We’ve all heard the saying, “If it’s too good to be true…” That same thing can be said about an experience I read about recently. A young couple were in the market for a house in the Southern California area but were on a fixed budget. If you know anything about southern California you’ll know that buying a house and “fixed budget” don’t really go hand-in-hand when you are shopping for the home in which you will hopefully one day start your family.
One day the husband stumbled across an ad for one that seemed like an excellent deal for half the normal price. In Southern California that is a rare find! The reason for the great price was because its foundation was cracked. It did not seem to be a big deal; after all, it could just be filled in with some kind of filler or cement, right?
Wrong! Anyone that is experienced in this area or has had a similar experience knows how essential it was to have a good foundation… a solid foundation free of weaknesses and completely intact. So, reluctantly, with a lot of pouting and moping, the young couple had to pass up the great deal.
A few months later, upon driving by that house and talking to the new owners who were quite beside themselves in frustration, it seems as if the right decision was made to pass on the purchase. The new owners were having a lot of problems with water leaking into the house all of the time, even when it was not raining. Inevitably it will cost them more to fix the house’s foundation then it would be to tear it down and rebuild.
How is this is like character? Character is foundational to a person’s life and faith. Skipping character, or foundation, for convenience may seem okay at the time, but it will catch up with you. Sometimes we desire to go and find the easy way out of the hard and time-consuming things of life to get to the point of our day and accomplish the things we have set before ourselves. This happens even in ministry. Even if it cuts the corners off Character, we strive to shortcut our way though spiritual growth and serving God. So, let us look at God’s Word and find out why Godly character is important.
Character is defined as strength of moral fiber. A.W. Tozer once described character as,
The excellence of moral beings.
Character is often defined as a collection of personality traits within our behavior that shows who we are. This is shown in our integrity, attitude, moral fiber, disposition, and this shapes how we treat one another, good or bad. This is mostly true, but it goes much deeper than that. Character is who we are and it can be learned and built when we are in Christ. Moreover, real authentic Christian Character is not just a personality or our disposition; it is a description of who we are as a Christian. A persons character encapsulates the “Fruits of the Spirit” from God’s love and work within us.
A person’s character is the sum of his or her disposition, thoughts, intentions, desires, and actions. It is good to remember that character is gauged by general tendencies, not on the basis of a few isolated actions. We must look at the whole life. For example, King David was a man of good character, but like you and I he sinned on occasion. For example, 2 Samuel 11:2-4 and the rest of the story that follows,
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.
On the other hand, King Ahab may have acted nobly and honorably once in the battle that took his life in 1 Kings 22:35, he was still a man of overall bad character. 1 Kings 16:33 makes that clear,
And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
Several people in the Bible are described as having noble character. Ruth is described that way ion Ruth 3:11 where it says,
And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Hanani in Nehemiah 7:2,
I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.
David in Psalm 78:72,
With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
And we cannot forget Job in Job 2:3,
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”
All of these individuals’ lives were distinguished by a persistent moral virtue and Christ-like mindset.
Our character is influenced and developed by our choices. Daniel “resolved not to defile himself” in Babylon (Daniel 1:8), and that Godly choice was an important step in formulating the integrity that guided the young man’s life. Character, in turn, influences our choices.
Proverbs 11:3a says,
The integrity of the upright guides them.
And character will help us weather the storms of life and keep us from sin. Proverbs 10:9 says,
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
We all have the ability to be good or be bad, to take what Christ has given us and use it, and it is the Lord’s purpose to develop character within us. Proverbs 17:3 says,
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.
Godly character is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, and Christian character is a consistent manifestation of Jesus in a persons life. It is the purity of heart that God gives each and every one of us becoming purity in action and being displayed through us!
God sometimes uses trials to strengthen character like we read in Romans 5:3-4,
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
The Lord is pleased when His children grow in character. 1 Chronicles 29:17 says,
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.
Psalm 15:1-2 says,
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.
Our character is the most profound in our hard times!
Godly character is the springboard from which all we do and say in life comes. Developing Biblical character in the face of our daily life and even in adversity is essential to our witness and proof that we have a growing relationship with Christ! Character is not just having integrity or honesty or doing the right thing, it is not one aspect or even a few, it is a living, growing relationship in Christ which produces a synergistic combination of the Fruits of the Spirit that is apparent to those around you.
A few years back the internet and national news sources exploded over the story of Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers allegedly getting robbed at a gas station in Rio while there for the Olympic games. That was the initial report, at least. Over time, however, it became clear that the initial story was not the true story. As facts would have it, it appears Lochte was not entirely truthful in his initial account, and as the story developed, sponsors of Lochte dropped their contracts with him.
Despite winning 12 medals in his Olympic career, these companies wanted to distance themselves from the perception he has created of a young man with flawed character.
In other words, his achievements are being outshined by his character flaws.
I’m not here to throw stones or even to focus on this story, instead, I want to focus on one thing we can take away from that event: the need to develop our character. Let’s look at how we can develop and train Godly character together!
The first foundation for Godly character is a love for God. That may seem obvious as it is the first and greatest commandment found in Matthew 22:37-38,
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
Our love for God includes more than just an emotional “fuzzy” feeling. Instead it captures the affections of our soul, our mind, and our heart! We should put all of our intellectual and physical effort into guarding and fueling our hearts, never giving in to the emotionalism which neglects thinking or the intellectualism which neglects the heart.
How do you keep from losing your first love for God? We’ve all felt distant from God at one point or another… maybe you are there now! Think back to when you first came to know Christ and put your faith in Him, Jesus changed your life and you were excited about Him! But over the long haul, how do you keep that motivation going? How do you sustain a Christ-centered life?
I think the answer to that is really how you sustain a relationship with any person. If you are married think back to when you first met and started dating your spouse, there was an excitement to your relationship when the love was new a fresh. Sound like your relationship with Christ? But over time certain things will change, and the “newness” wears off and the tendency to start taking each other for granted steps in.
What do you do about that? You make sure to cultivate your relationship by spending regular time with that person. Intentional time… with no distractions and no end goal other than just cherishing each other.
Some people have the idea that knowing God should be easy. That developing a relationship with the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe should require nothing more strenuous than listening to an occasional sermon or reading a book or two. Why is that? Why is it that we will study for years in college to get a degree, we’ll labor nights and weekends to get ahead in our careers, and yet we think that knowing God should be effortless? We’ll exercise for hours to improve our physical health. We’ll eat right and sacrifice junk food, and torture ourselves on the treadmill.
In other areas of life, we understand that having things of value require work and dedication. Yet in the realm of the spirit, we expect good things just to drop into our laps. But that’s not the way it works! Like anything else of great worth, knowing God requires diligence and sustained effort. Is it worth it? Yes, the reward of seeking God far exceeds the cost. But there is a cost.
1 Timothy 4:7-10 says,
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
You see, “knowing” God isn’t something that just happens. It requires that we “train ourselves” or as other translations put it, “discipline ourselves.”
The Christian life is not just an intellectual exercise. It’s not just some kind of self-improvement motivational program. Nor is it a set of rules and regulations. The essence of the Christian life is truly knowing God and having a vital, living and intimate relationship with Him; experiencing His presence and activity in our daily lives.
Loving God is the great essence of why the universe was created. Treasuring God over all things. That is what loving God means. The mind and the body are the servants of the heart. They should work together to increase our love for God daily.
As our love for God increases our desire to please and serve Him with a Godly character will as well!
Saturate Yourself in the Word
Ten minutes a day in the Bible will not cut it in this world. This is the very Word of God. Read it. Meditate on it.
Our world is rising against and shaking it’s fist at the Word of God. Our culture likes to bring doubt to what they would call an “archaic book” or a “masterful conspiracy” each and every day all while chipping away at morals and character. Just think about how the world has changed and people have “flip-flopped” on issues even in the last ten years! I doubt that anyone will be an effective Christian in our day standing against the culture, and for the culture, without much Bible intake.
Do yourself a favor and create new habits! Do a daily devotional with some spiritual depth to it. Take in all of the Word that you can so you can put a little “spiritual meat” on your bones!
Developing long-term habits is important to maintaining your faith. A daily devotional will keep you in the Word and enhance your prayer life. It will also keep you closer to God even when you struggle in your faith.
Philippians 2:12-13 says,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
You have one life here on earth to live, and it is not a good thing to experiment with it. What will make life work? What will make a difference for you eternally? God did not give you life and no instructions… He gave you life and he gave you a Book. God has spoken. It is not a matter of experimentation. It is a matter of application of God’s word to everything. He knows all things. He knows what will make you happy in the moment. He knows what will make your life count for the here and now. So trust him.
Know his word. Test all things. Obey above all.
Die to Self
In John 15:5 Jesus says,
Apart from me you can do nothing.
Do we truly believe that? Do we live like it?
Part of developing Christian character is dying to ourselves and our fallen nature desires and relying on Jesus for the strength needed to live a God honoring life. Proverbs 3:5–6, says,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
The strength to live a God honoring life is void of us and our involvement! The strength comes only after death… death to self. If we consider Christ’s death to be all important, and it is, then we need to realize its effect on our lives. When Jesus died, He not only bore our sins, but He also was, in a final way, saying “no” to sin. It was His victory! After death, sin had no part of His life and no way of influencing His decisions or character. We know that Jesus never sinned so often this final denial a “door-shutting” to sin is overlooked. Yes He died to bear our sin… but also to deny His own!
So we, as His disciples, must also identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. We must say “no” to our former allegiance to sin through our faith and “yes” to our allegiance to Christ. We now have a new focus on life. Because of this new allegiance, we are not to sin as our formal fallen selves, but instead we are to live for God through dying to self.
Romans 6:10-12 says,
For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.
Let me put it this way, if you have accepted Jesus into your life you are not your own. You live in the strength of another. He bought you for a purpose. So live like 1 Peter 4:11,
Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Genuine Christian character involves sacrifice, and that is something that the culture will not require of us. That is something that only faith will bring us to. We are called to be servants. Not just honest people, but servants. Jesus cast it in the most severe terms. He said in Luke 17:10,
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”
We will never be able to die to ourselves unless we are convinced that serving the our former flesh is totally unprofitable. We have to see that it has absolutely no worth. Guard yourself from craving what the world craves. If you find that hanging out with unbelievers is making you love what they love rather than helping them love what you love, then back off and fill yourself with the love and truth of God and wait to be a light to them in another way. The same with media. If the computer, the phone, the tablet, or game system is making you crave what is destructive to your soul, lay it down. Sell it. Give it away. Smash it! Do what you have to do to be radically devoted to Jesus and his holiness.
Belong to a Church
Lastly, one of the best things you can do to develop and nurture a God honoring character is to surround yourself with others who desire the same thing.
Belong to a Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered church that preaches the whole counsel of God, and be connected there with God’s people. Don’t wait until the time seems to be “just right” or the “stars align” to be a mature, responsible church member. Break the mold and stop playing the church game! Your relationship with God is not a game.
Many people become apathetic over time because they do not feel connected to a church body. Some churches do not offer ways to connect, but you can be the catalyst. Join small group. Start a small group. Find like-minded people within the local body to commune with, to study, pray, and worship with, and draw your encouragement to live like Jesus from them! The more connected you are to the body of Christ, the more likely it is that you will maintain your faith.
Romans 12:5 says,
So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
How are you forming your foundation? What things can we be doing to develop a Godly character?
Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.
The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,
Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.
But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.
But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.
- Christ is our mediator before the Throne.
I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!
John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,
I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.
1 Timothy 2:5 says,
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!
- All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.
We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!
Hosea 6:2: says,
After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.
On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!
The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.
Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!
- Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.
The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.
Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!
The Value of Presentation
From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!
When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.
On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,
Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.
As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.
But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!
I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!
As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!
Hebrews 13:16 says,
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!
For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.
The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”
What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.
But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.
What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.
The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.
I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.
The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.
But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.
Romans 12:1 says,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!
Our sincerity can be found in our response.
I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.
In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.
James 1:17 says,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.
So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.
Psalm 96:7-9 says,
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency
One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?
I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.
I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.
In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.
How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.
A.W. Tozer says,
Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.
Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?
Revelation 3:14-22 says,
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.
How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.
- Lack of Zeal
One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.
Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!
I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.
Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!
- Tradition is Doctrine
Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.
There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!
C.S. Lewis once wrote,
Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.
But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?
Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.
Ephesians 5:14-17 says,
This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.
Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.
The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!
The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?
Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,
Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.
If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.
- Tolerance of Sin
Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.
Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.
Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.
Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.
- Lack of Pursuit
What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.
My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.
Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!
How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?
Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.
Mark 11:12-14 says,
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?
- Inward Focus
One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.
The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!
So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?
Jeremiah 10:21 says,
For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
Proverbs 1:32 says,
For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.
What is our focus as a church?
Zephaniah 1:12 says,
It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’
Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.
Weapons of War
Today we continue our series on spiritual warfare that we began three weeks ago. If you haven’t read the blogs leading up to this I encourage you to do so.They can be found below or in the archives.
Let’s begin! So… because the Scriptures tell us that spiritual warfare is real and that we have a part to play in it you might be asking, “What weapons do I have in order to fight this war?” Do not fret. God has given us all we need to overcome the enemy; we need only to go to the Bible.
First, as Believers we are warned to be alert and to resist the devil. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says,
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
This passage, and those like it, is written for believers. Think about it… the enemy has little reason to attack those who oppose the church, either actively or through unbelief. It’s God’s work in restoring us to Him that Satan opposes. But, if you notice you aren’t alone! 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us that, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” The word “your” that the passage starts with is plural. The devil isn’t our personal enemy! He is the church’s collective enemy! He is one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, hinder, and bring division and persecution in attempt to hinder the expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We must be aware that every step that makes us closer to God or enables us to do more for the kingdom of God will be met with opposition.
When you became a follower of Christ, you made an enemy!
It has often been said that the lion roars to paralyze his prey. Because of that I find it interesting that Satan is referred to as a prowling and roaring lion in the above verses out of 1 Peter. I believe that Satan often uses the tactic of fear in order to intimidate us and make us ineffective as believers. Look at what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7,
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self–discipline.
Timothy is probably struggling with fear about doing ministry, and Paul alerts him to the fact that, that spirit is not from God. Like Timothy we too face fear at times, look at the Parable of the Talents.
Matthew 25:24–25 says,
Then the man who had received the one talent came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
The man in that story, whom the master had given one talent to utilize, did not do so because he was afraid! He was so afraid of failing that he didn’t even try. Does that sound familiar? How has fear kept you from doing God’s will? What “talent” have you been given that you aren’t utilizing out of fear or complacency? Satan, the “roaring lion,” works through fear. He desires to paralyze us with worries and anxieties about the present, the past, and the future. He roars to keep us from progressing in the things of God… in holiness and service. Let us remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but instead of power, love and self-discipline.
Second, we must understand the power of Christ. Christ’s position in the heavenly realms is at God’s right hand and he has all things in this world under his authority. Ephesians 1:16-22 describes this position of Christ… but also our position in Christ. It says,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.
To be effective in spiritual warfare we must see and recognize our position in Christ. We must recognize that once we are saved we become seated with and united with Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 says,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Third, we must read and know the instructions we are given for standing against the evil one, his minions, and his schemes. Of course we all are familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18. It says,
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
Now that we understand those foundations we must take note that spiritual warfare comes in two ways: offensive and defensive. Offensive warfare is tearing down the strongholds the enemy has already formed in your mind (or others minds) through deception, temptations, and accusations, and defensive warfare is guarding yourself against those strongholds, tactics, and schemes of the devil to begin with.
Let’s put it out there and make it clear that the difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming, and defeating the enemy’s lies that he sends our way. Deliverance is offensive. Personal spiritual warfare is primarily defensive.
God was, is, and will forever be victorious over the evil one and He takes care of any obstacles in our lives as we abide in him. Our weapons of spiritual warfare are “weapons of righteousness.”
In 2 Corinthians 6:2b-9 Paul mentions these,
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
In the spiritual realm there is God almighty and his entire government of angels in their various roles and ranks, on the other spiritual realm side is the devil and his entire alliance of fallen angels in their various roles and ranks. It is important to note is that we have the entire heavenly government on our side including our Lord Jesus, who stands as our intercessor as Romans 8:34 says,
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
He is also our advocate in heaven’s highest court. 1 John 2:1 says,
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
Job 16: 19 says,
Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.
Our main concern here is the part we, as God’s servants, play in this war. The Scriptures have laid this out quite clearly. Most of what we see from the scripture is that the battle is Gods and our concern is to focus on Him rather than on Satan. The Bible tells us that we’re more than conquerors in any battle we may encounter. Romans 8:37-39 says,
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So we are in this fight, and if we remain on Christ’s side until the end we will be victorious. But… as soldiers what weapons do we have to fight with?
The Word of God is also known as the sword of the Spirit and the belt of truth. A sword as we know can be used as both an offensive weapon and a defensive aid and blocking tool. I find it necessary to begin our discussion about what weapons we hold and have in our arsenal with the Word, because all other weapons come from it and their instructions for use are inside.
Truth is our most effective weapon in battle against Satan.
In fact, Jesus stood on the Truth when he was confronted in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1-11 says,
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.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan He overcame the devil using the weapon of the Word of God rather than his own opinions, thoughts, desires, or excuses. Jesus knew and applied Scripture in his time of “need.” The direct use of God’s Word silenced the enemy and ended the discussion. Jesus used the Word of God once for each of the three temptations He faced.
The apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:14,
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
Like Jesus, we should do the same in our temptations. Take time and find Bible verses that are particularly meaningful to you… allow the Holy Spirit to help! Lock those verses away in your mind and heart, repeat them often, and use them when fighting in spiritual warfare.
Satan is a master deceiver. Imagine a salesman who has been selling the same product for 40 years… they would probably be pretty good at it. Their skills would be honed, they would know what to say and what not to say, and they would know the right approach to take when dealing with people. Now apply that to Satan. He has been “selling” the same lies and deceptions for his whole existence. He does well at taking the baggage and wounds we all carry and planting seeds of lies and distortions in the fertile and vulnerable soil. In the absence of God’s truth, those seeds can take root and grow, spawning more lies, more deception, and ultimately more seeds. Interestingly enough, Satan’s deceptions and distortions of the truth work in the same way that many cancer cells do in the human body. Within the last few years a team of Swedish researchers have discovered how many cancer cells spread throughout the body: by masquerading as immune cells! They disguise themselves as healthy cells until often it is too late. Satan’s deceptions often mimic Biblical truths somewhat closely. Close enough that many Christians accept them as truth without thinking otherwise… then the vicious cycle continues. False teachings and truths can devastate a Believer and set them up for failure.
Biblical truth shines light into the darkness that is spiritual warfare.
There is evil that we fight in our spiritual warfare. Jesus told us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the work that God has purposed for us to accomplish, as His will is being worked out in our lives. But we do hit opposition. We need to understand that the battle is not against flesh and blood but against powers in the heavenly places.
The enemy hates intercession because we exercise our authority in Christ when we pray! It is one of the greatest things he will attack. The enemy is on an all out attack to stop prayer, because he knows that there is power in intercession. There is power in even one intercessor that knows his or her authority in prayer.
James 5:16 says,
The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
In John 14:12-14 Jesus says,
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Let’s make one thing clear right from the start. Prayer is not a one-time thing… we can’t do it once and check it off the list. Although Satan is a defeated foe, it doesn’t mean that he has accepted that defeat and stopped fighting. At the conclusion of World War II pockets of Japanese soldiers kept fighting unable to accept the defeat or surrender of their homeland. They engaged others in guerilla style warfare for up to 30 years after the conclusion of the war. In 1974, Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese army intelligence officer, finally was persuaded to come out of hiding by a former comrade on the Philippine island of Lubang. Mr. Onoda, then 83, wept uncontrollably as he agreed to lay down his rifle, unaware that Japanese forces had surrendered 29 years earlier. In 1972, Shoichi Yokoi was found on the island of Guam and returned to Japan. Like Mr. Onoda, he had no idea that the war had ended. These are just a couple examples of the large isolated pockets of fighters that held out after defeat. Like those pockets of isolated Japanese soldiers on remote islands in the Pacific at the end of World War II, Satan and his demons continue to fight on, oblivious to or in denial of God’s ultimate victory. You must fight through prayer for the entirety of your Christian life here in earth.
God has promised to help His people. But sometimes that help isn’t immediate. Read Daniel 10. Specifically in Daniel 10:10-14 we see this account,
And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
In Daniel we see that help was sent but delayed. We have to remember the different fronts that this battle is being waged on, and stay aware that we aren’t always seeing the realm in which the fight is taking place. Remember, we exist in a battle zone of multiple levels and realms. Another possible explanation to what we might see as a “delay” to our answered prayers is that God could standing to one side, watching, allowing the fight we’re in to strengthen us.
God has promised to be there when we NEED Him, not when we THINK we need Him.
Do not look at your prayer life as a small ministry of no importance. The enemy knows fully how mighty you are in pulling down his strongholds, and he will try to intimidate, discourage, divide, or defeat you. We must not accept his lies. We must continue to pray from a position of authority! Do not pray from a position of fear, understand and take to heart the truth that you have eternal life with Jesus. He is your strength, and with Him there is nothing to fear.
I also believe that it is important to state that effective prayer for spiritual warfare starts with prayer in general. We have to begin from the baseline of an active prayer life. All of us would agree that before we stepped into the cage for an MMA fight we would want to fight and maybe take a punch. The fight itself would definitely not be the best time to learn! In the same way we must be praying before engaging the enemy in prayer.
Like the military, we train in times of peace to be prepared for times of war.
Our prayer nurtures our relationship, and it’s especially important to draw on that intimate personal relationship with God when engaged in spiritual warfare. A prayer life filled with regular prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and meditation are what nurtures and grows that close relationship.
We must not only pray for ourselves… but we must pray for others! We see an example of this in Luke 22:31-32 where it says,
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul urges us to pray for others! It says,
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quite and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men be saved and come to the knowledge and truth.
Take note, sometimes we may need to revisit the same prayer over and over… we may need to pray against the same sort of attack more than once! There are many demons, operating at many levels, using many different tactics.
As a child did you ever ask one of your parents for a piece of candy over and over after being told no? If you are like me you probably did in hopes of wearing them down with your nagging, and ultimately getting the candy. Like that pesky child nagging for candy after being told no sometimes we pray and deny the enemy only to have them return, often with their accomplices, and to try to wear you down.
It’s only through the strength of Christ Jesus that we can withstand. Romans 8:26-27 says,
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Imagine a trashed house full of garbage. What else is sure to be there? Flies. Sometimes of lives look a lot like that house. We get frustrated at the flies buzzing around and work against them. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, in our spiritual warfare we need to be concerned with the flies (demons), but we also must work to remove the garbage. This might look like a lot allowing past wounds to heal, seeking to restore broken relationships, or terminating relationships that are unhealthy for us. It might mean stepping out of our comfort zone, getting connected with other believers, and renouncing sin in our lives. Every trashcan may be different… but we certainly all have one. Prayer is a good place to start, but it almost always invokes action on our part.
The literal meaning of the Hebrew word for “fast” is “to cover the mouth.” Fasting humbles the flesh, and that is where we can draw power. Fasting puts us in harmony with an all-powerful God who demands humility from those who wish to be close to Him. When it is done for that purpose, it pleases the Spirit of God.
During a fast, you deliberately let go of that which binds you to this physical world (food) in order to receive all your sustenance from the spiritual world. You determine that for a period of time you will deny your physical cravings to focus on your spiritual cravings. You allow your spiritual hunger to become stronger and more focused. You feed your spirit with the same enthusiasm with which you feed your body. Spiritual hunger takes priority over physical hunger.
If you are like me then you enjoy food! For foodies fasting can be a real downer or struggle… but that is the idea. Food for your physical body sustains it and nourishes it. When we eat food, we literally take the earth and make it part of us. I am fully convinced that God intentionally designed our bodies to be nourished and fueled in this way so that we would have a picture of true nourishment that He speaks of in Scripture. Jesus made this clear when He told the devil in the wilderness in Matthew 4:4,
It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
God has represented His Word as food that nourishes our spiritual life in the same way that physical food nourishes our physical life.
Psalm 119:103 says,
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Jeremiah 15:16 says,
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
Ezekiel 3:1-3 says,
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
Just as food strengthens and maintains our bodies, the Word of God is designed to nourish, fuel, and strengthen us. You can go a certain distance in God, and experience many things, without fasting much, but the highest, richest and most powerful blessings always go to those who, together with other disciplines, fast. The most significant Biblical characters were all men of fasting and prayer. Jesus, the Son of God, was a man of fasting. Matthew 4:2 says,
And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
The apostle Paul fasted. 2 Corinthians 11:27 says,
In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Moses fasted 80 days. Elijah fasted 40 days. The early church fasted before starting any major work. Luther, Wesley, Finney, Booth were all men of fasting.
Now… don’t get me wrong, fasting is not magic, nor does it twist the arm of God. A Fast doesn’t punch your ticket into the will of God. God wants to do many amazing things, but He looks for those willing to urgently make the corrections needed to come into line with him. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Psalm 138:6 tells us that,
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.
Proverbs 3:34 says,
Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.
Matthew 23:12 says,
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Proverbs 29:23 says,
One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
Fasting is not a way to influence, impress or manipulate God. It doesn’t prove anything to Him. It doesn’t show Him whether you are serious. In fact, He knows your heart better than you do. Hebrew 4:13 says,
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
A fast is not a hunger strike, like the ones abolished in India in 1861, designed to convince God for “more” or to release what He has “held back.” Also… Fasting is not a last-ditch effort to get through to God. Instead, fasting is an effort we make to allow God to get through to us! It is a means of sharpening our spiritual senses so that we can hear and discern the voice, leading, purposes, and direction of God. Fasting gives us Spiritual eyes to see God’s focus for our lives, and it can be a major key to hearing God’s voice. We need focus from God more than anything. The world we live in is working overtime to distract us, to entice us, to win our hearts and minds, our focus, and to determine our vision. Fasting cuts out the world so we can tune into God. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read the account of a fast King Jehoshaphat called for this very reason. He had received a report that his enemies were allied against him and were nearly at his borders, intent on destroying him and the nation of Israel. The earthly perspective was pretty grim… but Jehoshaphat was not willing to limit himself to Earth’s point of view. He knew there was more to the picture that what he could see.
Fasting has a way of revealing the bigger picture… the perspective of heaven.
In Ezra 8:21-23 we see Ezra the priest fasting for God’s protection while carrying valuable items for the temple. It says,
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.
Like Ezra, we too can fast for God’s protection.
Matthew 6:17-18 says,
When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
We are commanded to fast for God and God alone and that our fasting will be rewarded. Notice that verse 17 says, “when” we fast… not “if” we fast. Fasting can actually break barriers and strongholds that sometimes prayer can’t handle by itself. We see evidence of this in Mark 9:28-29 where it says,
His disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”
If we desire to be successful and victorious in spiritual warfare then we must add the discipline of fasting to our arsenal.
I believe praise plays a huge part in our response to the attacks of Satan and his aids. In fact, did you know that there are more verses in the Bible that refer to praising God in some way, than there are that refer to praying! Therefore, I believe that praise is essential to success in spiritual warfare.
Praise takes our focus off our problems and places it where it should be: the Lord. Praise has a way of lifting our spirits and our confidence. Praise reminds us of what God has done for His people, and what He has promised to do for us in the future. And guess what? When you praise the Lord, you’re also reminding Satan and his workers of how many times they’ve been beaten before. Think about it! When I was a kid and I would wrestle with my friend, who was much bigger than me, I would get so frustrated at the lack of effort it looked like he was putting forth, and when he would laugh at my feeble attempts to take him down. In the same way Satan hates hearing about his defeats. How would you like it if, when you were about to attack someone, they started singing songs that reminded you of how many times you’ve lost similar fights? You wouldn’t, and neither does the devil! So make a joyful noise! Praise the Lord and His holy name!
My personal favorite reason that we sing is to silence the enemy. Singing throughout the centuries was used as a battle tactic or a way to prepare soldiers for battle. We see in the Bible that singers and musicians were just as big of a part of the army as the soldiers themselves. They led the fighters into battle! Tribes in Africa will often sing and shout before heading into war as a way of intimidating their enemies with the size of the army and the volume of their voices. In Korean and Vietnamese history soldiers would rush into a battle with loud shouts and songs to intimidate and overwhelm their enemies. In American history music played a large role in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars as both a moral booster and communication technique.
We can apply this strategy to our own lives. We enter into spiritual warfare each and every day. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior we basically put a target on our back for Satan and the world to shoot at. But, when the enemy tries to attack your life or church, the raised voice of faith in the promises of God will drive him away. Psalm 68:1-6 says:
God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Sing truths to yourself and to the face of the enemy. A simple reminder is often all it takes! 1 Samuel 16:23 says:
And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
Refresh yourself and others. Sing to yourself and with others. Prepare yourself to fight and let the devil know who the victor will be!
My favorite song to sing in times of spiritual warfare in my own life is “Always” it goes like this:
My foes are many, they rise against me, but I will hold my ground. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.
Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.
Troubles surround me, chaos abounding, my soul will rest in You. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.
Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.
I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord.
Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always. Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always, always.
Our song can be used as a sword as well! In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, we see the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the people of Mount Seir coming against Judah to destroy them. Jehoshaphat knew that his people could not defeat the combined armies of his enemies, so he went to the Lord for aid. Through Jahaziel, the Lord said, “Be not afraid or dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” So when the morning of the battle came, what did the children of Judah do? They went to the field of battle and began to sing and praise the Lord.
2 Chronicles 20:22-23 says,
And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.
The people of Judah never lifted a weapon! As they were praising the LORD, He turned their enemies against each other, and finally against themselves!
Psalm 8:2 says,
Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger.
Another example is found in Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison because they cast out a spirit of divination from a young girl who was following them, thus angering her masters. In the middle of the night, in prison, this happened to Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25-26 says,
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
If we go on in this story though we can see the power of praise in the spiritual realm and in breaking down strongholds and throwing off bondages and chains. We see the lives and attitudes of inmates changed when Paul and Silas are in captivity singing and praying. When the doors swung wide open and the bonds fell off nobody ran away. Nobody even tried to escape! What changed their hearts? God did. Through what avenue? Most likely the truths being expressed through Paul and Silas. We see change not only in their testimonies… but also in the response of the prison guard ready to take his own life to avoid punishment and the disgrace to his family’s name.
Acts 16:27-34 continues,
When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Praise can change lives. We must strive to sing truths that will infiltrate hardened hearts, and sing challenges to those of us who already know Christ. We can worship, teach, and evangelize through the songs that sing on a daily and weekly basis to others and ourselves.
Philippians 4: 4-7 says,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:1 says,
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men.
Psalm 95:1-2 says,
O come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation: Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.
God centered praise silences the enemy. How many of our problems would be solved if we could only drown out Satan and his demons.
So what weapons are you employing? God has provided and empowered us through His Son, call yourself equipped and wage war against the enemy!
Essential Relationships to Cultivate as a Believer
At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus spoke what has come to be known as the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19-20 says,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Of course everyone who has read the Gospels has read this passage, and the majority of us have heard more messages preached on this topic than almost any other topic found in Scripture.
Typically, when we hear anyone speak on this message the emphasis is on missions… and it really should be! But, there’s quite a bit more than just that packed into Jesus’ statement. Let’s break it down. There are four main verbs in this commission or command. They are: go, make disciples, baptizing, and teaching.
Looking at the verbs individually we can see that they all are dependent off the one previous to them. We can’t make disciples without going! After we make disciples we baptize, then we walk alongside a new believer in their faith and teach them! It is a perfect process! In this commission Jesus is telling us that His church is meant to be a disciple-making body first and foremost.
So… what is a disciple?
The Oxford Dictionary defines a disciple as a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher. What I find even more interesting than the definition is the word’s origin though. The English word that we know comes from the Latin word “discipulus” which translates to “learner.”
A disciple is a learner. We are called to be disciples of Jesus and our relationships within the body of Christ should be geared so that all of us learn more and more about and from Jesus.
It is easy for us as believers to build a castle, surround it with a moat, and live isolated in our own “kingdom.” But… that isn’t how life was meant to be lived and ministry was meant to be done.
I was once advised by a professor to find a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy for my own life. At first I had no idea what that even meant. I knew a person or two-named Timothy… but finding someone named Barnabas was obviously going to be more difficult in my mind.
But… as time went on it clicked.
Each of these well-known New Testament figures represents a type of relationship that is essential in the discipleship process. This discipleship isn’t just for others! Discipleship is foundational to our own personal growth in faith. Having a spiritual advisor, an encouraging peer, and a new believer whom we mentor is crucial to a Believer’s spiritual health. Each of these three characters is important to nurture and mature us as followers of Jesus. That’s why we must cultivate these types of relationships. Let’s discuss them together.
The privilege of sitting under a believer who is far wiser than us in spiritual matters is a mighty blessing. Ultimately, God is our counselor, and the Holy Spirit will always teach, guide, and direct us. But a person who has gained knowledge and insight through personal trials and victories is also crucial to our spiritual health. This person is definitely a tool that God uses to help us persevere in our faith.
A “Paul” is someone who will lovingly speak the truth to you, even at the cost of hurt feelings. We see that displayed in his letters to the different churches in the New Testament. Paul calls them out on things that they are doing that aren’t reflecting the attributes of the Savior who saved them. He does this with authority… but gentleness. In a way that builds up and enables Believers to pursue the purpose and calling that God has for them and the church. Paul was a spiritual father to many believers.
A “Paul” is a mentor, a guide, and a sounding board. We even see this type of relationship displayed in the secular world. We have counselors, trainers, and coaches who push us to achieve certain things and hold us accountable to that. They provide insight and encouragement while instructing us along whatever route we are on.
The thing we must understand about this relationship is that a “Paul” in our life will be a teacher first and a friend second. They are a mentor, and sometimes that means they have to say things to us that we don’t like.
First and foremost we have to find someone who will pour his or her life into us.
Barnabas was a companion of Paul on his first missionary journey after Pentecost. Paul and Barnabas were peers, and sent out from the same church ministry in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas walked through life and served God together. They were friends and without a doubt, they were mutually edified by each other.
Do you have a companion? A partner? A personal support system?
We even see that when Jesus sent out His disciples throughout the Gospels, He sent them out two by two and not alone! It is commonly explained that Jesus knew they needed fellowship and protection. He wanted His disciples to have fellowship because He knew that they were created for relationships.
We aren’t meant to do life alone! We aren’t meant to do ministry alone!
So… we all need a “Barnabas.” We need to be able to share our lives with others in friendship. Biblical Christian friendship. Do be a lone ranger! When we are alone, we are more vulnerable in so many ways, but when we are in relationship, someone has our back. Many of us have seen an action movie where the main character looks at someone and says, “Watch my six.”
Find someone to do life with! To do ministry with! Somebody has got to watch your spiritual “six.”
We must challenge ourselves to find someone we can count on. Not only do we need a Paul, someone who will pour into us, but we also need a Barnabas, with whom we will walk through this life of faith. A “Barnabas” is our spiritual peer, a friend in the faith, someone we co-labor with and someone who will be a source of fellowship and protection. They will encourage us in the faith, and we will do the same for them.
After we have established the above relationships and are living alongside them we must look to the future and find a “Timothy.”
Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. We see historically that Timothy was considerably younger than Paul, but that didn’t stop Paul from making a substantial investment in Timothy. We can see that Timothy was the recipient of mentoring at the hands of Paul and it paid eternal dividends and carries substantial weight in the Kingdom of God. So not only do we need a “Paul” in our lives to pour into us, not only do we need a “Barnabas” to walk alongside us, but we also need a “Timothy” as well.
We must become someone else’s “Paul!”
What an honor that is! We need to be making and effort to be consistently pouring into someone for their benefit and growth… not for what they can do for us. If you are like myself previously you may be thinking that you have a lot of work to do on yourself before you can begin to mentor someone in their life and faith… but let me assure you that there is always someone who will be blessed by your intentional spiritual investment in their lives.
If we all grasp this concept then we will begin to create and develop a cycle that carries on and benefits the church as a whole in the years to come.
Finding a “Timothy” somewhat serves or can be viewed as our spiritual “paying it forward.” We have been blessed by our “Paul,” and encouraged by our “Barnabas,” and then in return we continue the cycle and seek out someone we can bless as we have been blessed.
Do you have a “Timothy?” Who are you pouring into?
Let’s concern ourselves with creating and developing healthy Christian relationships that encourage and push us on in our faith while we in turn pour into others.
I’ve never been a fan of pain. I don’t know many people who are.
If God is SO good then why do we suffer?
We hear that question a lot nowadays and I fear that much of it spawns from a misunderstanding we have about our God. Our God’s goodness isn’t inter-related or dependent on current events, politics, national or international affairs, the money in our bank account, our successes or failures, or our sickness or health. Or God’s goodness is connected to one thing only… Jesus Christ.
Since God is the source of all goodness, then what God does for his own sake ultimately benefits us. Therefore whatever glorifies him is good for us. This includes both or good times and bad.
What do we do in times of suffering? What is God accomplishing?
Below we will discuss some things to keep in mind in times of suffering.
- God may be creating you into who he wants you to be.
We have heard it said that our stories and experiences have shaped or made us into who we are today. I wholeheartedly agree.
Think about it… it is common sense that we learn from our past experiences and sufferings.
The first time I touched a hot stove burner or a sharp razor edge I learned that I didn’t want to do that again. Many of the things we are going through currently are shaping us into something that can be used by God. Only God can take the ugliness we are currently in and create something beautiful from it.
We see this in Scripture with the story of Saul. Saul was an angry man who persecuted, tortured, and killed Christians. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He swore to wipe out the new Christian church and destroy the Christian movement.
One day Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians that were in the synagogues and an amazing thing happened. Let’s pick up this story in Acts 9:3-19,
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
Saul encountered the very God He had been persecuting and was never the same again. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. After his conversion, Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he spent the rest of his life serving Jesus and teaching people about him. He became a missionary to people all over the world. Suddenly, instead of being the person who hurt other Christians, Paul became persecuted himself for Christ’s sake.
What are your experiences doing within you? Is God using situations and circumstances in your life to make scales fall off your eyes?
What is your suffering causing you to see?
- God may be using your pain.
It’s hard to imagine that God would have to use something like our pain to accomplish His purposes and to achieve proper glory for Himself… but we see it Biblically displayed. John 11:1-16 speaks of a story that may be all too familiar to many of us. In this story a man named Lazarus is sick and dying and His sisters are begging for his life to be spared from death. John 11:1-16 says:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
How many of us have had a loved one die unexpectedly and we just don’t understand why?
Many of us may read that passage and say, “Why did Jesus say that this illness wouldn’t lead to death.” Was Jesus wrong? Did he underestimate the severity of the illness that had befallen Lazarus? Absolutely not. Pay attention to how He follows up the statement,
“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
God desired to receive glory through that miracle. Its purpose was not so much for the life of Lazarus, or for the love of Mary and Martha, as it was for the glory of God.
We see the glory of God in the remainder of the story. John 11:39-44 concludes,
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Ultimately, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead so men might recognize Him as God through His display of divine power.
God may be displaying His power through you and your life!
- God may be “trimming” you up.
My grandma has bushes and flowers in front of her house. They look nice… but like any plant they have a tendency to get unruly. What does she do to solve this problem? She prunes them. She trims them up and shapes them into what she desires or sees as “fit.”
What would you say if I told you that we are a lot like a rose bush? We have the ability to made into something beautiful… but we have to be pruned or trimmed up.
John 15: 1-8 says,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
A gardener prunes to what they see as fit, a painter paints to their liking, and God uses our circumstances to mold and shape us to what He sees as fit and acceptable.
Michelangelo didn’t leave the statue of David as a block of stone. He took his chisel and pounded on it with his hammer. He chipped away at that stone until he created something wonderful.
What is God chipping away from you?
Isaiah 48:10 says,
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
God refines us in our suffering and explains why in the following verse when He says that it is for His own sake that we are refined.
It is important for us to remind ourselves that our suffering or pain, the chaos we see all around us, the things put upon us that we don’t understand aren’t because God doesn’t love us or because He is a sick twisted God. In actuality, God is like a dentist or doctor who sometimes has to inflict pain on us for the betterment of us or our bodies as a whole.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, “A Grief Observed” about this very idea. He said,
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. … What do people mean when they say “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good”? Have they never even been to a dentist?
In our suffering God may be making us better… refining us, and making us stronger through the darkness that we may feel that we are in.
We are pruned for God’s glory and for our ultimate good! What good is a half pruned rose bush? Don’t stop the process because it hurts a little… see it through and make the pain mean something in your life.
I would like to close with this excerpt from a message given by John Piper.
Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at forty, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.
Watch out for Booby Traps!
Scroll through your Twitter or Facebook feed. What do you see? Opinions, rants, soapboxes, humor, advice, etc… Social media is an ever-growing network of people voicing their every thought. Take a look! Facebook asks a simple but dangerous question right at the top… it says “What’s on your mind?” That simple question lays in wait for an unsuspecting “scroller” to post before it ensnares them like a booby trap in a battleground.
Far too often we see people we know entangled in pointless online “battles” over the most meaningless things. I just don’t understand it… how is arguing with someone online that is 500 miles away beneficial ever? But… many of us fall into this snare consistently.
Christians… beware of what you say online.
Be an example. Show some restraint. Know what you believe and stand by it, and if necessary the time will come when you can voice your opinion or belief in a way that is beneficial to you and those around you.
Matthew 15:18 says,
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
That being said… don’t be defiled! The same Jesus who lives in your heart can change the way you speak and the way you respond to and correspond with people.
Social media isn’t an entirely bad thing though! Many churches (the one I serve at included) use social media to their advantage. How can we turn such a negative breeding ground into a ministry that shines bright on Jesus and glorifies the Father?
- Guard your tongue!
Matthew 7:16-20 says,
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Luke 6:43-44 says,
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
As believers we are to be recognized for our fruit, and believe it or not that doesn’t exclude our online alter-ego. We should work hard to guard our tongues in the same way online as we do in reality.
James 3:6 says,
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
Psalm 34:13 says,
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
The way I look at it is if I couldn’t imagine myself saying it in person, face-to-face, in a loving non-confrontational way then I shouldn’t voice it at all until a God-honoring way to do so is revealed to me.
That doesn’t mean we can’t stand for things and be actively involved in our world…because I absolutely believe that is necessary. As Christians we should actively support causes we believe in, but those causes should be moral and Biblical issues, not personal agendas or meaningless quarrel laden discussions. In the end, we should be seen in light of Jesus. After all, it is Jesus that we are compared to by the world!
Don’t be known as a keyboard warrior, a political loudmouth, or a misinformed ignoramus. Be known first and foremost as a disciple of Christ.
- Be an encourager!
Ephesians 4:29 says,
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
It is rare for me to log onto a social media outlet and logout feeling encouraged. I would say that is true for most of us. The world can be depressing. As we watch the world slip through the cracks to Hell we all need encouragement and a reminder that our Savior lives!
How about instead of spamming your friends and online acquaintances with yet another “shared” page or news article we post something about Jesus. It’s a revolutionary thought! If we are to be all about Jesus then how come it is rare for our online accounts to reflect that?
Let’s challenge ourselves to leave a positive mark online before we log-off each and every time.
- Learn and provide great online resources to your friends.
The internet is a vast and interesting place, which makes it hard for me to believe that the only thing believers nowadays can find to post about or share are typically fake or entirely incorrect internet articles meant solely for stirring up conflict.
Just as a side note… if you see a story about aliens landing, Tupac or Elvis being alive, a fan-favorite celebrity dying, or an asteroid heading towards earth please check your sources before posting! If no major news sites are covering the story then it isn’t true!
I just really don’t understand how we as a generation can have so much information directly at our fingertips and can still be so ignorant and find time online to argue or post about pointless things! Use your time and resources wisely… and share useful things with other believers and the world. Make a case for Christ!
I challenge each of you to use your time on the internet wisely. Limit your social media and increase your studying of God’s Word and the many theological resources available online from many or the world’s greatest known and wisest theologians.
The internet can be a wonderful thing and another resource to be used in developing a greater understanding of God! Use it to its full capabilities to make disciples and not to stir up conflict.
Beware of online traps. Watch what you say online.
I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:33-37,
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, son the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.