Depth of Our Love

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. (Luke 12:8 NLT)

The above verse is not just about publicly declaring our faith, but its about the depth of our love and commitment. Our love for God must transcend the expression of a vocal witness because it goes beyond mere words.

The depth of our love is measured by the inward response to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It’s not enough to just have our “elevator speech” ready when someone is inquiring about our faith. We must be willing and ready to speak from the depth of our personal fellowship with the Lord.

It’s is not about knowing Bible facts and memorized witnessing plans. It is about being able to reach into the well of our transformed heart and pour out living water to those we encounter. It’s being transparent to the point that what we share comes from the depths of our spiritual well. Our heart is full and running over because we have been drinking from God’s well and passionately seeking after Him.

Drinking from God’s well helps us deal with the deception about ourselves. That’s the reason searching the scriptures is so important. The Word becomes a two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), it wounds us, it reveals our weakness and exposes our self-centeredness.

The Lord desires to move us beyond the need to openly declare that we are “just an ole sinner saved by grace”. This declaration sounds spiritual but it can be a barrier that hinders us from allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the deception about ourselves.

“Confessing me before men” is more than a verbal acknowledgment, it’s evidence that we are letting go of our life in order that Christ’s life may be prevalent. This is God’s intention for His children, that we manifest Christ’s life to the world. This is the element that causes the world to recognize that there is something different about us, something that attracts them to our quality of life.

Bottom Line

How do we make sure that our life is manifesting Christ’s life? Here are three things that may help us toward that goal.

Meditate regularly on the Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal our sin and our attitude. – I know, its not PC to talk about sin. But that’s the unique aspect of Scripture, it’s ability to expose our sin. Often it’s not the big sins that make us stumble, but those little sins that cause us to grow cold toward the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leadership. The Scripture, properly applied, penetrates our sensitivities and enables us to destroy the barriers that keep us from intimacy with the Father.

Intentional and targeted prayer – This is moving beyond the typical believer’s prayer of “bless me and my family and watch over and protect us today”. It’s prayer that is focused on asking the Lord to reveal our self-centeredness, selfishness, pride, anger, and most of all, our level of unbelief.

Trust God – Trusting God is a faith issue. Do we really believe that God is greater than our situation or dilemma? Do we believe that He can deliver us when we have no way out or no options left?

When we are depressed, can we believe that we can cast our care and depression on Him and He will change our thinking and deliver us from our depression? The answer is a resounding YES!

“Trust in the Lord with your whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If we let God’s Word shape our spiritual character, and we develop a prayer life that seeks to act like a search light on our soul, then we will develop a depth of trust that will carry us through every situation.

 

Seeing God in All Things

Over twenty years ago I had the privilege of spending a couple of weeks in China. While there I was taken by one of the Chinese church leaders to visit several underground house churches. When I began to teach these dear brothers and sisters I felt an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Just the act of meeting together for a Bible study was risky. For me the risk was minimal. I would merely be taken to the airport and deported if caught by the officials. For them it meant years of jail time and multiple beatings and torture.

While I was visiting various house churches, another group had the privilege of visiting the famous Chinese Pastor Samuel Lamb. Pastor Lamb had been imprisoned for over 20 years and suffered physical and mental abuse. When someone in the group mentioned to him that they were praying for the persecution of the church to stop in China, Pastor Lamb quickly rebuked them and gave his famous quote, “ More persecution more growth of the church.” In other words, the seed of the church is the blood of the saints.

This event, coupled with many other visits to persecuted church countries, has deeply impacted my view of the normal Christian life. Could it be that the Western Church has had it wrong all along? Our view of safety, comfort, persecution free life has produced a powerless church that has little impact on our culture. Over the past 200 years the church has served as the moral conscience of our great country. Now because of lack of spiritual power and influence in the church, the moral decline in our country is moving at warp speed.

A closer look at Scripture

My experience with the persecuted church and observation of the the early church in Scripture has led me to have a very different view of the the Christian life. A trouble free life is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessings. We can all agree that God has blessed us in many ways and one of those elements is our generally trouble free life. However being trouble free could also be because we are not doing much to disturb the kingdom of darkness.

I am not suggesting that we become someone who intentionally stirs up trouble by in-your-face confrontation, but I am merely suggesting that we evaluate our view of trouble and suffering, and how we deal with difficult circumstances.

God has taught me some valuable lessons that I want to pass on to you. Maybe it will change how you view trouble in your life.

God is fully aware of every element of our life. If it’s true that the living Christ indwells every believer, then God is fully aware of every element of our life. He is even aware of those times when our dumb decisions bring us unwelcome consequences. This knowledge of the indwelling Christ reminds me of the truths of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are two key elements to this passage of Scripture. One, “God causes all things to work together”. Rather than changing our present circumstances, more often than not, God uses the things that are presently happening in our life to accomplish His plan. Secondly, these things will work together for those “who love God”. Notice that is active tense. Those who are presently, actively loving/serving God and pursuing His purpose will experience things all working out.

See God in everything. Since God is ever present in our life then we should examine every event, disappointment and present challenge as a God moment. We must keep in mind that God is fully aware of our predicament. Instead of trying to escape our circumstances, stop and ask God “what He is up to and what is He saying to us?” Ask, “What do you want me to learn through this situation?” That’s because God is more concerned about your response to the situation than He is about how He’s going to deliver or rescue you from the situation.

Change the way you pray in difficult situations. “ And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Sprit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in words. The Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers.” (Romans 8:26-27 NLT)

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to pray. That’s the reason the Holy Sprit was given to us to guide and teach us all things. Instead of first praying “Lord deliver me”, pray “Lord show me the greater purpose, help me not to seek deliverance if the greater lesson and glory is for me to endure the course.”

Bottom Line

We must keep in mind that God’s glory and His best for you is the end game, not necessarily deliverance. Remember that suffering and endurance is a spiritual virtue. It may be that God wants to demonstrate His power in deliverance. But it also may be that He wants to show you what He can do in the midst of the storm.

Learning to Trust God

It was a glorious day when I made a decision to trust Jesus as my Savior. After the decision I had a deep settled peace. I knew that my eternal destiny was settled and that I was truly a child of God.

However, I soon realized the decision to follow Christ was creating a whole new paradigm for living. Before, my life was all about me, my needs and what I wanted. Now I was being called to let go of my life and trust God with all of my dreams, plans and goals.

Letting go of a self-centered life is not an easy thing. To be completely honest, I still struggle with giving God complete control. There is something about the flesh that wants to control and be in charge.

It’s an issue of trust. I think most believers struggle with this. We may give verbal agreement that we trust God, but when it comes down to crunch time, we had rather worry or take matters into our own hands than give God control.

Why do I choose at times not to trust God? He has never failed me nor allowed anything to come in my life that was eventually for my benefit. As I have pondered this question, I discovered a recurring pattern that keeps me from relinquishing control and fully trusting Him. It is called spiritual indifference.

Spiritual Indifference
Spiritual indifference is a gradual thing that happens, but left unattended it quickly becomes drifting. We wake up one day and realize that we have drifted away from God. One of the problems with spiritual drifting is you never drift upward, always downward. Spiritual indifference creates a downward spiral that sends you away from intimacy with the Father.
Spiritual indifference is a result of several factors, but I think its root cause can be traced to neglecting personal fellowship and worship.

Early in my Christian life I did the daily devotional thing because I was told it was something I ought to do. My goal was to get it done so I could check it off my list.
That was a big mistake. My indifference kept me from getting the spiritual nourishment I needed. I thought the Sunday sermon would be enough to carry me through the week. The only problem with that is I hardly ever remembered what the sermon was about on Monday. I found myself spiritually enemic.

Trust is only developed by spending quality time with someone. If that is true in building human trust, then its reasonable to assume it’s also true with getting to know and trust God.

When your devotional time becomes a priority rather than an obligation, you develop a longing to know God and develop spiritual intimacy. As you expectantly read through the scripture, you get to know the character of God. The more you know and understood His character the more you realize you can trust Him with your life. Surrender becomes a positive word in your life rather than something negative. Surrender no longer means you are going to lose or give up something, but it becomes the door to knowing and trusting God. Your spiritual indifference turns into a new level of trust.

Bottom Line
Spiritual indifference is the doorway to drifting away from God. Left unattended it can lead to indecision, doubt, worry and fear. But it’s an easy fix; it just takes courage and deciding to be intentional about regular fellowship with God. It’s making a decision to pursue God.

Remember, God loves you as His child. He accepts you and He desires to pour His love and His very life into you so that you will manifest the “sweet aroma of Him in every place..” ( 2 Cor. 2:14).

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Hearing God’s Voice – Part 2

In the last post I wrote about our need to hear from God. In this post I want to address the issue of what keeps us from hearing God’s voice.

The Scripture teaches us that the normal practice of every believer is to be able to hear from God. When Scripture tells us to be “led by the Spirit” in Ephesians 5 it’s our mandate to watch and wait on God’s leading in all things.

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the normal Christian life is one that is taught, led and directed by the Holy Spirit. We exist to commune with God and get our direction for life from a heavenly source.

Every believer should be hearing from God, but it is evident by the decisions we make, that our communication with God is somewhat lacking. There are several reasons that many believers are not hearing from God on a regular basis. Here are three of the more obvious reasons.

The busyness of life dominates our attention

When we let our busy life control our lack of fellowship with God, it is an indication that we have lost our sense of urgency to hear from God. It happens to all of us, we get busy making a living, running the kids all over town, even doing the work of the ministry. But if our life is to be truly God-centered then we must be intentional about setting aside a time to hear from God. Jesus thought it was so important that he said in Matthew 6:6, “When you pray, go into a private room, close the door, and pray unseen to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees in secret will reward you.”

Our lifestyle screams “hurry up”

Part of the mentality of our culture is we are always in a hurry. We get upset when we have to wait 5 minutes in the checkout lane, or have to wait 15 seconds for a web page to load. Our whole lifestyle is about speed and convenience.

Unfortunately, many of us approach our quiet time the same way. We rush through the Scripture reading and our devotional material, and then we say our usual 2 minute prayer, and then get on with our daily schedule. We have given little thought to our overall purpose and need to hear from God.

I recently heard a testimony from a woman in Iran who was seeking God. She became so frustrated in her search to find God that she prayed, “God I am going to give you 7 days to reveal yourself to me and then I am going to give up trying to find you. “ We often do the same thing, “OK God, I am giving you 15 minutes this morning, then I’m out the door.”

The Scripture says in many places to value waiting on God, “Yet those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles…” (Isaiah 40:31) The Lord is telling us in this passage that when we learn to wait on Him, then our perspective will be like an eagle. An eagle flies higher than any bird and has a grand panoramic perspective.

We haven’t developed our spiritual listening ears

Developing listening skills is one of the most important skills a follower of Jesus can obtain. When we spend quality time waiting and listening before God, then we develop spiritual listening ears. These are ears that eventually learn to hear God in every event of life.

A good listener knows what is happening beyond the words spoken. A husband who has become a good listener knows that a statement by his wife many times has a deeper meaning than just the words she says. In a similar manner, when an event occurs that is hard to understand, because we have developed our spiritual ears, we know God may have a greater purpose in mind.

Bottom Line

You can rest assured that God wants to speak to you. He wants to share His love by increasing your intimacy with Him. But you must take the first step to slow down and listen, because God is seldom in a hurry. As you develop your spiritual listening ears then He will do the rest by speaking to you. He may speak in a passage of Scripture, a devotional, or even through a sermon. He could speak in the middle of difficult circumstances, or He may speak in a still small voice. But however He speaks it’s important that you are ready, willing and prepared to listen.

“Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

Hearing God’s Voice

During my many years as a Pastor and a Counselor, I have had a number of people tell me about conversations they had with God. Some of the stories were as bizarre as a Twilight Zone movie. Others were less dramatic but included some sort of verbal conversation with God.

Early on in my Christian life I would have thought “what’s wrong with me, why don’t I hear those voices”? But as I matured in my walk with God,and my knowledge of Scripture, I came to realize that probably most of those stories were not really an encounter with God, but were more than likely some desperate, and failed attempt to hear from God.

Could God verbally speak to us, absolutely? But more often than not, God uses our natural senses and our daily lifestyle to speak to us. He normally communicates to us quietly in our spirit. Throughout scripture we see a pattern of the “still small voice” as His primary means of speaking to His children.

This principle is illustrated in the story of Elijah when he was running from Jezebel. He had fled to the mountains of Mount Horeb and was hiding in a cave. God wanted to get Elijah’s attention so He sent a great wind that caused the rocks to fall and bust. He then sent an earthquake and fire. But the scripture tells us that none of those elements were instruments of His revelation. In contrast to all that noise, God then sent a still small voice to speak to Elijah. (2 Kings 19)

God was making a point to Elijah. the lesson is that he shouldn’t depend on miraculous signs for revelation, but he should be still and listen for God’s still, small voice.

Learning to hear God’s voice is key to a successful walk with God. He wants to continually speak to and through us, but we must learn to take time to stop, be quiet and listen. He wants us to learn to recognize His voice and to distinguish His voice from the many other voices around us.

After all these years, I am still learning how to hear God’s voice. I must confess, sometimes, I would like to see a little wind, fire and earthquake when I am waiting on an answer to prayer. However, every time I get anxious about waiting on God, I miss what He is saying in that “still small voice”. Often, what He says while I am waiting is more profound than the eventual answer to my prayer. Could it be that our journey of waiting has as much value as the destination?

Bottom Line
Hearing God speak is not something reserved just for the super spiritual, but it’s for every child of God who is willing to learn how God speaks. He wants us to become intentional in our listening, and learn to watch and wait for His voice. Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be to spend as much time quietly waiting and listening as we spend praying?

In the next post I will expand on this subject and write about the practical aspects of hearing God’s voice.

Waiting on God

I think one of the most difficult areas for Christians to grasp is learning to wait on God. In our world of “instant everything”, waiting on God doesn’t fit into our culture and lifestyle. When we are waiting on God to answer our prayer our attitude is often, “Oh God, give me patience, hurry up, right now.”

In some ways, I feel a great sense of inadequacy writing about waiting on God. Much of my Christian walk has exhibited a life of impatience. There have been times when waiting just wasn’t an option because I needed an answer or solution now. I now realize that most of the situations were not that urgent, it was my impatience that was being exposed.

But as I have grown older, and I hope a bit wiser, I am realizing the advantages of learning to wait on God. I think you will agree that instant gratification is not always the best thing for us. Listed below are 3 things I have learned about the importance of learning to wait on God.

1. Learning to wait on God causes us to reevaluate our prayer. How many times during the process of praying through a matter, have you changed how you’ve prayed? Often, my prayer at the beginning of the process was much different than the prayer when God answered. During my journey of praying and waiting the Holy Spirit refined my request and was able to give me the heart of God in the matter. By waiting on the Lord he had refined my prayer to line up with what he wanted to do. Prayer is not about thinking up something to pray, but prayer is getting to the point where we agree with God about what he wants to do in the matter.

2. Learning to wait allows us to realize God’s timing. One of the basic tenets of our faith is that God’s timing is always the best time. God has the ability to do multiple things just from one answered prayer. By waiting on his timing others could be eternally affected by an answered prayer at the right moment.

A great example of this principle is the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Lazarus’s sisters wanted Jesus to come immediately and pray for Lazarus so he wouldn’t die. It was an urgent need that meant death if he wasn’t healed.

But Jesus had a far reaching and even greater miracle in mind. By waiting Jesus did something even more sensational. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for several days. The whole town knew Lazarus had died and many had observed and witnessed his burial. Now the town was buzzing about Lazarus being raised from the dead. Jesus had received greater glory because at just the right time his sister‘s prayer were answered. (John 11)

3. Learning to wait strengthens our faith. When doubting Thomas saw the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and the wound in his side, he quickly declared, “I believe.” But then Jesus responded with an important principle. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me you have believed? Blessed are those did not see, yet believed.”(John 20:29)

Great faith is measured by believing God even though we see no physical evidence of answered prayer. It’s to believe that God will answer in his time and in his way. When we wait on God and he answers prayer our faith is strengthened and we can now believe him for greater things.

Waiting on God to answer a prayer or “come through for you” is sometimes very difficult. If we don’t have the right attitude toward “waiting” we create an atmosphere of doubt, fear and despair.

I am reminded of the story of Peter denying the Lord. After he had denied Jesus three times and the rooster crowed, Jesus looked over at Peter and looked into his eyes and into his heart. The scripture tells us that “Peter then wept bitterly.” That means that Peter was pierced to the heart with shame and conviction with one look into Jesus’ eyes. I don’t think it was a look of judgment, but it was a look of unconditional love. It was the love in Jesus’ eyes that brought brokenness and conviction to Peter.

I guess because of Peter’s story, I have this image in my mind that the moment I step into the portals of heaven the first thing I will see is the face of Jesus. I will look into his eyes and I will be overwhelmed with his love for me. A peace like I have never experienced will come over me and I will have the confidence that I am now finally home.

To me, learning to wait is taking the opportunity to spiritually look into his eyes, sense his overwhelming love, and then to have the assurance that he is working out all things for our good and his glory as we are learning to wait on Him.

“And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to [his] purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:28-31)

Praying through and Surrender

“Our God can deliver us — but even if he chooses not to, he’s still God!” Daniel 3

The above verse is a quote by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the King Nebuchadnezzar. In the face of possible death these three men did not waver in their resolve to serve and obey God.

This moment of courage, faith and boldness was made possible by a life of surrender and obedience. They had already determined that God’s will was preeminent in their life.

Before their appearance before the King they had made the decision to surrender and abandon their lives to God. So when they stood before Nebuchadnezzar weakness was not an option. This was an opportunity to trust God to the max. The surrender they displayed was characteristic of the same strength that carried Jesus to the cross.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reminds me of the importance of having the correct attitude toward prayer. Because of their response to the King, it is obvious that their concept of “praying through” was driven by surrender.

Many believers think that “praying through” means that “God comes through for you and answers your prayer.” Indeed, He may do that, but when we study the Scripture we know that the preeminent and overriding focus of every believer should be absolute surrender to God in everything, even our prayers.

The prayer of any mature believer includes “thy will be done.” This is not just a pious thing we are to add to prayer; it is a reflection of the heart. Absolute surrender includes even the surrender of our desires when we pray. God’s best for us always includes His perfect will, even in our prayers.

Prayer is our opportunity to bring our requests to God and then to demonstrate our willingness to submit ourselves and our desires to His will. So the next time you pray, remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and their submission to God’s will, even though it meant possible death in the fiery furnace.

“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (Thessalonians 5:18)