A Good Struggle

Recently a friend called contacted me about a major decision he has to make in his life.  He lives a few states away from the place he feels God is calling him to, but he has years of investment where he is and has excelled in his career there.  Sometimes it’s hard to leave a place while at the same time there is that pull to go to another place.  You’ve probably experienced that more than once in your life, as I have.  My friend said, “I feel it,”and then said later, “I am struggling with the decision.”  He has been a great friend all my life and asked for prayer.  I told him when you struggle with a decision that is a good struggle to have.

Why would that be a good struggle?  Maybe you’re at a crossroad yourself and it’s hard and you’re uncertain about what to do.  I will tell you this is a good place to be and it’s a good struggle to have.

A struggle to make a decision means that you care deeply about the place you are leaving.  It means that what God has to say about it matters to you.  It’s a good struggle because it give you the opportunity to reach out to people you know who pray for God to make it clear.  It’s a good struggle also because you know that our own flesh and the devil can lay good opportunities in front of us.  This is a good struggle because there may be no greater tool God uses to draw us closer to Him.  You do know that God could reveal directions and answers so clearly instantly, but He chooses to let us exercise our faith and draw near to Him.  This tool is one way God measures how much we value what He has to say and whatever He says, we will do.  This decision is a good struggle because often we can’t figure it out and we get to rest and wait on that revelation from the Lord.  

Some people make decision based solely on the personal benefit to themselves.  And don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being benefited and blessed by God.  Usually when God opens and opportunity for you or impresses upon you to make a major decision there is a blessing waiting for you wherever God is leading you.  Let me encourage you at every major intersection of your life to pray and seek God like never before.  He wants us to come to Him and show Him that He truly is Lord of our lives.

When you come to the good struggle to make major decision remember these directions.  

The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Psalms 23:1-3 (NKJV)) 

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This [is] the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21 (NKJV

The Good Struggle

Recently a friend contacted me about a major decision he has to make in his life.  He lives a few states away from the place he feels God is calling him to, but he has years of investment where he is and has excelled in his career there.  Sometimes it’s hard to leave a place, while at the same time, there is that pull to go to another place.  You’ve probably experienced that more than once in your life, as I have.  My friend said, “I feel it,”and then said later, “I am struggling with the decision.”  He has been a great friend all my life and asked for prayer.  I told him when you struggle with a decision, that is a good struggle to have.  Why would that be a good struggle?  

Maybe you’re at a crossroad yourself, and it’s hard, and you’re uncertain about what to do.  This a good place to be and it’s a good struggle to have.  A struggle to make a decision means that you care deeply about the place you are leaving.  It means that what God has to say about it matters to you.  It’s a good struggle because it gives you the opportunity to reach out to people you know who pray for God to make it clear.  It’s a good struggle because you know that your own flesh and the devil can lay good opportunities in front of you.  It’s a good struggle because there may be no greater tool God uses to draw you closer to Him. God could reveal directions and answers so clearly instantly, but He chooses to let us exercise our faith and draw near to Him.  This tool is one way God measures how much we value what He has to say.  It’s a good struggle because often we can’t figure it out and we get to rest and wait on that revelation from the Lord.  

When God opens an opportunity for you or impresses upon you to make a major decision, there is a blessing waiting for you wherever He is leading you.  Let me encourage you, at every major intersection of your life, pray and seek God like never before.  He wants us to come to Him and show Him that He truly is Lord of our lives.  When you come to the good struggle to make major decision, remember these directions:

The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Psalms 23:1-3 

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This [is] the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.” —Isaiah 30:21

Labor in Prayer

When you can pray more, you become eligible to work less and stress less.  Look at this verse, Matthew 6:6 (NKJV) “But you, when you pray, go into your room/closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place;] and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Praying is spiritual work, and it’s a labor every believer in Christ should give themselves to more.  It means you have an inside job.  It means that whatever you need done in your life, you should labor over it in prayer.  Believers work so hard trying to push their agendas and make things happen, when all they really need to do is pray in the closet and invite God to do it.  

A few things can happen when you pray this way.  First, God can answer your petition just as you have asked.  He can also test you to see if you really want what you are petitioning Him for.  God wants you to see that the major part of our spiritual work is done alone with God in the closet or quiet place in prayer.  God sees you when you go to your closet for prayer.  God can also lift a burden off of you when you pray.  You can’t change someone’s heart, but God can, and He hears our petition.  You can’t make a schedule come together or a meeting take place or two friends who are at odds with each other come to reconcile, but God can.  Prayer to God is a labor of love to see God’s will be done.  

Sometimes it’s a labor just to get to the prayer closet, but once you’ve seen God move on your petition and bring the answers that glorify Him, you start signing up for more shifts.  The next time you go to your prayer closet to pray, tell God that you would like to do all your labor there, and watch Him work.  That’s how the Believer’s life was meant to be.  Labor in prayer over your family and over your lost friend.  Labor in prayer for your community and your church.  Labor in prayer to the point that you enjoy the work, because God meets you there and God works there.  

Kill the Lion

Growing up, the word “bad” was a slang word used to describe something really great. I’m not sure who started twisting that word around, but I said it all the time.  I would say, “That’s a bad car” or “That’s a bad play”or “That man is bad.” In the Bible there’s a bad man who doesn’t get much attention.  His name was Benaiah.  One of the things he did is found in 

2 Samuel 23:20 (NKJV) Benaiah…He also had gone down and killed a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day.

Who in their right mind would go down into a pit with a lion—much less on a snowy day?  Benaiah was not a crazy man, he was a bad man.  We can only speculate on why he took such a risk, but we might get close.  Think about it, what would cause you to go down into a pit with a lion on a snowy day?  How about if that lion had just killed someone in your family or your livestock, you might go down into a pit with a lion on a snowy day.  If that lion was a repeat offender and kept coming regularly attempting to devour you, you might get in the pit with a lion on a snowy day.  If you knew the lion was never going to stop attacking, you might go down in the pit with a lion even on a snowy day.  And it’s possible that pit was the ingenious strategy of Benaiah.

It was a snowy day and a pit, meaning that the time and place were not ideal.  One thing was certain, someone was going to die, Benaiah or the lion. 

Most likely there is a lion somewhere around your life seeking to destroy the things you love and hold dear.  Is your family being devoured?  Is your marriage being devoured?  Is your ministry being devoured?  Is your life being devoured?  At some point, you have to say, “That’s enough! No more!” God’s word says, 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

When are you going to put an end to this lion?  Likely, when the lion attacks and you strike back, it’s not going to be a good time or place suitable for a fight. In fact, you may not be the one who appoints the time and place, but you can be like Benaiah.  

Be strong and courageous in the Lord.  Be humble and pray and be the bad (great) man/woman God made you to be.  

A Sad Story

Here’s a sad story.  After surrendering to the gospel ministry, I had no desire at all to return to school to get a degree, but God amazingly changed that desire.  In the process of getting my associate degree, I applied to attend Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  My wife and I attended a day tour of the seminary with several other prospective students.  During this time, my desire to get my education didn’t just change, it went from one extreme to the other.  After starting school and actually enjoying it, I thought to myself, “I’m going to go for it all and get a Doctorate degree.  So while we toured the Seminary campus, I distinctly remember this thought being entertained in my mind.  I even remember when and where the thought came.  We had just looked at the student apartments and were crossing the street to go back to the main campus.  The thought was, “If I can get my name on a piece of paper with this seminary’s name on it, I will have it made in ministry.”  Even in writing this, I’m reminded that God records the very thoughts we think.  With this thought, I was building myself up in self-confidence in what “I” could attain and on a piece of paper, rather than placing my confidence in the Living God for my future.  The apostle Paul was against self-confidence, but he was not against having a God-confidence.  Here’s part of what he said in his letter, 

Philippians 3:3-4  “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so”

In our self-centered society, so much confidence is placed on a piece of paper or in our religious efforts.  What a mistake this is and an insult to the power and place of God in our lives.  Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  What are you trusting in today?  What is giving you confidence?  Is it your church attendance, or your serving, or your giving of of tithes and offerings?  God in heaven wants us to depend on Him.  There’s nothing wrong with getting a degree—get your degree—but don’t let that degree take God’s place in your life.

A few months after that visit, God spoke to me and said, “You are not going to that seminary.”  That broke my heart, but the Lord very gently reminded me of the thought I had when crossing that street.  Paul said, “have no confidence in the flesh.”  Today and for the rest of your life, trust in God’s ability and not your abilities.  Blessings in Jesus Christ!

Can you Hear?

Can you hear?  When you’re trying to talk to your children sometimes they act like they don’t hear a word you’ve said.  “Pick up the toys and take them to your room” is not heard.  It’s like the message didn’t get through and the toys don’t move.  There are children with ears, but they can’t hear.  It’s the same way with teenagers, you tell them a truth or try to explain something, but the message doesn’t get through.  Now a complete stranger can come along and tell your teenager the same thing you did, and they are amazed at this stranger’s wisdom and understanding. This is a mystery, isn’t it?  Many adults are the same way.  You try to explain reality or reason with them about a matter, but it’s like they can’t hear and the message doesn’t get through.  Many times they understand, but have already made up their minds.  

Can you hear, or do you have your mind already made up?  The Pharisees couldn’t hear and couldn’t see, they were doubly disabled. Jesus said, Matthew 11:15 (NKJV) “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!  Let me ask you, do you have your mind made up about something?  Is someone trying to convince or reason with you about something you already have your mind made up on?  Can you hear them and see their point of view?  God has given you ears to hear, but none of us can hear if our hearts and minds are closed.  The fear of not hearing because your heart and mind is closed, is that if you might not be able to hear God either.  Do you have ears to hear?  Hear the truth about how much God love you.  Hear the message of the gospel.  Hear that teenager and that co-worker.  Hear your spouse and hear your parents.  Hear the Holy Spirit.  Ask God to give you ears to hear.

Stir it Up

You do know that the good stuff always goes to the bottom, right?  It’s kind of like the pulp in the orange juice.  Before you pour a glass full of vitamin C, you need to take a moment and shake the carton.  Over time the heavy pulp particles in the juice naturally settle. What happens with our orange juice happens in the Christian’s life.  God has put good stuff inside of you like love, grace and mercy, all of which are heavy spiritual gifts from the Lord that tend to settle over time.  Not only do those things settle, but oftentimes our prayer life and desire for God’s Word. Even our desire to be used by God can settle, and before you know it, we settle down with an attitude of apathy. I can only wonder how much spiritual pulp is sitting in the pews every week somehow believing this is the abundant life.  The truth is, we need a shaking and a stirring in our spiritual lives so that all that has settled can spring back up like a fountain of everlasting life.  

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us that we have a responsibility towards each other to stir each other up.  It says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as [is] the manner of some, but exhorting [one another,] and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  

Let me ask you, are you considering someone right now?  Do you have a ministry of stirring others? It says, “consider one another” and that means to live with the knowledge that your very life will cause a stirring or a settling in the life of others. Some people are always stirring things up, but it’s not love and good works.  So, would the way you live for God right now stir someone up to love and good works?  Do other people want to join you in what you’re doing, or do they just watch and turn into settlers?  I don’t know about you, but I need a revival to stir up the spiritual pulp in my life. What about you?

SQUEEZED!

Most likely in countless bathrooms across this country, there are tubes of tooth paste mangled and distorted lying next to the sink.  Even when the tube has been completely flattened out, we still count on there being enough for one last brush, so we squeeze, fold and crimp for that little dab to come out.  You paid good money for it, so get as much out as you can.  We do that with other things as well, like those squeezable sour cream containers.  It says on the back, “Now you can squeeze a dollop of Daisy,” and we might as well because we paid for it. 

Many times in life, God does to us what we do to the tubes of tooth paste and sour cream, He squeezes us!  When those unexpected trials come and we experience affliction and deep pain, sometimes that’s God squeezing us to get more out of us.  And the truth is, we need that spiritual squeeze from time to time.  I’m certain that God has put more in you than what He is getting out of you.  Think about it, Job got squeezed.  Naomi got squeezed.  Paul got squeezed.  Jesus got squeezed on the cross by the weight of humanity’s sins.  

Some squeezable containers get clogged in the narrow openings, so they require being squeezed with a little more pressure.  And then there are some that stay free flowing all the time.  God wants you to be free flowing requiring only a touch, and the life of Jesus comes out.  That only happens by continual surrender and faithful obedience to His will.  Some wonder at what God is doing in their lives in times of hardship, and the answer is, He is trying to squeeze some Jesus love and Jesus mercy and Jesus goodness out of you.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for [His] good pleasure.”  

You have the opportunity to work out what God has already put in you so He doesn’t have to squeeze it out.  Are you tender to His touch, or have you become hard and clogged up?  If you are a child of God, then He paid for you, so He feels free to get as much out of you as possible.  

“Holy Father, I lift up that person right now who is feeling the pressure of your squeeze.  God I know that deep pain and heartache, so I plead with you to speak to that person and give spiritual understanding to recognize you and give them power to surrender.  Father I pray that they will even recognize how they may be resisting you.  I pray that You will move on that person this moment and reveal Yourself to them.  Thank you, Father, for Your everlasting mercy and the sufficiency of Your grace.  Lord, we give ourselves to You and to the work of reflecting Christ to the world. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.”  

BROKENNESS

For about a year, we lived with a broken ice maker in our refrigerator.  The ice maker worked, but it wouldn’t dispense the ice as it should.  Most things that are broken we just throw away without a second thought, and then there are some things that are broken that we just live with.  We throw broken things away because they lose their usefulness when they are broken.  God, on the other hand, is not that way.  Oftentimes He waits until we are broken before we become useful to Him.  You can be broken over sin or you can be broken over an act of denying the Lord around others.  You can be broken over the sin of others.  You can be broken over the lost condition of the world.  The brokenness that makes us useful and is actually a blessing comes from an attitude of heart that expresses complete lostness without Christ.  It’s an attitude that recognizes our total dependence on Him.  It’s the attitude Jesus promoted when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  —Matthew 5:3  There is a blessing in our brokenness.  It may sound strange, but brokenness produces a greater longing for God like nothing else.  When you long for someone, you desperately want to be with them.  Mary Magdalene was broken standing and weeping outside of the empty tomb.  Jesus had delivered her from seven demons, and from that point on, her life was wrapped up in His life, but in that moment, He was gone.  Can you imagine how messed up her life was until Jesus delivered her?  Now she was hopelessly stuck without Christ.  This is a picture of what it looks like to be broken before God, desperately longing for Him.  Praise God that He is not unresponsive to our longings for Him.  The very moment you begin to move towards God, He begins to move towards you.  “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” —James 4:8.  Nothing else will draw God towards you like a broken heart longing for His presence.  Brokenness produces a desperate longing God responds to by drawing near.  Jesus didn’t just draw near to Mary, but He revealed Himself to Mary at the empty tomb.  The longing of your heart will draw God near, and He delights in revealing Himself to you.  This is what He wants for us.  He wants us to recognize Him even though we might not initially.  Mary thought He was the gardener at first.  But when He called her name, “Mary,” she knew it was Him.  Don’t you know God wants to reveal Himself to those who are longing for Him?  Is that you?  The blessing of being broken is seeing God!  Mary went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  This should be the words of believers today, “I have seen the Lord.”  But that declaration only comes from those who are broken.  You may see God in general like in nature or in the way other people act, but when you have an encounter with Him like Mary did, you will become a witness for Him who says, “I have seen the Lord!”  When was the last time you said that to someone?  When was the last time your encounter with God was so personal that you began to tell others like Mary did?  Oh, how we need a revival of brokenness that produces a longing for our God.  The next time you see something broken, be reminded of the heart God blesses.

DISTINGUISHED

Distinguished! That word is usually used to describe someone whose clothing fashion sets them apart from everyone else. Their fashion may not be flashy, but it is classy and catches the eye of the lookers. Distinguished also describes someone who has excelled in a specific field of study and research. There’s nothing wrong with being distinguished. In fact, being distinguished is God’s desire for you and me. We should be distinguished spiritually, not in some way that draws attention to us, but in a way that draws people to Christ. What is it that sets you apart from others? What sets you apart from those you attend church with? In all reality, your strong faith expressed in surrendered obedience to Him is the only thing that will distinguish you spiritually. It’s not your voice or ability to speak or even your faithful attendance to the Lord’s house that sets you apart. Others can teach, preach, sing and serve, but a strong faith and surrendered obedience distinguishes you. Hebrews 11 is filled with spiritually distinguished people. God is faithfully calling you to a life of faith and obedience, and not just to set you apart, but this is God’s way of providing the abundant life He promised. Without faith followed by obedience, the abundant life will be a spiritual mirage and being distinguished will only be a dream. Look at what it says about Joshua’s counterpart in Numbers 14:24 “But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it.” Caleb was distinguished because he trusted God when other men didn’t. Anyone can be different, but only a few will be spiritually distinguished. God is calling you to be among the few.

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