believe in Him in the future.

If you want to know what someone thinks about God, listen to their prayers. Do they ask God only for wealth and possessions, or for others’ salvation? Do they appeal for God’s intervention like they would present a business proposal or as a child petitioning their father?

In John 17, we’re allowed to eavesdrop on one of Jesus’ prayers. Although it is only moments before He will be betrayed, beaten and crucified, Jesus takes time to pray on behalf of His disciples. He shows His heartfelt concern, not only for the men He has taught for years but for those who would later hear His message, including you.

The intimacy and familiarity with which Jesus speaks to God is evident. For eternity, even before “the foundation of the world,” Jesus and God the Father have shared a perfect loving relationship. Through Jesus, we get to enter into their perfect loving union. You have received eternal life and restoration to a loving and intimate relationship with God through Jesus.

God is not far off and Jesus’ concern for you is not distant. He prayed for you. Even today, the Son resides next to the Father, continuing to appeal on your behalf (1 John 2:1). Today, thank God for allowing you to enter into a completely loving relationship with Him through Jesus.

Prayer:

Father, in Your Word You invite me to pour out my heart to You. You are my refuge, and I know that anything I think, feel, or do is ok to bring to You. Knowing that You are a safe place for me, I come to You and give You everything on my heart. From what is worrying me to what is delighting me, what I hope for to what I’m afraid of, I bring it all to You because I know I can trust You. Help me and guide me in every area, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

How are you encouraged by the fact that Jesus prayed for you?

How can your confidence in God’s love for you affect your actions, even in the face of those who hate you (John 17:14)?

Remember: Prayer is powerful and will help keep you going when you hit the wall and feel like you can’t go on.

Day 18 – Read John Chapter 18: Jesus Arrested

Key Verse: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” John 18:37 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.18.NIV

Religious leaders arrest Jesus and take Him to the high priest for questioning. Peter follows behind and denies knowing Jesus. After holding their own hearing, the Jews press charges against Jesus in the Roman court.

Some days alarms don’t go off, cars won’t start and nothing goes as planned. But those mishaps pale in comparison to moments when someone suddenly loses their job, is widowed or struck with an incurable illness. Our future is unforeseen. The scene is an unimaginable disaster. Jesus is betrayed by one of His closest friends. He is arrested and bound by a band of officers and soldiers, then interrogated and treated like a criminal. Seemingly, everything had gone wrong.

But in reality, everything was going according to plan. John makes it clear that Jesus was not a victim of circumstance, but in complete control. Jesus foretold these events. He turned himself over to them “knowing all that would happen to him” (John 18:4) and He declared to Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world” (John 18:37). How could Jesus continue to submit to the situation? He trusted in God’s perfect plan.

In the same way Jesus trusted in the goodness of the Father despite His circumstances, we can trust that God is in complete control over every aspect of our lives. Even when events are outside of our control, we can rest assured that God is graciously orchestrating everything for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Today, thank God for His goodness and His authority over all circumstances. Ask Him to help you remember this truth in the face of any difficulty.

Prayer:

God, You promise me in Your Word that in all things You work for my good. Right now, there are circumstances in my life that don’t feel good and that I can’t see an ounce of good in. Even though this is how I feel, I choose to believe Your truth over my feelings. When you say You will work in all things for my good, I believe You. Even in situations that seem hopeless, I know You are working on my behalf and that You want more for me than I could ever want for myself. Thank You for having a purpose for me and for working in all of my life’s circumstances. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

How does knowing God is in control of all things change how you see the difficulties in your own life?

Remember: Forgiveness is forever. Jesus had prayed that when Peter felt condemned, he would be restored and strengthened by his brethren. And that same promise is made to us. What Satan intended to kill Peter, just like he had Judas, Jesus turned on its head. Peter received forgiveness and became stronger for it, going on to champion the Gospel the world over. Peter was never too far away to be forgiven and neither are we.

Day 19 – Read John Chapter 19: Jesus Sentenced to be Crucified

Key Verse: “It is finished.” John 19:30 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.19.NIV

Jesus is flogged and crucified. He dies on a cross and is buried in a nearby tomb.

Right before Jesus took His last breath, He spoke these words, “It is finished,” which translates as “paid in full.”

In His three years of ministry, Jesus completed the task set before Him. He voluntarily chose to sacrifice Himself, knowing His death would pay the penalty for our sin and create a way for us to become right with God and have a relationship with God. We were born sinful and separated from God. Accepting that Jesus is our Savior is the only way we are able to restore that relationship. Jesus finished what we could not.

Jesus died so we could believe. John tells us that this testimony of Jesus was given, “so that you also may believe” (John 19:35). The events of Jesus’ death on the cross were recorded based on an eyewitness testimony. You and I were not there to see this with our own eyes but someone did see these things and recorded them. God gave us someone tangible to believe in by sending His son, Jesus, here to Earth. Jesus gave His life to make a way for us to have life (John 10:10).

In all, over 28 unique prophecies were fulfilled the day Jesus died. Why would God go to such great lengths to describe how His Son would die? Verse 35 says, “so that you may believe.” Ultimately, God did this so we would see that this whole thing was a rescue mission—that Jesus was sent into the world to save the world—and so we wouldn’t mistake it. He died so that we could live and that was the plan all along. John 10:18 says, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of myself.”

Prayer:

God, I am in awe of Your love for me. You are so great, and I am so small, yet You love me fully. I remind my soul today that nothing can separate me from Your love—I am so grateful! There is nothing I can do to win or lose Your love; You love me without condition. Because I know nothing on earth, in time or space, or anything in existence can separate me from Your love, I will live confidently and peacefully knowing I have always been and will always be fully loved by You. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What one area of your life seems too overwhelming to finish? What strength can you find from Jesus?

What does it mean to you to know that Jesus loves you despite what you have done or will do?

Remember: Jesus died so we can live. In a very real sense, He sacrificed His life so we could go free.

Day 20 – Read John Chapter 20: The Empty Tomb

Key Verse: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.20.NIV

Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers, goes to His tomb only to find that He’s not there! Jesus appears to Mary and several others, fulfilling all that He had said about rising from the dead.

Our culture loves the idea that anybody can begin a new life. We watch reality television shows that make us believe we can all become an instant celebrity. We love the American dream because it tells us that we can be anything we want to if we try hard enough. But the reality is we have no hope of changing ourselves. The only way we can put away sinful habits is through a relationship with Jesus made possible by His death and resurrection.

On the cross, Jesus clothed Himself in our sin. When Peter and John looked into the empty tomb, they saw Jesus was not there and He had left His burial clothes. John 20 shows us that Jesus left our sinful nature in the grave when He rose from the dead.

We do not have to be controlled by our desire to sin. Not only do we not have to be clothed in sin, the resurrection means we get to be clothed in something better. In Colossians 3:12 Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Following Jesus allows us to put away our old lives and begin new ones.

Prayer:

God, I am in awe of You. Your Name is a strong tower, a place of protection and safety for me. I praise You as my Healer, my Shepherd, and my Banner of Victory. You are my Peace, my Provider, my Righteousness, and my Sanctifier. Your Name is great, and I worship You. If I feel uncertain or afraid, I pray You will comfort me through Your Holy Spirit and remind me that I am never alone because You, the Almighty God, have promised to always be with me. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

What can you learn about Jesus from this chapter?

What old habits do you need to do away with?

What is one thing Jesus wants you to start doing?

Remember: If we don’t go, they won’t know. To them, and to us, Jesus relays how urgent the job is. He is saying, “I am sending you out with the Gospel, and if you don’t present it, how can anyone know Me and be forgiven?” God gave us authority to tell those who receive Christ that they are forgiven, and that is a powerful job description.

Day 21 – Read John Chapter 21: Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

Key Verse: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:22 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/JHN.21.NIV

This chapter marks the third and final appearance of the risen Lord. As Jesus appears this final time, His disciples were fishing, and it would be on the beach that Jesus reassures/forgives Peter and encourages the other disciples to always follow His example as His apostles.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This phrase may have haunted you before a job interview or first date. Sometimes our first impression of someone leads to false assumptions. Sometimes we even have a relationship with someone and struggle giving them a second chance when their sin disappoints us. The pressure is high in our society to make a great first impression. If we succeed, we tend to keep our guard up. We assume that if people knew our secrets, they wouldn’t want to be around us anymore.

Peter betrayed Jesus after promising he never would. Even after seeing Jesus alive again, Peter heads back out to sea to return to what he was doing before Jesus called him. He must have felt an overwhelming sense of shame and loss as he loaded the boat to fish that day. He had blown it. He might as well go back to his old job because God definitely couldn’t use a traitor like him to spread the great news that Jesus had died for our sins and was alive again. Psalm 103:10 says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” The very thing Peter feared was proven a lie by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Thank God He didn’t leave Peter alone. He forgave him and sent him on a mission to preach His word. What a beautiful description of love as Jesus returns to the circumstance where He first called Peter and gives him a second chance. We are not useless to God when we mess up. In fact when God forgives our sin and uses us despite it, our life is a witness to Jesus’ love and power.

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me as I learn to trust in Your ways and Your timing. Thank You for not only performing miracles in my life, but making me a part of them. I pray at the end of these 21 days to have a deeper relationship with You as I make room for You in my life. Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

Have you committed a sin you feel has made you useless to God?

Are you willing to risk people’s opinion of you to find help when you need it?

Are there people in your life who you have yet to forgive?

Remember: Our love for Jesus is essential to fulfilling our purpose and destiny. This is the heart of God. He doesn’t need us, but loves our involvement. In life, everything we do with God is a team effort. In evangelism it’s the same way. He alone can save, but He uses us to share the gospel while He works on the hearts. Our great God wants us greatly involved.

Fasting Types, Tips & Strategies

***DISCLAIMER*** Before considering or starting any fast, you should always speak to your doctor. Never rely solely on the information found on this website/guide as an alternative to medical advice from your physician or other professional healthcare provider.

Fasting Definition: Abstaining from food (and sometimes other things/activities) for measured periods of time, in order to heighten one’s hunger for the things of God.

Types of Fasts: Your personal fast should present a level of challenge, but it is very important to know your body, your options, and most importantly, to seek God in prayer and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do.

Complete Fast: In this type of fast, you drink only liquids, typically water with light juices as an option.

Selective Fast: This type of fast involves removing certain elements from your diet. One example of a selective fast is the Daniel Fast, during which you remove meat, sweets, and bread from your diet and consume water and juice for fluids and fruits and vegetables for food.

Partial Fast: This fast is sometimes called the “Jewish Fast” and involves abstaining from eating any type of food in the morning and afternoon. This can either correlate to specific times of the day, such as 6:00 am to 3:00 pm, or from sunup to sundown.

Soul Fast: This fast is a great option if you do not have much experience fasting food, have health issues that prevent you from fasting food, or if you wish to refocus certain areas of your life that are out of balance. For example, you might choose to stop using social media or watching television for the duration of the fast and then carefully bring that element back into your life in healthy doses at the conclusion of the fast.

Timing of a Fast: At Generations United, we will be fasting for 21 days starting February 11th. This is part of our Make Room for God 21 – Day Prayer and Fast, a season of focused prayer as a church family. You may also choose to fast at other times during the year for your own spiritual development. It’s very typical to fast a single meal, a whole day, or three days or more. The timing of your fast is not as important as the strength of your focus on God as you fast.

Scripture References

Matthew 6:16-18

Matthew 9:14-15

Luke 18:9-14

Acts 27:33-37

Nehemiah 9:1-3

I love John Piper’s approach to fasting. He says, “The absence of our fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.” You see, when we fast, that enslavement is broken, and we are freed up to focus our hunger on what we really want. Fasting not only breaks our enslavement to desires, it can ignite our hunger for God. Fasting then becomes a catalyst to growing closer to God.

When should we fast? Turn to Isaiah 58 and look at it verse-by-verse for the answers.

  1. When caught in a sinful pattern. “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness . . .” When I can’t seem to break out of a sinful pattern, I should fast (Isaiah 58:6).
  2. When there is a heavy burden. “To undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).
  3. When oppressed by the enemy. “ . . . to let the oppressed go free” (Isaiah 58:6).
  4. When we want to give to someone else. “Is the fast not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6).
  5. When we need to be encouraged. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn. Your healing shall spring forth speedily and righteousness shall go before you. . . ” (Isaiah 58:8).
  6. When an answer to prayer is needed. “Then you should call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry . . . and He will say: Here I am . . .” (Isaiah 58:9).
  7. When we need to examine ourselves. “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing finger and the spreading wickedness . . .” (Isaiah 58:10).
  8. When we need direction. “And the LORD will guide you continually. . .” (Isaiah 58:11).
  9. When we need spiritual restoration. “. . . And He will make your bones strong. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11).
  10. When we need revival. “And your ancient ruins will be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations . . .” (Isaiah 58:12).

Jentezen Franklin sums up why he fasts and why I believe all followers of Christ should engage in some form of this practice. Franklin says, “When I feel myself growing dry spiritually, when I don’t sense that cutting-edge anointing, or when I need a fresh encounter with God, fasting is the secret key that not only unlocks heaven’s door, but also slams shut the gates of hell.” Fasting puts our desire to grow closer to the Lord above any human wants/needs.

Concluding a fast: When you complete your fast, be mindful of: how much you eat, what you eat, and how you eat it. Spiritually speaking, you must also remain alert and vigilant because the “thief” will be on the prowl to steal the increased intimacy with Christ you’ve gained during your fast. As you’ve fasted and subjected your flesh to the Spirit, your spiritual ears have become more alert to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, you’re now far more sensitive to even the smallest disobedience and sin in your life. Satan will now try to get you to cater to your flesh once again. He’ll try to clog your spiritual hearing and get you back into areas of disobedience or rebellion. Be careful, alert, and intentional! Be disciplined in your prayer time and pursuit of God, so you may stay vigilant in your submission and quick obedience to the Lord. Lastly, pray about your next fast now, while the spiritual benefits of fasting are fresh on your mind and in your spirit, so fasting becomes a commitment to be kept, not a contingency that can be cancelled.

Hearing the Voice of God

God reveals Himself to us in one of two primary ways. The first way is through Special Revelation, or the inspired and infallible Word of God. In its pages, we find promises, & learn about the nature of God, Who I believe is continually trying to speak into our lives concerning our pasts, our current situations, our futures, & ultimately our destiny.

The other way God chooses to reveal Himself to us is through General Revelation, meaning the wondrous creation of the world & everything that dwells within it.

Years ago, I read a book by Gary Thomas, called Sacred Pathways, which suggests that each of us has a primary way in which we grow closer to the Lord. Call it your love language with God. If you were wondering, God’s love language is obedience.

Now, this premise is not some Oprah doctrine that claims all roads lead to Jesus; instead, it highlights 9 various ways we can grow closer to the Lord. For me, worship is when I feel closest to the Lord and is why I am normally down in the very front during the worship portion of service. Our spiritual pathway to God helps us stay plugged into Him so we would not only come to know His will, but also feel His presence in our lives.

Each of us are vessels meant to be poured out, so as we pour ourselves into the lives of others, we must replenish ourselves from the Source.

Today, I want to focus on identifying the various voices in our life, what to do with them, and how to tap into a permanent connection to God. The question is not always about hearing God speak; instead, it is being able to recognize His voice when He does speak to us and then our choices thereafter.

God is continually trying to speak to us through: His Word, His Son – Jesus Christ, Creation & Nature, Praise, Fellow Believers, Our Circumstances, His Holy Spirit, & Prayer.

The Lord conversed with Adam in the garden. He told Noah to build an ark. He spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

He promised Abraham a son. Paul heard His voice on the road to Damascus. However, despite all these occurrences, as Christians today, many of us still question whether God still speaks to us and if so, we question: How? When? Where? & Why?

Hearing from God is one of those topics that can easily stir up frustration and confusion. Maybe you’re already asking some of these questions today:

How do I know if God is speaking to me?

How do I discern whether it is His voice speaking or just thoughts in my own head?

How can I make sense of what God’s calling me to do?

One of the first things we must acknowledge is how busy our lives have become. Life is full of distractions & the more we become advanced as a society, the more our time and the way we spend it becomes a precious & often wasted commodity.

When we wish or fantasize about the possibility of having more time, if we are being honest with ourselves, any gained time would just be filled with the same things we are currently filling it with.

The real problems in our life begin to arise when we are too busy to listen for the voice of God or when we choose to ignore that still small voice. Some of us may be new to the faith and have not had much experience dealing with hearing God’s voice, while others have become quite proficient in tuning that voice out.

Being able to hear and discern the voice of God is crucial to our walk as followers of Christ and the more we seek to hear from God, the more we allow ourselves to be used by Him.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NIV)

Gordon Fee explains, “Being spiritual does not lead to elitism; it leads to a deeper understanding of God’s profound mystery—redemption through a crucified Messiah. In other words, the person lacking the Spirit cannot discern what God is doing; while the one with the Spirit is able to do so because of the Spirit.”[1]

God wants to speak into each of our lives and for many of us, He already has, but what He said or what answer He gave us was not what we were looking to hear, so we have instead chosen to ignore Him.

I’m here to tell you that God is not going to speak something new into your life until you obey and acknowledge what He’s already said to you!

Before a race, I like to familiarize myself with the course, but I especially like to see the finish line, because when things get tough and the notion of quitting begins to enter my mind, I can focus on crossing the finish line and also how far I’ve already come.

In some cases, we embark on certain journeys in life because of what others have promised is waiting on the other side, while others we have taken because we know if we stay where we are, we will perish.

If we make the choice to walk through whatever we are facing in life, we will eventually see the miracle at the end, and in many cases, we will become the miracle at the end!

Throughout my walk with God, I have come to know that being able to hear the voice of God was the single greatest advantage I could ever have. I know this truth because I have personally lived (if you can call it living) a life where it felt like God and me were just like two ships passing in the dark or sometime two ships on a collision path.

The one constant I have learned is that our surrender is the first key to hearing His voice, which then leads to greater intimacy in our relationship with Him. However, the very concept of surrender leading to victory in any form is contrary to our way of thinking.

It’s not some form of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, but sometimes, we get so focused on the destinations, milestones & outcomes of life that we lose sight of what God might want to be doing in and through us and our daily circumstances. In hindsight, I can look back over instances in my life and see God’s hand at work, but in the midst of the trials and afflictions, it sometimes felt like God was a million miles away and that I didn’t matter to Him.

Clearly, this was not the case but it’s what the enemy wanted me to believe. As Henri Nouwen said, “The greatest temptation is to not believe that you are who God says you are.” Satan will always attempt to destroy or counterfeit anything God stands for or loves. If the enemy can’t have you, he would rather see you forsake your calling & birthright as a child of the Most High God.

As I’ve mentioned, I love to run partly because it gives me the opportunity to empty my mind of everything that has been weighing heavy on me and when I run, I listen to praise music so that when my mind is empty, it is then filled with godly things and not worldly things.

There are 3 voices in life:

  • Secular voice: very subtle in its attempt to contradict the nature of God. It’s not antichrist, but it’s the complete lack of God.
  • Spiritual voice: aligns itself with God’s Word & His nature. Confirms what Scripture says.
  • Satanic voice: condemning and in direct contradiction to God’s Word.

So what does this mean? It’s very important that we begin to differentiate which of these voices we are hearing and allowing to take root in our lives.

When God speaks to me about a particular issue, I cannot escape it. Around every corner there’s a sermon or Bible study or speaker’s topic or conversation with a friend that’s consistent with what I’ve been hearing from God. When we invest in spending time alone with God, He will speak to us and the message we are hearing will be confirmed.

There are 3 key practices to recognizing the voices in our lives:

  • Silence & Solitude
  • Reading God’s Word
  • Obedience

I love the passage found in I Samuel 3:1-10 where we see God calling out to Samuel on three separate occasions, but he was not familiar with the Lord’s voice yet, so he missed it:

“The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night, Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again, the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So, Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (NIV)

This demonstrates how we must be intentional about being acquainted & willing to listen when the Lord is trying to speak to us. In the same vein, I want God to be familiar with my voice when I call out to Him!

When God speaks to us, we must do what Eli instructed Samuel to say in verse 3: “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

  • “Our silence is the putting away of our outside distractions, while our solitude is the quieting of our soul and any chaos that is attempting to stop us from pressing in.” Ruth Haley Barton

Our thoughts are actions of the mind so hearing God and then trying to delay what has been revealed or asking for additional signs is disobedience.

This is important to recognize because the thoughts of our minds are easily turned to satisfying the desires of the flesh, & when we feed the flesh, we starve the Spirit, so we must feed the Spirit to starve the flesh.

  • Reading God’s Word is crucial in every believer’s life because we will never be able to recognize God’s voice if we have never read what it has said, or it has been so long that we have forgotten.

John 14:26 shows us that if we will commit to get into the Word, the Word will get into us. Its promises are eternal & the Lord’s Word never returns void without first accomplishing the task for which it was sent!

Psalms 37:23 shows, “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, when he delights in His way.”

We must acknowledge & invite the Lord into every facet of our lives: family, finances, emotions, work & He will direct our way!

God will never speak to us or tell us to do something that’s contrary to His Word. But unless we know the Scripture, we won’t be able to discern whether what we are hearing is consistent or not with the Word. Knowing the will of God comes only when we read & pray the Word of God.

  • Obedience is lining up God’s truth with our thoughts & actions. Disobedience doesn’t keep God from speaking; it just keeps us from hearing.

Our Obedience is the natural outgrowth of a life that is bound to serving God; meaning, if we are truly in love with God, we will obey His laws.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15 (NIV)

Many of us have already received a word from God we are either too afraid to obey, or we have chosen to ignore the initial calling/instruction and have moved on.

When we ignore the instruction after God clearly speaks, He will not speak again until we obey. I ran from my calling for over a decade, so I know this is a liberating truth for someone reading this.

The distance between our belief and action is directly proportional to the distance between our hearts & our minds. God speaks things so clearly to our hearts, but we have become so good at ignoring or doubting His voice, choosing instead to do things our own way or waiting for Him to speak something else. We must obey the Lord, if we want to continue hearing from Him!

Last month, I was awoken at 3:30am and for those that know me, you know this is not completely out of the norm. On most days, I would just get up and go for a run, but this particular day I woke up with the Spirit speaking to me that I was supposed to go to work at Parkway Veterinary Hospital. Even though the work I needed to do was outside and it was still dark, I’ve just learned to trust the Lord in these matters. You see, the year prior, during a run on a below freezing morning in January at 3:00am, the Spirit prompted me to cross the road in a location I had never done so on any previous runs. The impulse to cross was unlike anything I had ever felt before. As I crossed the road and looked into the wooded area with my headlamp, I could just barely make out the silhouette out of a body. Upon closer examination, as I passed several hypodermic needles and then discovered a lifeless body. I immediately called 911 and they arrived in less than two minutes and began to work on the gentleman. I’ll never forget that encounter, it was a Sunday morning and I can still remember coming onto church after that early morning encounter and just wondering what had happened, so after church, I called the hospital and explained I was the person who found the body and had called it in and while I didn’t want to violate any HIPPA laws, I just wanted to know if the individual had lived. The nurse I spoke with said, if I had not found him, he would have either died from an overdose, exposure to the cold, or a combination of both. Ever since then, I now cross at this junction on all my morning runs and have dubbed it the Good Samaritan Crossing. I later found out the drug they administered to the individual is being carried by all first responders and is called the Lazarus drug because of its ability to neutralize the opioid effect on the respiratory system and bring patients back from certain death.

I tell you these stories, so you can understand that when God speaks to me about someone or something, I can’t afford to spend time doubting or wondering what to do.

All right, so, back to what happened last month. I arrived at Parkway, and no sooner than coming out the front door at around 4am, I see a woman frantically coming down the road in obvious distress. I attempt to calm her down and ask what I can do to help. Long story short is that her three children were not only lost, but also in a very unsafe environment and she was desperate to find them and distraught in her inability not to be able to do so. Once again, I immediately called the police and prayed with her while we were waiting. The local law enforcement officers then took over and I went about my normal routine, not knowing if I would ever see her again, but I already knew beyond a shadow of a doubt God had sent me there at that very moment. So, the weekend goes by and I continue to pray for her and the family. On Monday, I receive a call from a gentleman that was being evicted and was looking for some help in acquiring a storage unit and moving their belongings into it, so I tell him I can meet him the following morning to help out. So, on Tuesday morning, I drive to the address he provided and as soon as I get out of my truck, and from around the corner, who do I see but the young woman I had crossed paths with on Friday night. She came up to me crying, hugging me, and thanking me for everything I had done. She said she had lost all hope and in a final ditch effort she had called out to God asking Him to send help if He truly cared about her. As a result of being obedient to the Spirit’s prompting, I was able to spend the rest of the day with this young couple, who through the series of some unfortunate circumstances had found themselves on very hard times, but had I not had the profound encounter with her on Friday night, there is no way I would have been able to present the gospel message & been able to talk to them about Jesus & Celebrate Recovery. We truly serve an amazing God!

I want to close with one final story we find in Scripture. King David is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible. He was a man after the Lord’s own heart, but he was also someone who knew firsthand what ignoring or desperately wanting to hear the voice of God led to.

Mephibosheth is another interesting person mentioned in Scripture. He was the grandson of King Saul and the son of Jonathan. In fact, one day, he was destined to sit on the throne as royalty.

However, through a series of unfortunate events, the course for the future was changed in an instant when both King Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle on Mt. Gilboa by the Philistines.

In ancient times, and in some regimes even to this day, when a leader falls in battle or passes away, there is an effort by the new ruler to wipe out the entire family’s lineage so that there is no legitimate heir or someone able to claim the throne or lead a future coup d’état.

When word of King Saul’s and Jonathan’s death reached the capital, there was an effort to get Mephibosheth out of the city. In their haste, to save the little boy’s life, he was accidentally dropped resulting in both of his legs being broken, so as he grew up, he became crippled and was no longer able to walk.

He didn’t do anything wrong and he certainly didn’t do anything to deserve this life-altering moment. In fact, he went from being a future king to living in one of the poorest, most run-down slums of a city call Lo Debar.

Now this place sounds like something out of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and the name literally means, “land of nothing.” It’s amazing what God can do with nothing! Can anything good come from Nazareth… It was here the spirit of loneliness and thoughts about how unfair life was surely encompassed his very being.

I want you to know each one of us has been crippled by something in our past & its effects have not gone unnoticed by God. We all have hurts, habits, hang ups in life & when we surrender them to the Lord, he brings purpose out of our pain; they are our testimony.

All of us have felt alone and forgotten, but something interesting happens in II Samuel 9:1, as King David asks, “Is there anyone left from the house of Saul, that I might show kindness to?”

The word kindness: ḥesed “or” חֶסֶד‎  is an interesting word that means: lovingkindness, mercy, & goodness.

Thankfully, we serve a God of justice & while you may have been dropped, or hurt in the past, don’t be down or discouraged because justice, restoration, promotion, favor, and a new beginning is coming in your future when His perfect will and His perfect timing intersect.

The King of kings is summoning each of us, regardless of where we have been hiding or what exile we’ve found ourselves in. Due to the pain & hurt we have endured, it may feel like we can’t go on any further on our own strength and that’s ok because:

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

I can only imagine what Mephibosheth thought when the king’s soldiers found him and said, “Come with us right now. The king is summoning you.”

What happens next is profound!

King David’s motives were rooted out of his covenant promise and lovingkindness to his best friend Jonathan & King David would restore to Mephibosheth all his family’s wealth, land, and King David even told him that he would always have a seat at the king’s table.

What’s interesting is that Mephibosheth never received a physical healing for his legs, but God made the rest of his life so fulfilling & rewarding the pain & reality of being a cripple was removed.

Each of us, no matter what has happened in our past or what we are currently struggling with has a ticket to the palace, a seat at the king’s table, and a way out!

So, I believe the problem isn’t that God no longer speaks to us; it’s that we don’t listen or can’t recognize His voice & until we do, we’ll never know peace. God spoke to King David’s heart & He can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plans!

In Jeremiah 29:13, God promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

The amazing thing about being able to hear the voice of God is the profound realization of how God’s grace is continually pursuing us. C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of God being like a hunter and we are the deer He continually pursues & shoots with arrows of grace. There is nothing in us to deserve it and we certainly can’t earn it; instead, it stems from God’s love for us.

God’s grace seeks us where we are at, it brings us into the king’s presence, & it keeps us safe for His return. With broken legs we chase perfection, while all we need to do is call out and listen for the voice of God because when we do, we will never be the same again.

“Speak LORD, for your Servants are listening.”

Let us be known as a generation that seeks your face and calls out after your name. Let us see the world through your eyes and may our hearts break for what breaks yours. Lord, I pray when the world sees us, may we be a reflection of the love, mercy, grace, and compassion you have shown each of us. Speak Lord, to all of us who have been saved by Your name, the name above all names. Amen!

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 118-120.

 

How to Find and Maintain Hope in the Dark Seasons of Life

 

Some time ago, I listened to a sermon based upon Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the One who “forms light and creates darkness,” the One who “makes peace and creates calamity” [Isa 45:7a]—He says “I am the One who does these things” [Isa 45:7b]. This to me was amazing, since we do not typically think that God has anything to do with the darkness we often face—only the light in which we live. But there it is—our God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of our world, and for this reason we can take heart and maintain hope, for all is well with Him in charge.

What the prophet Isaiah is saying in this passage is that if bad conditions exist in our life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual god, who would like us to have good conditions but cannot bring them about.

The darkness or calamity may be present in our life because we have sinned against His natural and moral laws, like [Sowing & Reaping], they may be there because by their means we can become more like Him, or they may be there for reasons that He cannot explain to us. But they are not there in spite of God.

What do we need to know?

Ask ourselves: Is it possible that we can gain blessings in our times of darkness that we cannot gain in the times of light?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2 ESV

Greek word for testing is: δοκίμιον “or” dokimion translates as testing by trials.

Dross is the word silversmiths used for the impurities that would rise to the top as they were trying to make the silver as pure as possible.

Our testing Leads to Purification & Trustworthiness.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a life verse many people have claimed over their lives: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Understanding the context is key!

The problem we run into is when we approach this passage of Scripture as a security blanket: believing simply that God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly any suffering I’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin! But that is not at all what God was promising to the Israelites, and it’s not what He’s promising us, either. The heart of the verse is not that we would escape our circumstances, but that we would learn to thrive in the midst of them.

Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as result of their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years.

So Jeremiah calls out Hananiah’s lie, and then states the promise we read in 29:11. God did indeed have a good plan for the Israelites, and it was a plan that would give them hope and a prospering future. Sounds good, right?

The thing is, before he shares this promise, he gives them this directive from God found in verse 7: “Seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This means we are to pray for our enemies, especially during seasons of captivity and persecution.

This of course was not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told that they were going to go home. They wanted to be told that their suffering was going to end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay right where they were, and to help prosper the very nation that had enslaved them!

And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says that He would fulfill this promise “after seventy years are completed in Babylon.” This meant that none in the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home.

So, yes, of course God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately, He will give us a glorious future. But, what we must remember is that the best growth comes through persevering in our trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we can learn perseverance, we will find surprising joy. Even if…

*** I believe there are seeds of greatness in each of us – dreams, goals, talents, and potential that will only come to life in the dark places of our life.

Like a caterpillar that must form a cocoon to undergo the metamorphosis to become a butterfly, what are we willing to go through to become what God intended for us to be?***

So, today I want to encourage especially those of us who are feeling as if it’s dark right now that our God is not as far away as we often imagine. He is right there in the dark with us, and the darkness will give way to the light of day. Seasons prepare us for what God is calling us to do.

Why do we need to know this:

To escape a season of darkness, we can’t be in faith about God doing something in our life and then go around talking and acting like it will never happen.

Key Point: Right now each of us can make a conscious choice to remain hopeful. This is important because our feelings will eventually catch up with our decisions & actions. Happiness not guaranteed but our joy is. This choice is as simple as turning on a light switch.

God has a great purpose for your life. He wants to use you powerfully to impact the people all around you. But in order to step into His purposes for your life, you have to actually take a step, even if that step leads into a season of darkness. Every time we step into another level with God, it is preceded by a choice we make. Each of us has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in our own life & in the lives of those around us

I love what Job 8:13 demonstrates, “Those who forgot God had no hope.”

“The forgetting of God was not a mere lapse of memory, but the willful decision to live with no regard either for God or for His precepts.”

If you want to be free from deception, you have to precede it by taking the action of obeying God’s Word.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

If you want your life to be filled with stability & purpose instead of drama & turmoil, it must be preceded by putting Jesus’ teachings into action.

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

Even the times when God tells us to be still, it still requires action on our part. Hardest times! When God tells us to be still, He does not want us to be apathetic, but to do the hard work of trusting & waiting.

“Cease striving/Be still and know that I am God; for I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

How many times are we waiting for God to do something that He’s already given us the power to do? Ask Him what action steps He wants you to take. It’s always darkest just before the dawn and our Night of Misery can instantly turn into our Day of Blessing!

The problem we run into is we have a limited and finite understanding of our infinite God.

For me in life, it’s often like this: You walk along in faith, doing the next right thing you know to do, then all of a sudden you get a moment of clarity. The mist lifts, and you get a little glimpse of what God is up to. Or, you find out that the light at the end of the tunnel is a speeding train…

Regardless, God’s purposes for your life are so much better than anything you can imagine, and He has the passion and power to bring them to pass. Our job is to co-labor with Him by quieting our heart, so we can hear His voice and then obey quickly. Even if it’s a whisper, God’s voice must be the loudest in our life!

Key Point: If you are in a foggy spot on the journey, don’t give up. Keep pressing in and moving forward. That’s what faith is all about. If you’re going to magnify something, don’t magnify your problems; magnify your God.

I love the story of the Conquistador Cortes when he sailed to Veracruz to take on the mighty Aztecs. His first order was to burn the ships they had just sailed on. He understood that retreat is easy when you have the option. In life, we can’t always be looking for a Plan B; we should instead strive only to follow God’s will for our lives.

The Christian life is a journey along a narrow road. Sometimes the road is straight, while others, it’s hard to see very far ahead. We may get glimpses and impressions of what lies ahead, but in order to discover what’s really there, we have to keep moving forward.

“When we can’t take anymore & darkness overtakes the righteous, light will come bursting in.” Psalm 112:4

I have regularly hit patches where I realize that everything I’ve been doing up until that point, has simply been in preparation for what’s ahead. All of the digging in to learn new things and the relational stretching isn’t really about those things in themselves, it’s about where God is taking you on the journey.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Our circumstances don’t change the power or the promises of the Lord. If we truly believed this, we wouldn’t reinforce or listen to what the devil or the world says about us. Our identity and our worth is found solely in Christ Jesus. We are priceless!

On issues like this, God doesn’t always need to speak when He’s already spoken and often in times where it feels darkest, Corrie Ten Boon illustrates the Lord is simply hiding us under the shadow of His wings and it only feels dark because He is so near.”

And sometimes, the path set before us causes us to walk through dark times, but it is in these life-transforming moments when you can find Jesus veiled in the darkness. “Bold faith stands on the shoulders of quiet trust and our worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Corrie Boon

If I’ve learned anything in my walk it’s that God can use anyone & anything to accomplish His plans.

In Judges 6 & 7 we see Gideon being used by God to do something significant, despite him being fearful and questioning that if the Lord had truly been with them then why had all the bad things been happening.

And Gideon said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15 (ESV)

God tells him to do the very thing he was terrified to do: “Go into the enemies’ camp.” Now I don’t know about you, but if I was afraid of my enemy, the last thing I would want to do is confront them with only my servant by my side, especially at night! However, if we ignore or question what God is calling us to do, we’ll miss out on His blessings because there are a great many things we cannot attain when we remain in a place of safety.

Sometimes, by focusing on our own comfort, we actually prevent access to the very thing(s) we are asking for. Gideon would receive his courage in the very place he was so afraid to be, & he would hear of his enemy’s dream & fear of the Lord. In the natural, it may not seem safe, but in the supernatural & when we are sent by God, He makes it safe.

What Do We Need to Do?

Ask ourselves what have we kept ourselves from that could quite possibly lead to the breakthrough we have been praying for? What or who is holding us back? Sickness, Pain, Doubt, FEAR

Each of us has anchors in our life and we have previously talked about hope being the anchor of our soul and that without hope, we cannot have faith, since faith is the evidence of things hoped for.

So, when the trials and circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, the natural tendency is to pull up our anchor and take over control, but if we would instead keep our anchor down and keep our faith and trust in the Lord, we would never be lost or disappointed.

While there are good anchors in our life, there are also bad anchors that we need to cut away because if we don’t, we’ll drift away from God and fall into a life of anger, bitterness, & doubt due to our circumstances.

Zechariah 9:12 puts it this way, “Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today, I declare I will restore double to you.” NAS translates it as “prisoners who have hope.”

The word prisoner generally has a negative connotation in modern-day culture, but to be a prisoner of hope means we are confined by the promises of God and cannot escape them.

Joseph is the perfect example. He was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, falsely accused, and imprisoned, but because he remained faithful, he was eventually vindicated, promoted, and ultimately put in charge and used by God to save the people and even his own family from the famine.

Being a prisoner of hope means you can’t get away from it. It’s believing if God is for us, then who can be against us? There is nothing and no one that can snatch us out of His hand, when we remain prisoners of hope.

Key Point: Some things we can only learn in trials of affliction, our character is refined in these fiery trials & our character is much more important than our talents.

No matter what circumstances we are facing, God can turn them around. God’s answers are: “yes, not yet, or He has something better in store,” so we have to get to a place where we trust that His grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that His mercy endures forever. For every trial we face in life, we will either be delivered from it, through it, or by it.

Abraham and Sarah are also good examples. Romans 4 explains, “All human reason for hope being gone, Abraham hoped on in faith.” It took nearly 20 years for the promise of Isaac to be fulfilled, so just because your promise hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not on its way. Keep praying and seeking God!

The bad breaks we face in life don’t disqualify us from fulfilling our purpose and destiny, but they can surely distract us, causing us to take our eyes of Jesus. God wastes nothing and what He starts, He always finishes!

Key Point: We must never let other people talk us out of promises and dreams God has placed in our heart. Even when things don’t seem to be happening on the outside, doesn’t mean God isn’t working behind the scenes. Also, keep dream-killers out of your circle and don’t just go through trials; learn how to grow through them.

Drifting causes us to lose our passion, it causes us to worry, and be stressed out! When this happens, all we must do is put our anchor back down in God’s hope and remember that when bad breaks and circumstances do happen, it is because there is an enemy of our soul who doesn’t want to see our destiny come to pass.

An anchor also serves a second purpose, specifically when ships are going through storms. When it is lowered, it provides the vessel with more stability, much like outriggers do, as the waves crash against it.

Key Point: If we are not anchored to hope, we will find ourselves anchored to something else so keeping the right perspective is key. For example, when we look at the story of David and Goliath, we assume Goliath was sent to destroy David, but God’s divine plan unfolded by David receiving a promotion when he defeated Goliath. Tests turn into testimony and our messes become our message.

In a like manner, whatever we are facing today isn’t meant to stop us; it’s meant to move us towards our divine destiny. You see, when we are not hopeful, it physically makes us sick on the inside, so we must stay hopeful, especially in our seasons of drought.

Whatever we are facing in life can either become our excuse or it can become our purpose. The enemy doesn’t want us to live free and nothing is a surprise to God. Being anchored to anything besides hope will keep us from our destiny and from fulfilling our purpose, so sometimes we must cut the line to our worldly anchors.

Those with the most hope have the most influence!

The ache of the heart always is hope. What I mean is this: biblical hope is much different than worldly hope. Worldly hope is wishing something would happen, while biblical hope is the joyful anticipation of good or the excitement before something actually happens.

This biblical perspective allows us in the middle of our adversity to have hope. Even while our circumstances may attempt to deny or delay the very promises God has made to us, our hope anchors us to God’s joy and eventually to our breakthrough.

Any area of our life for which we have no hope is a lie! There is no situation we will ever face that we are not prepared for and that God doesn’t have the answer for. Remember, God’s hand is on the thermostat. He controls just how hot the fire gets and how long the trial lasts, so just remember the longer and hotter the fiery trial, the purer the outcome will be.

It’s interesting, when God delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, it was far easier to get Israel out of Egypt, but it proved much more difficult to get Egypt out of Israel. There are many times in life when we want God to do something our way, but the Lord often has a much better way, because only He can see things in us that we ourselves cannot see.

Often, God creates detours around battles we are not yet ready to face. This is one of primary reasons a six-day journey to the Promise Land took the Israelites 40 years. Complain and you’ll remain, but praise and you’ll be raised!

Emotions like fear, doubt, anxiety, and intimidation are not sin; it’s only sin when we start partnering with these thoughts that we begin to sin. It’s when we begin to embrace these feelings that we lose sight of all the tools God has given us & what He wants to do in/through us.

Key Point: The offspring of fear is hopelessness! And anything you need to have in order to be happy can be used by the enemy to discourage and distract us, so hold firmly to what God has placed in your heart, but hold loosely to how He brings those promises to pass.

God has given each of us tools and giftings and sometimes He gives us an acorn instead of an oak tree.

He has a tendency to answer large prayers with small answers to see if we have the stamina, character, and focus to steward the answer He has revealed in small form.

Why Do We Need to Do It?

To become what God intends us to be, He engages us in a process, and He is trying to grow us into the person who can understand the answer without it destroying us. God uses our circumstances to wake us up so we’ll listen and obey.

C.S. Lewis said it best: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our consciences, but He shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

An interesting thing I have found in Scripture is how the demonic realm continually looks for dry places to rest. These dry places are our seasons of pain, isolation, drought, and wilderness wanderings. However, throughout Scripture, we also see rain, rivers, pools, and springs all referring to the work of God and the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah 9:11, “Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

Luke 11:24, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest.”

One of my favorite stories is Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; & Luke 8:27-38. Broke chains. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had. Satan seeks to destroy, or counterfeit all of God’s creation.

In the middle of our conflicts, we must remind ourselves that we belong to the Lord & that the most hopeful people are those who remain close to God.

Restoration of God: Job lost everything, and God restored twice what he had lost, the temple of Solomon was destroyed, but when it was rebuilt by Herod; it was twice the size.

Key Point: The concept of restoration in Scripture should make us all hopeful when we experience loss.

If you are in a season of drought and are not getting answers to your prayers:

  1. Talk to God about something He wants to talk about. Sometimes we must first get reacquainted with His voice to allow our heart to burn for what burns His. Begin and end your day with God. Prayer/Praise/Bible
  2. Pray for what God is already doing. Ask for rain, while it’s raining, which aligns your prayer life with His activity and positions you for the next thing He wants you to do.
  3. Praise Him before you get an answer; this is where strength is found. There is an entire generation amongst us waiting to see revival and the power of hope and praise, so they can live a joy-filled life.

We Must Be Prisoners of Hope: Over the years, I’ve learned how to lock myself up in a prison of hope, knowing that God has nothing but His best planned for me. Hope is what has helped me hold on in those seasons when it seemed like His promises would never come to pass.

Hopeful Anticipation: When things don’t seem to be happening, it can be very easy to develop a very negative outlook on life, which then leads to speaking negatively about it. This was a painful way to live life before I learned how to become a prisoner of hope. As I grew in my relationship with God, I learned how to trust Him, how to stand on His Word, and how to stand my ground in prayer when it got tough.

Double for Your Trouble Now: I do realize there are many things in life that can happen to us that aren’t so enjoyable. These seasons can make it difficult to grasp the idea of enjoying life. So, think of it this way: What are you hoping for? What are you expecting in life? What are you looking forward to? Focus on these things; not the past. Don’t forget past; learn from it.

I went through a season where my negative outlook was due to my attitude about all the bad things that had happened in my life. I was stuck in the pain of my past, so I didn’t believe anything good could/would happen in my future. With of all of the negative things that had happened, I was programmed to believe that negative things would always happen. As a result, I lost hope. Remember to draw from your past, but don’t let it draw from you.

But, God was there, and He knew that and over time He kept loving me and dealing with me, promising me what Isaiah 61:7 says: Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours (NIV). That’s a promise for us all…a promise of double for your trouble! Double the blessing!

Hope: I want to encourage you to make a decision to cultivate an attitude of hope in your life. Speak positive things about your future and refuse to be negative. You may not always feel hopeful but don’t give in to your feelings. Catering to bad feelings feeds and empowers them. But standing our ground and not giving in to negative feelings starves them and causes them to lose their power over us. By feeding the Spirit, you starve the flesh. Just ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Line your will up with His and get excited about serving God. Hope releases the power of the Holy Spirit in these times. God is the Source & the Holy Spirit is the Supply of our Hope.

Hope in Seasons of Adversity

hope_despair

It’s not a matter of if we will face adversity; it’s only a matter of when we will, so the question now becomes what will we do when faced with challenges and trials of life?

How will we be able to maintain our hope when life seems to be falling apart at the seams and instead of breakthroughs all we experience are breakdowns? Who will we turn to and what will we do when faced with impossible situations?

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:24: “For we are saved through hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does a man still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Patience leads to perseverance!

The last thing Satan wants is for us to persevere and that’s why he will do whatever he can to steal our focus as we strive to serve Christ.

I love what Phil Daniels says, “Satan can’t defeat us, but he can hinder us by using: accusations, deception, distraction, and discouragement.”

The very things in our life that the devil tries to use to discourage us or make us think God can’t or won’t ever be able to use us are the very things God will use to bring about restoration and wholeness in our life, when we surrender them to the Lord.

Romans 8:28 promises, … That God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are times in each of our lives where we are instructed in God’s Word to have faith and to maintain our hope, by simply trusting in God’s will and His timing.

It doesn’t matter what has happened in your past, present, or future; God is bigger than anything we will ever face, but we have to put our hope and faith in Him and then allow His will to unfold in our life.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

F. F. Bruce explains how, “The author of Hebrews first encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet these promises meant so much to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what he had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at his word and directing their lives accordingly.”[1]

This passage of Scripture is the only place in the Bible that clearly defines faith. It describes faith as being an act of both the mind and heart.

Essentially, our heart and mind both believe something and we then have the assurance and conviction that it is true.

So what we put our hope and faith in drives our very being.

I tell you this because many of us are either currently in a season of despair and drought, or the effects of that season still fester like open wounds. Who or what is the ointment that will bring relief?

How can we get back to a place where we put our hope and trust in God while we are in the valley of the shadow of death and how can we restore our fellowship with Him as we wander aimlessly in the desert?

It begins with prayer.  (Great pastor, what are you going to tell me next? Is step two reading the Bible?) Yes, and diet and exercise will make you healthy!

This may sound so basic, but it is!

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Daniel. This book of Scripture came alive to me as I studied it and reading how God acted showed His complete sovereignty and His compassion towards those who put their hope and faith in Him.

In Daniel chapter 6 king Darius had risen to power and his officials, in an attempt to rid themselves of Daniel, came up with a plan to prevent any subject from making any prayer or petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to king Darius. This of course would prevent Daniel from dropping to his knees three times a day in order to pray and give thanks to God.

I don’t know about you, but I want the Lord to be familiar with the sound of my voice, so that every time I pray to God it’s not in some sort of crisis mode.

Praying to God is our lifeline and connection to God and it’s crucial in maintaining our fellowship with Him. Daniel understood this truth and would not let the king’s edict prohibit his dedication to this practice.

As a result, in verse seven we read, Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.
Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.” Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”
Daniel 6:11-16 (ESV)

Gleason Archer describes the dilemma for Daniel was whether, “he was going to please man or obey God. Daniel had to choose between loyalty to his Lord and obedience to a sinful government commanding him to perform idolatry. So he was willing to risk his life for the Lord, trusting him for deliverance even as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been delivered years before.”[2]

Daniel cast himself on the Lord, in fact in verse ten the word prayed is found only two places in Scripture.

Hebrew word: ‏צְלָה‎

Transliteration: ṣelâ.           Phonetic Pronunciation: tsel-aw’

The word carries the sense of bowing but also means to “limp as if one-sided.”[3] On his own strength, Daniel knew he would not be able to walk the path laid before him and only by casting his burdens on the Lord would his hope remain.

Like the manna from heaven, God will supply exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

He gives us what we need for the step in front of us, which teaches us reliance upon God and trust in His plan.

Remember, some of God’s greatest gifts have been unanswered prayers.

For many of us, we have not because we do not ask. Even as a pastor, when I read Daniel prayed three times a day, I’m like man Daniel sure prayed a lot!

What I want you to know and what I want you to get in the habit of doing to talking to God and not being afraid of asking Him for help. It doesn’t have to be out loud and it doesn’t have to be in front of people, but I promise you as you become readers and doers of the Word and when you begin to commune with God through prayer, you will begin to see breakthroughs in your life.

The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have against the principalities of this dark world, but when we harness prayer with God’s Word, we become more than conquerors.

Jesus in the desert: Matthew 3:13 – 4:11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

I don’t know exactly what Daniel prayed, but I know I would have been terrified at the prospect on dying in a lion’s den.

One of my favorite parts of this story is how God chose to act by closing the lion’s mouth because it was not likely the prayer Daniel lifted up or sort of help Darius had hoped Daniel would receive.

Having the edict overturned or praying to have the courage to die bravely for the glory of God would have seemed like an answer to prayer, but instead, God miraculously chose to shut the lion’s mouth, which shows God acts in such a way that He will receive the most glory.

The world in which we live is a lion’s den. There are people in our life like the high officials of king Darius who would seek to have us taken out. There are jobs and circumstances of life that make us feel like we are living in captivity like a modern-day Babylon.

But, there is also the God who awaits our prayer and plea for help who can save us from whatever and whomever we face. Victory can be ours when we walk according to the will of God and keep our hope in His plan.

Hope takes the word impossible and allows us to say I’m possible.

Helen Keller, who accomplished much in her life, did so not in spite of her blindness but because of it. When asked what would be worse than being blind, she said having eyesight but no vision.

It can be very easy to allow our flaws or past mistakes in life to snuff out any sense of hope. The moment we think we see light at the end of the tunnel, we fall to our knees in surrender when we find out that light is just another speeding train on an intercept course. Wave after wave of disappointment breaks down our resolve as we struggle to keep our head above water.

When God miraculously shows up, He does so in a way that declares His sovereignty and brings Him the most glory.

Maintaining our hope in season of despair, especially when our previous mountaintop experiences feel like a lifetime away is a skill we must master.

Several years ago, I heard a story that was triggered in my mind, when I was reading about Daniel praying and how that word praying was translated as limping as if being one-sided.

The story involved a family that was involved in a serious automobile accident. The mother and father were in the front seat and their 5-year-old boy was in the back. The mother and father escaped with just minor injuries but their son required immediate surgery. When the surgeon finally emerged, he said he had good news and bad news. The good news was their son was alive, but the bad news was their son’s left arm had to be amputated.

For many of us the thought of losing a limb you certainly test the limits of our hope and for me being an avid runner the thought of not being able to do what I love anymore is hard to imagine.

Despite the adversity and challenges that this boy was now forced to face, he did not let it slow him down. In fact, he became fascinated with martial arts especially Bruce Lee, so much so that he convinced his dad to let him take lessons. The father told the son mastering martial arts was hard enough to do with two arms and that he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

After visiting several dojos, they finally found a sensei willing to teach the boy if he agreed to do two things: 1) Don’t ask any questions and 2) Do exactly what he was told to do. For days, weeks, and months the boy practiced only one move, which became very frustrating because he saw newer students learning different takedowns and combo moves. This was hard for the boy to understand, but he remembered the promise he made to the sensei so he kept practicing.

After a year had passed, the sensei told the boy he was going to be enrolled in an upcoming regional tournament. Surprised, the boy said, “But sensei, I only know one move,” to which the sensei replied, “if you perfect this move you will never need another.” When the tournament finally arrived, he saw the competition and grew very anxious, as did his parents.

To his surprise, he won his early matches and advanced to the semi finals. With each match, the opponents grew larger and more skilled, but he remembered his training and stuck to his one move. He would eventually advance to the finals, which looked like a David vs. Goliath scenario. The boy’s opponent quickly scored some early points in the match after landing some hard blows. Shaken, the boy looked over to his sensei and then to his parents in the stands and he got back up. The next time his opponent launched an attack the young boy did his one move and pinned him, making him the champion of the tournament.

After the match, the young boy couldn’t believe he won and he asked his sensei if the competitors took pity on him because he only had one arm. “No,” the sensei told him. He then went on to tell the young boy that the move he had been practicing for the last year was one of the hardest moves in judo to master and that the only known defense was to grab the opponents left arm, which he did not have.

You see, the greatest weaknesses in our life have the opportunity to become one of your greatest strengths, when we trust the Lord and put our hope in Him. When we do, we only need one move. In the case of Daniel, his one move was prayer because he knew those persevere recognize their limitations, but focus on their strengths. Our strength comes from the Father and the same power that rose Jesus from the dead dwells inside every believer. When we pray, Jesus who is seated at the right hand of God, takes our petitions and intercedes on our behalf.

The word sensei is an interesting word. It means those who came before and each of us has a role to play in the body of Christ, the church. The circumstances of our life and the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past allow us to speak life and truth into peoples’ lives that are going through similar trials. The time has come to stop allowing yourself to be defined by the mistakes of your past. The very things or accusations the devil uses to make you think you aren’t good enough or that God could never use you are lies straight from the pit of hell and they are in fact exactly what God wants you to use to minister to other people, so they can find restoration and wholeness and so God will receive the honor and glory He so richly deserves.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 276.

[2] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 79.

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), Under: “6739”.

Belief vs. Doubt

As a writer, I often find myself writing about things I myself aim to do or am trying to emulate in my daily walk with Christ. However, yesterday was my birthday and if I’m being totally transparent, it was a day filled with the paradox between my belief and doubt. This enigma permeated and consumed my every thought, as I anxiously wrestled with my finite understanding of God’s infinite plan. This morning, I woke up early, feeling much like Jacob did after he had wrestled with God all night long, much like how C. S. Lewis illustrates, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our conscience, but He shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

For me, yesterday’s wrestling match revolved around whether I was one day closer to reaching my dream, something I believe God has called me to do, or whether I was one day closer to my dream dying. It ultimately came down to whether I believed or doubted God. For Jacob to find the blessing he desperately wanted, it took him getting to a place of brokenness for the Lord bless him. It can be very easy to resist God’s breaking process and grow bitter, as we rely on our own strength, but the choice always comes down to either submitting to Him and being blessed, or fighting Him and suffering the consequences. I know of what I speak and I promise you’ll never win if you choose to wrestle with God.

I think waiting has been the hardest part. I know God’s plan for my life is better than anything I could ever hope for, but the time spent waiting is the worst! In these seasons, especially if we aren’t anchored to the Lord, thoughts begin to surface like, “Did God really say that?” As time goes by, waiting on the Lord to fulfill His promises, it can feel fleeting, like sand coursing through your hand, unable to stop it from slipping away. Another common practice that arises is dwelling on our disappointment during these trying seasons, but this only tries to rob us of our joy, as we mourn the unknown or our earthly desires.

A lesson I’ve often learned the hard way in life is our greatest victories come out of the ashes of our greatest defeats. My pride often blinded me of this truth and my need for God and it would only be in times of complete brokenness that I would realize my true dependence upon God. I recently heard something that has stuck with me, “In every challenge, there are two rivals: belief and doubt. Doubt has a bigger team, and belief is out numbered, but never out worked and when the score is settled, belief rises to the top.” My belief is anchored in the love the Lord has for me. Nothing can separate us from this love and it is what compels and motivates His every action.

Our belief leads to action, but our doubt often leads to inaction or sometimes the wrong action. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts; Your thoughts become your words; Your words become your actions; Your actions become your habits; Your habits become your values; and Your values become your destiny.” One’s belief cycle drives their thoughts, words, actions, habits, and values. If we lose our belief or chose to go through life in disbelief of God’s plan for our lives, we are isolating ourselves from the only One who can sustain us and give us hope in this fallen world.

This is a tough pill to swallow for many, but the sooner we recognize our dependence upon God and are able to cling to Him in our brokenness, the sooner He will come alongside us, to bless us and give us a new name for the work he is calling us to do. For me, I now find myself much like Jacob, limping towards Esau in complete obedience to God, praying He will welcome me back as a brother. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so right when he said, “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient, believes.” Ultimately, it is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey, (Soren Kierkegaard) so believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts. (F. F. Bosworth)

Trusting God

Hard to believe this was six years ago and we are so thankful how far God has brought us and for the angel He has blessed us with!

Life Giving Words of Hope & Encouragement by Jeff Davis

Psalm 23:4 says, “Though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me.”  What we are currently walking through with Sydney fighting for her life in the NICU, I would classify as the valley of the shadow of death.  What I find encouraging about this scripture is that is says: Though I walk…  In spite of our recent, unexpected, and traumatic events, it would be so easy to get discouraged but God’s word says, “Do not be afraid” because one of His greatest and most frequent promises is, “I am with you.”

In our church, we have a philosophy that no one fights alone; this coupled with the promise that my God is walking this out right beside me is so comforting during this scary and highly stressful time.  I know that what we are walking through is only temporary…

View original post 385 more words