Our Personal Winters

In the book, Christian Maturity by Madam Guyon, she compares the Christian life to the life of a tree. She says, “ In the winter when a tree loses its leaves it is no longer beautiful in its surface appearance…It’s just that the leaves are no longer there to hide what is real. The same is true of believers. We can each look so beautiful until the obvious signs of life disappears.”

What a great analogy.  When the winters of our life happen, it may seem as if our life has all but disappeared. Like the tree, when our personal winters occur God is allowing our leaves to fall to reveal all the ugliness and inconsistencies that we have been hiding.  It becomes a moment of personal reflection to show us who we really are.  No, we don’t lose our identity in Christ but in those moments we are like a tree in the winter time without its leaves it is totally exposed. Without the outward adorning of its leaves, it looks lifeless and is totally exposed to the elements.  

Regarding the tree, even though it seems like the tree has lost its life, there is something going on deep inside.  Something that will allow it to be fully leafed come spring. There is something happening that we can’t see deep inside the tree and in its roots that will allow it to extend to new heights and more fully express its grandeur in the spring and summer.

In a similar manner during our spiritual winters, God is doing something deep inside of us that could only be accomplished during our winter time.   By revealing who we really are we come to the point of brokenness, then abandonment and surrender.  We are given the opportunity to come clean with the Lord and move toward a new level of trust.

If it wasn’t for those spiritual winters we would never know the joy of fully trusting God through the storms of life.  We would be ignorant of His ability to carry us through when things seem out of control.

Bottom Line

It is good to remember that during every season of our life, including our spiritual winters, God is doing something deep within us that will allow us to be fully adorned with His glory.  He wants to expose our fleshly ways, and all those things we do just to to get acceptance from others.  Sometimes we may experience rejection and deep hurt from those whom we have loved and helped the most.  Maybe we have been getting our acceptance from what we do rather than who we are in Christ.  God allows these winter moments to redirect us toward the indwelling Christ for our peace and acceptance.

God is never asleep at the wheel during times of crisis.  But He is fully aware of our circumstances and plight. He is merely waiting for us to acknowledge that we are fully dependent upon Him. He wants free rein in our life so that we can be useful and fruitful vessels.

During your times of personal winter, will you allow God to have free rein in your life? Will you trust Him to prepare you for your season of full blooming?

Prayer:  Lord I give you permission to strip everything from my life that causes me to trust other things or people more than we trust you. During the winter seasons of my life I submit to the deeper work you will do in my heart to prepare me for the next season.

The Death Process

The Cross is the central event that makes Christianity relevant and sets it apart from religion. The Cross is not only the means by which we have access and fellowship with God, but it is also symbolic of the struggle in our personal life.

The moment we become a follower of Jesus and tell God that we want to be His servant and do His will, a death process begins in our life. In the midst of the new found joy and love, a struggle ensues. We soon discover that the Christian life is not just about going to heaven when we die. The new struggle is about shedding our self-dependency and self-reliance so we can learn to trust God completely.

As we allow Jesus to control more of our life we discover how our doubt, fear, and unbelief is inconsistent with our new identity in Christ. We begin to realize our effort to measure up in our own strength falls short of God’s requirement for Holiness.

Paul addresses this issue in 2 Corinthians 4. He speaks of us having a “treasure” within ourselves. The treasure is Jesus. God has given us Jesus so that we can manifest His life to our world. In Christ we no longer worry about having to measure up in God’s sight. Our worth, identity and our acceptance by God is all wrapped up in Jesus.

But in order for His life to show through us there must first be a death process. Our self-life must be dealt a death blow. In this passage, Paul gives us a picture of what this death process looks like. He says we are “afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body”. (Verse 9-10)

It seems as if God allows us to come to the brink of disaster and ruin, but then He delivers us and keeps us from fallen off the cliff. But there is more to it than just being rescued and delivered. God’s intention is greater than showing us His ability to rescue and deliver. The overall purpose is to bring our self-life through a death process. This is the process of the Cross that God uses to push us toward abandonment.

“ For we are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” (Verses 11-12 NAS)

For years I’ve heard preachers say, “God’s in the midst of all your trouble”. I would think, ok, I want to believe that, but tell me how and why. I couldn’t connect God with my trouble and difficulty. If He was in the middle of it all, then it seemed like a cruel trick to play on His children.

Years later I discovered what God’s purpose is in our struggles. God, in His mercy and love, allows us to come to the end of ourselves. We experience brokenness through our failures and our troubles. It’s through that death process that God deals with our self-centeredness and self-reliance. He then reveals the power and the beauty of Christ’s work in and through us.

Bottom Line
The next time problems come your way, remember that God is in the middle of it. Even if your trouble is a result of an unwise decision you made, look for God in the process. Remember, He is allowing this to occur because He is engineering a death process in your life. He desires for you to develop a deeper level of trust and dependence upon Him. He will speak through the event and as a result “the life of Jesus will be manifested in you.”

Jesus is Enough

The whole purpose of the Christian life is to “glorify God through our life.” That means that in order to bring God the most glory we must be willing to lay our life down, and then allow Him to live and work through us. How does God do that? He does it by applying the process of the cross to our life.

The Cross of Christ has two primary benefits. One is to provide payment for out sin debt. Jesus did what we could not do by standing in our place dying for us. He died for us and as us, to pay our sin debt. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus became our righteousness to render our self-righteousness useless. Because we now have His righteousness, we no longer have to measure up to some man-made religious standard.(1 Corinthians 1:30)

Secondly, the cross is our example of submission and obedience. The cross is symbolic of a death process that must take place in our life so that Christ may have control. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12) Just as the cross in Jesus life allowed Him to complete what he came to do, the cross process in our life does the same thing. We are destined to become salt and light to a seeking world. We can only realize our destiny by submitting to a death process through trials, temptations, and troubles.

Bottom Line

God wants to bring us to the point that Jesus is enough. When things happen that get us out of our comfort zone, its God’s way of stripping our self-sufficiency. He is pushing us toward Him. He wants us to acknowledge that He is all we need. He is our life, our source of strength, our protector and our provider. Our security, our peace, our rest and our joy are found in Him. Jesus is enough.

“ I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

When You Are Backed into a Corner

When my children were little I told them about a trap I built when I was a kid to catch rabbits. So to illustrate how it worked, I built a trap to show the kids how to catch a rabbit. First thing the next morning we checked the trap hoping to find a rabbit. But to our surprise, we didn’t snag a rabbit but a possum. The closer we got to the trap the more the cornered possum would hiss and show his sharp teeth. He was cornered and ready to attack.

How do your respond when you are backed into a corner?

I have often said, “When a person is backed into the corner they will either come out swinging or they will display the grace of God.” I think too often we display behavior and attitudes that are more like a carnal believer than like the Savior we follow. There is a thin line between properly defending yourself and displaying a quiet and calm spirit.

Speaking of responding with Grace, the late Roy Hession said it better than anyone I know. He said;
“Every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us, is God’s way of breaking us. It creates a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ. The only life that pleases God is His life, never our life. Our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His. We can never be filled with His life unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death.” (Calvary’s Road)

How we respond when pressed reveals our level of brokenness and maturity. All of us have occasional weak moments, but regularly challenging those who disrespect us is an indication that we may be walking in the flesh.

Living in a contemporary world that is constantly more hostile and intolerant of believers, our flesh is constantly challenged. The moment we say to the Lord, “I want to live for you, obey you and become all that you want me to be,” the Lord begins the work of breaking us. He allows circumstances to come our way that will reveal who and what we are trusting in, other than Him.

Peter is an example of the typical “on fire and committed’ believer. He very boldly declared that he was willing to go to the mat defending His Lord. But the Lord knew what was inside of him and knew that only failure and challenge would reveal Peter’s self-centeredness. He knew if Peter was going to be a successful apostle his dependence upon the flesh would have to be exposed.

The Death Process
It is called a death process. When Jesus declared that we must take up our cross and follow Him, He wasn’t speaking of us dying on the cross. He was referring to a spiritual death process that only the cross could produce. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal body.” (2 Cor. 4:11)

It is only through various trials, failures, and sometimes suffering, that we experience the death process. These events and incidences are designed to show us our self-sufficiency and expose our hypocrisy. It’s a stripping from us all that we are holding onto for security and worth. Then we are given the privilege to surrender and abandon our own life and exchange it for Christ’s life and sufficiency.

Bottom Line
During every test and trial responding with Grace is our goal. When we respond with Grace we are acknowledging whatever is going on, it’s OK. God in control, and we choose with an act of our will to trust Him. But when we acknowledge that “every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us, is God’s way of breaking us”, then we will realize that God is at work in our life to “create a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ.”

Surprised by Brokenness

“He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Years ago I went through some of the darkest days of my life. What I thought was going to be the greatest and happiest time turned into days and weeks of deep hurt and disappointment.

During the middle of this situation I was an emotional wreck. Matter of fact, my wife was concerned that I might be having a nervous breakdown. Like Jacob in the scripture, I was wrestling with God. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I had done nothing wrong to merit such treatment.

As I continued my argument with God, as to why He was letting this happen, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a sincere prayer that I had prayed months earlier. Leading up to this moment, I had been reading a book where the author asked the question “What means more to you than Christ?”. The Holy Spirit captured my attention with this question. It so occupied my thoughts that a few weeks later I preached a sermon around that question. After the sermon I gave an invitation for the congregation to exam their lives. Nearly the whole church responded to the invitation with tears and sincerity.

In the closing prayer I prayed a prayer similar to this; “Dear Lord, show me the things in my life that mean more to me than Christ, and then help me to have the strength and courage to surrender those things so that you may become my life in that area.”

As the Lord brought that prayer to my mind, I continued my argument with God, “Lord what means more to me than Jesus? I had surrendered my life to preach and teach the gospel. I was a faithful witness for Christ and I was doing the best I could serving as a pastor. What could possibly mean more to me than you?”

Then the Holy Spirit pressed my heart with this question? “Why are you such a basket case about your situation?” I responded, “Because I could lose my ministry.” Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me. my ministry was my life, and I was about to lose the thing that was life to me.

Surprised by Brokenness

Beginning that day I had a new appreciation for crisis and trouble. I now knew what it meant to come to the end of myself and be broken. I discovered a new fullness of Christ’s life. Jesus desired to be more than my Savior, He wanted to be my very life. In my zeal for ministry I had let the work of the ministry replace Jesus as my life.

In hindsight, even if someone whom I highly respected had pointed out that ministry was my life, I would have denied it. It took being surprised by brokenness to bring me to the end of myself so that the Holy Spirit could reveal how I had slowly, but intentionally, allowed ministry to replace the Lordship of Christ, and the fullness of the Spirit.

Brokenness is your best friend
What I had considered my biggest hurt, had become my greatest blessing. God loved me so much that He allowed me to be deeply hurt. He knew what it would take to bring me to the end of myself. I was in a situation that I couldn’t fix or make better. God opened my eyes to the real need, and that was total surrender and abandonment.

Are you in a struggle with something you can’t change, fix or pray your way out of? Then take note, it could be the Lord attempting to get control of something you are not willing to surrender. The more you worry, the deeper your despair and the greater your self-induced unhappiness.

Can a person make Jesus their life without experiencing brokenness? Yes, it’s possible, but not very probable. Most of the time God uses our circumstances to bring us to the end of ourselves, so that we have no place to go but Him. Have you heard anyone say, “Well things have gotten so bad, all I have left to do is pray.” That’s pretty sad isn’t it? Prayer should be the first thing we do. If you are like me, I haven’t said those words but the way I lived reflected that attitude.

The flesh is a very strong component of our life. It fights every attempt of surrender and utter abandonment. So God in His mercy, and His long-suffering, allows us to get to the point where we can’t change or fix our situation. The only place for us to turn is to Him. We must lay down our rights and our expectations and give God permission to take control. Then acknowledge that whatever He allows to come our way as OK. That’s the work of brokenness, and it’s your best friend.

I often tell people that brokenness is both an event and a process. It becomes an event the first time your realize that brokenness has come to your life in order for Christ to take control. Secondly, brokenness becomes a process when your realize that you will have “little brokennesses” all along the way in your walk with God. These events will be reminders that there is an area of your life where God is not in control. This becomes your cue to identify and surrender, in order that Christ might become life in that area of your life.

Bottom Line
At the turn of the last century, missionary statesman Watchman Nee wrote a book entitled
The Normal Christian Life. In the book he teaches the principle that brokenness and surrender is the normal Christian life. In other words, brokenness and surrender are to be a normal part of our walk with God.

God’s intention for us is to live in complete surrender of every aspect of our life. Do you have the courage to ask the Lord if there is something in your life that you haven’t been willing to give up control to Him?

Remember this principle: God seldom takes anything away from us that He does not replace with something better. That’s because when you are in God’s will you are in God’s hand.

The Battle for Control

For the first twenty years of my Christian walk I thought the greatest enemy to a successful Christian life was the devil. I believed that if I could keep myself from certain sins that the devil would throw my way, then I would be victorious. Therefore I developed a system of rules and standards that would keep me on the straight and narrow. I figured if I could combine that with faithful church attendance, tithing and daily Bible reading, then I would be able to overcome the devil.

After years of striving to measure up to a self-produced standard of performance and rule keeping, I realized that I was attempting to develop my own standard of self-righteousness. It was a standard that God never intended for any child of His to maintain. God in His mercy allowed me to experience a crash and burn experience that I call brokenness.

As a result, I had a major “coming to the end of myself” moment. For the first time in my life I realized that the real battle was a battle for control. My battle was not with the devil, but was with God. I wanted to be the captain of my own spiritual destiny. I wanted to prove my love for God by good performance. I wanted to measure up to what I perceived God wanted me to be or become.

Somewhere along the way I missed a major tenet in the teaching of God’s grace. On the cross God had provided my righteousness in Christ. I didn’t need to measure up to some standard or adopt a set of rules to earn God’s favor. I learned that the cross is not only the place where Jesus died and paid my sin debt, but it is also where He died to set me free from myself.

Picture it this way. There are two aspects of the cross. One aspect is Jesus died to save me from my sin condition (Romans 5:8). The other aspect of the cross is that Jesus died to save me from myself (Galatians 2:20). In other words, God never intended for us to go it alone and develop our own system of righteousness. God’s intention for us is not “I will do my best and then call on Him if I need His help”. But God’s intention for us from the beginning of our Christian walk is to surrender the control of our life to Christ and allow Him to live His live through us. It is not Jesus and me make a majority. It is Christ in me, living His life through me, and guiding me in all the affairs of life. The proper view of the Christian life is reflected in the following verse.

“I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

Notice what God has done for us when we decided to become a follower of Christ. Before I was in Christ I was living for me. But now since my old man has been put to death (crucified), I am a new person. I no longer attempt to live life on my own, by and for myself, but I now live with Christ as the center, director and initiator of my life.

I have discovered over the years that there are many believers who were just like me. They have a genuine love for God. They are sincere in their faith, but struggled in their walk with God. No matter how hard they try to live a successful Christian life, they feel as if they never measured up.

Bottom Line
The battle is not a battle of trying to measure up, but the battle is for control. If you are struggling in your walk with God, let go. You are battling God rather than drawing on what He has already done for you. When you became a believer, He delivered you from the need to prove your love for God by good performance. He implanted you with the very life of Christ and given you the Holy Spirit to direct your steps. And as a result of living by faith you will produce good works and spiritual fruit. As Galatians 2:20 teaches us, “the life I now live… I live by faith.”

Our life is to be lived trusting the living Christ within us to guide and to direct every area of our life. So stop struggling, kicking and trying to measure up in your own strength. Surrender your rights and expectations to Him and allow Christ to manifest His life through you.

Here is a simple prayer that may help.
“Dear Lord I am tired of trying to measure up. I confess my sin of living my life in my own strength. I surrender my rights, my expectations and the control of my life to you. I will trust that the living Christ in me makes me complete and acceptable to you. Just as I have received Christ as my Savior, I now receive Him as my life.”

“For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made complete.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

Thankful Heart

“In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

The church I was raised in was in the city limits, but our worship style was far from the typical city church. I guess you could say that we were a “country church” in the city. I learned a lot about being a Christian in that church.

One of the things that sticks out in my memory are the testimony meetings. At least once a month, the entire church service would be given to “testifying”. As a boy, I have to admit, that I often viewed it as more entertaining than inspirational, especially when certain “emotional leaning” personalities would take their turn to testify. I would set on the side of my bench wondering what they were going to say or do next.

As I grew older I began to see the value of testimony meetings. I now see that it gave the congregation the opportunity to publicly participate in the service, fulfilling 1 Corinthians 14:26 “…when you assemble each has a psalm, has a teaching, a revelation…” It was an opportunity for each person to tell how God had become practical in their daily life. To a young Christian this was a valuable experience that helped me get over the fright of publicly sharing my faith. As I look back on this experience, I think these meetings were one of the most important activities in my development of walking out my faith in my younger years.

However, with all the benefit derived from this experience there was also a downside. Now that I am older and more mature in my faith, there were a few glaring doctrinal errors I picked up in those meetings. One of the most prevalent errors was the one concerning thankfulness. As I recall, being thankful was reserved for salvation, the health of your family, the raise you got on the job, and your new car. In other words, it was perceived that thankfulness only related to being thankful for the good things, and the answered prayers. Don’t get me wrong, those are areas where we should be thankful.

But having a thankful heart is not just related to the good things that God gives us. Equally important is being thankful for all the other things that come our way. No one desires to have illness, marriage problems, relational issues, and financial reversals. But as growing and maturing believers we understand that our most significant growth comes when we are plucked from our comfort zone and placed in a state of unrest and brokenness.

Brokenness means coming to the “end of yourself.” I have been asked many times, “Which comes first, brokenness or coming to the end of yourself?” I usually respond, “I think they are most often simultaneous.” When we spend time in the valley, unable to help ourselves, we are forced to depend on God’s sufficiency. The result is we get to know God at a deeper level. Our faith has grown and we now trust God like never before.

So this Thanksgiving season, lets be careful to remember that having a thankful heart also includes being thankful for the pain, the suffering and those uncomfortable situations that God has seen us through.

So if you have the opportunity to tell what you are thankful for this season, how about telling how you are thankful for the valleys that He has seen you through? Then tell how the valleys has strengthened your faith. Maybe someone may need to hear how God has led you through the valley.

I am thankful for the valleys that God has led Brenda and me through this year. We have learned that God is faithful in and through the valley. We are also thankful for you, our friends. May your Thanksgiving holiday be blessed with wonderful memories and plenty of good food.

Blessings,
Larry Bennett