Are you overwhelmed by the circumstances that you find yourself in? Are you stuck in sadness, self-pity or depression? Do you want someone to show you the way to victory?
What if I told you a simple truth; that gratitude is the key to having victory in your circumstances. Not long ago our pastor did an amazing, life-changing teaching series called Thanksgiving Victory. I’ll never forget the impact it had on me as I considered what God had to say about being thankful, and in contrast, what He had to say about self-pity. Now, any time my thoughts and emotions start to move me in the direction of sorrow or self-pity I am quick to rehearse my blessings.
The truth is that we can all easily take for granted the good in our lives, and focus on the “bad.” As humans we tend to magnify problems. We focus intense amounts of energy on thinking about those problems, and those thoughts are expressed in our lives through worry, fear, anxiety, sorrow, anger and general STRESS.
Like a hamster on a wheel, those thoughts run and run and get us nowhere! The problems aren’t resolved, the circumstances haven’t changed, and we have only succeeded in “spinning our wheels in the mud” and getting more stuck than before.
The danger is when we entertain self-pity. The belief is that our circumstances are somehow more difficult than everyone else’s. Our problem is unique, and the pain far greater than what anyone else is experiencing. It is unfair and we are entitled to be experiencing something better (like everyone else)! Here is why it is so dangerous to think this way: you make it impossible for God to extend grace to you. Why? You feel you deserve it! Grace, by its very definition, is undeserved. It is favor that is given, not because it is owed, but because of the loving kindness of the one who extends it.
When you wallow in self-pity and depression you are absolutely cutting yourself off from the grace of God which is the ONLY thing that is going to affect REAL change in the circumstances you are so depressed over!
So what is the answer? Gratitude. Gratitude expressed in giving thanks for all the GOOD in your life! If you are reading this and scoffing at the narrow-minded simplicity of this solution in the face of your “very real” problems then you are exactly the person this message is for! Truth will set you free, but it does leave some feeling offended. Jesus set a lot of people free AND He simultaneously offended a lot of people. You can’t control every circumstance that surrounds you. You live in a fallen, cursed world where people have a free will to do all kinds of things that aren’t the will of God or the plan of God. Sometimes their free will infiltrates your world and the result is bad things happening to “good” people. You can’t control every circumstance around you, but YOU CAN control how you choose to respond!
You can stand right now, lift your hands and your heart to God and say THANK YOU LORD that I’m alive!
Are you healthy? Thank God! Do you have a roof over your head and clothes on your body? Thank God! Do you have food to eat today? Thank God! Do you have an income? Thank God! Do you have friends that love you? Thank God! Do you have a God that loves you and is for you? Thank Him! Are your children healthy? Thank Him! Is your car running? Thank Him!
As you begin to SAY, out loud, all that you are thankful for, as you rehearse how blessed you are, as you declare God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of even the WORST circumstances, you give God permission to release His favor and grace in the situation! So do it! Right now where you are. Be grateful! Be thankful! Rehearse your blessings, and continue to do it daily! Then stand back and watch how God brings you out of the pit and into victory!
Did you know that the enemy of your soul has strategies and schemes?
This is why the Bible exhorts us to know our enemy,
“…so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.” ~ 2 Corinthians 2:11
According to this scripture, Satan can actually gain an advantage over us when we are ignorant of his devices. He has very strategic and well thought out plans that he has used with repeated success in the lives of God’s people, and in the lives of those who do not know God. In our previous Bible study, The Good Fight of Faith Part I, we learned about the nature of our enemy:
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” ~ John 10:10a
In Part II we are going to look at our enemy’s battle plans. In any military operation there is always reconnaissance. This is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain vital information about enemy forces or features of the environment. As we enforce Christ’s victory and go into all the world to preach the gospel, we are invading Satan’s territory. We are going beyond the area occupied by friendly forces, and we need to know some vital information if we are to be successful in fighting the good fight of faith.
God has given us information in His word about our enemy’s battle plans and battlefields. There are three primary battlefields that Satan will operate in to carry out his mission to steal, kill & destroy:
The Battlefield of the Mind
1 Peter 1:13 urges us to “gird up the loins of [our] minds.” Other translations say to, “…prepare [them] for action.” So how do we prepare our minds for action?
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Prepare your mind for action by knowing what to do with thoughts when they come. Not all thoughts that run across your pretty little mind are from God! When a thought comes, treat it like a foreigner that needs a passport to gain access! Find out where that thought came from! If it is contrary to God’s word, pull it down, cast it out, arrest it – stamp it with “ACCESS DENIED.” Just don’t open the door, let it in, entertain it, offer it some snacks and invite it to dwell there! Understand that your enemy is counting on you to do just that, but hey my friend, you are not ignorant of his devices, and I believe the next time wrong thoughts come, they are not getting past the door!
The Battlefield of the Flesh
Galatians 5:17 talks about the war that is constantly going on inside of every believer between the flesh, or carnal nature, of a man, and the spirit of a man. There never has been, and never will be a peace treaty. We must crucify our flesh daily in order to live in the beautiful freedom that comes with being led by the spirit. Your enemy knows this, and he has a mathematical formula that guarantees his success in the lives of those that have failed to gather intelligence in this area!
But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions). Then the evil desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully matured, brings forth death.” James 1:14-15
INNER APPETITES (of the flesh) + OUTWARD ENTICEMENT = Birth of SIN = DEATH
The only way to stop the mathematical certainty of this death equation is to remove the “plus sign.” You may have flesh, and the devil may do all he can to entice it, but if you don’t take the bait the two can never conceive that sin baby! “That’s easier said than done,” you might say, and that’s true; however, God has given us weapons and His word. I could write a whole book on this, so I’ll just touch on two things.
First, whatever you feed will get stronger. If you want a strong spirit YOU MUST feed it the word of God. If you want to quiet your flesh YOU MUST starve it. Second, DO NOT rely on human will power & sheer determination. It is only by God’s spirit in you that you can resist strong temptation. It takes the grace of God that He gladly gives to the humble. Be teachable and acknowledge that you cannot do it on your own. Here’s my equation:
LESS Prime Time TV + MORE study & prayer = a STRONG SPIRIT = a better LIFE
It really can be that simple when we become doers of the word and not hearers only.
The Battlefield of this World
“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” 1 John 2:15-17
Part of our reconnaissance as Christians is to learn about the environment our enemy controls. The Bible tells us that Satan is the god of this world. He will use everything in our environment to distract us, lull us to sleep, or flat out persecute us. Be aware that the platforms of influence that govern this world (media, education, religion, arts & entertainment, family, politics, etc.) are the channels that will be used to sway believers to align themselves with what the world thinks/acts like/talks like rather than aligning themselves with what GOD thinks/acts like/talks like. The pull is strong my friends. That is why it is so important to guard your heart and mind, feed your spirit, SHUT OFF the channels that are feeding your flesh, watch and pray – THIS is how we begin to live by the faith that overcomes the world!
I’d love to pray for you: “Lord, I ask you to touch the heart of whoever is reading these words. Strengthen them for the battles that they are facing in their lives right now. Deposit in them your grace, your peace, and your wisdom. Help them Holy Spirit in their weakness – whatever it might be – and encourage them to keep fighting, keep believing, keep standing until they see the victory come to pass in their lives. Thank you for making them aware of how the enemy is getting in, and how he is gaining the advantage over them. I say they SHUT THE DOOR in his face today, and open the door to your spirit of power and love. I ask this in Jesus’ name.”
“Abiding doesn’t measure how much you know about your faith or your Bible. In abiding you seek, long for, thirst for, wait for, see, know, love, hear, and respond to … a person. More abiding means more of God in your life, more of Him in your activities, thoughts, and desires.”
As I sit here and think about my own relationship with God over the years, I can see cycles of deeper intimacy that I would prefer remained more constant. When Jesus told His disciples to abide in Him, it meant more than just visiting frequently – it meant being vitally united to Him in such a way that He would be the very source of life that they drew from on a continual, daily basis.
Have you ever drifted from your first love? Have you ever had such a desire to serve God that you submerged yourself in Christian doctrine, becoming excellent at disciplines and principles, growing confident and competent to the point that your living, flourishing relationship with Christ began to suffer? Disciplines are good. Doctrine is good, but we are not changed by doctrine; we are changed by seeing Jesus.
“…but we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
Even as we renew our minds in the word of God, true and lasting change only comes when we receive the light of the truth (Christ), and behold His beautiful face. We become more and more like Him by seeing Him, and that comes when we abide in Him.
When Jesus spoke the words recorded in John 15, He and His disciples were walking to Gethsemane. They had celebrated the Passover. They had been full of joy until Jesus began to wash their feet, speak of betrayal, denial, and His imminent departure. He tried to calm the disciples’ fear and assure them that they would not be left alone. As they pondered His words on this walk, He stopped and spoke to them about branches, and vines, and the Vinedresser. In our record of the words He spoke, He uses the word abide 10 times in 11 verses. He is passionate in what He is saying to His friends: Even though I am leaving, we MUST stay together.
He is no less passionate in talking to you today, right now, at this very moment. You are called to produce miraculous harvests, abundant crops of fruit for God’s glory, but apart from Christ you can do NOTHING! HE is everything. IN HIM you live, and move and have your very being. Don’t be so busy for God that you forget to sit at His feet and worship, and love, and listen, and praise, and draw fresh living water from His well every day!
So many of the concerns in your heart, the questions about your future, the cares of this life will be silenced when His voice is speaking, will grow dim when His light is manifested, will become small when His great glory is revealed. I have been guilty so many times of seeking answers instead of seeking Him. We do need answers, wisdom, direction, guidance, and vision, but sometimes we’re not even asking the right questions! So many complexities are simplified when we stop obsessing over details, and start passionately pursuing the one who knows every detail!
Maybe you need more than just inspiration today. Maybe you need direction. How do I cultivate this kind of relationship? Here are just a few keys to practice this week to begin to deepen the QUALITY of your devoted time with God:
1. Set apart time to talk and listen to A PERSON:
No matter how long this devoted time is – whether 10 minutes or two hours – make it QUALITY. Have a private place to read and write, think and study, talk to God out loud, and be ready to write down His words to you. As you read the Bible, read in order to meet someone, ponder what you read and expect God to commune with you. You’d be surprised how even 10 minutes of quality, daily communion with God can drastically change your attitude, perception, and priorities.
2. Be attentive to His presence all day long:
Now that you’ve spent that “set apart” time with God – don’t leave Him there. Abide in His presence. Ask Him what He thinks about whatever is heavy on your heart. Invite Him into the inner dialogue you are having as you make daily decisions. Thank Him and acknowledge Him throughout your day, and make an intentional choice to be aware of Him the way you’d be aware of a friend or your spouse if they were present in the room.
I invite you to practice abiding in Him this week. He is always calling us closer, and as we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. He is waiting…
Have you ever been guilty of practicing performance based Christianity?
If your answer is, “Yes,” you are not alone! Yesterday as I was vacuuming my bedroom, I thought back to all the times I had asked my son to vacuum his room. He is now 20, married and out of the house so I like to remember when he was little – time goes too fast! He would vacuum, not because he wanted a clean floor, but because I had asked him to vacuum; sometimes he did it so fast I wondered whether the vacuum picked up much of anything! I was working slowly as I reminisced, and I was repeatedly going over certain areas to get as much dust, dirt and hair as I could off the floor. I had a different motive than my son did – I wanted a clean carpet – but more than that I wanted a nice, clean house for my husband to come home to.
We can have different motives for serving God too. We might give of our time at church because someone asked us to. We might give of our finances because it’s “the right thing to do.” We might even visit prisoners and pray for the sick in hospitals because the Bible says to do that, and we are taught to do what the Bible teaches us to do. At the root of many of these obligatory acts of service is a heart motive that is trying to earn approval from God and man by its works.
Though I was grateful that my son would do what I asked him to do, the fact that his motive was simply doing it because he had to DID have an effect on the end result. Could he check it off his list? Yes. Did he get it done? Yes, but his bedroom floor probably wasn’t much cleaner than when he started. When we do things for God simply because we feel obligated, or because we feel it is owed to Him, or that it will gain us His approval or man’s approval – it will have an effect on the end result!
I like how The Message Bible says it,
“Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God.” ~ Ephesians 6:6-7 ~
If we are just doing what we have to do to get by, we are serving from a works-based, performance-based, law-based heart motive – and it is self-serving rather than God-serving. Our motive is an earthly reward: people seeing our “goodness,” God accepting us, or being praised for our works. It’s all about us.
On the other hand, when we serve with joy, with a smile, and with excellence, we are serving from a LOVE-based heart motive, and it is others-centered, and it is God-honoring! Our motive is love: seeing others blessed, adding value to the businesses we work for or the clients we serve, people being healed, delivered, and set free as we prepare a place for them to come and worship. The awesome part is that when we don’t seek an earthly reward, God gives us a heavenly one:
“All good deeds are gifted back from the Lord...” ~ Ephesians 6:8 ~ (The Voice)
“Good work will get you good pay from the Master…” ~ Ephesians 6:8 ~ (The Message)
“You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right…” ~ Ephesians 6:8 ~ (CEB)
“Knowing that for whatever good anyone does, he will receive his reward from the Lord…” ~ Ephesians 6:8 ~ (AMP)
This week, pay attention to why you do what you do – whether it be caring for your children, serving in your church, cleaning your house, working – whatever it is, give yourself the litmus test. Am I doing this with real joy? With a sincere smile? With excellence? If not, check your love levels! It may be that you need to spend some time basking in God’s love so you do all you do with a right heart, one that God is ready to reward!
I was once told about an astronaut that described what it was like in outer space. He summed it up in one word, “Peaceful.”
I imagine it would be peaceful far above, and far removed from all of the chaos taking place on this little spec of dust floating through the universe. When we change our perspective it can have a great impact on how we feel, and what we think in our every day lives. Colossians 3:2 says it this way,
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
There are so many voices vying for our attention in this world. Voices on the TV, voices on the radio, voices on the Internet, voices on billboards and in advertisements. Then there are our national leaders, our friends, family and co-workers – not to mention the voice that is always running around in your own mind! There are tornadoes and floods, earthquakes and fires, tensions mounting on the international stage. Without the right perspective we can become overwhelmed by all that is taking place around us.
Have you ever thought about how hard it can be to find your way out of a maze when you are walking around inside of it, and on the flip side, how easy that same task can become when you have an aerial view? Why? What has changed? Perspective.
God is always calling us up higher. He wants us to live life from a different perspective.
He wants us to “set our affection” on things above. “Setting your affection” is a phrase rooted in the word (phroneo), and it means to direct one’s mind to a thing, to seek for, to strive for; to have understanding and be wise about. What are we to direct our minds toward, to seek for, and have understanding about: “things above.” The word for “things above” is translated in other parts of the Bible as our “high calling.”
I was listening to the news the other day to follow the details about tornadoes in my area when I heard a story of a soldier who had fought in Iraq. He died at home in the states while sheltering his two children and his wife from the recent storm. It so affected me to picture that image in my mind, and to think of his heroism. I prayed for the family thinking of how life had changed so drastically for them in one day, and then I set my affection on things above.
I reminded myself of the brevity of this life, and the limited time that we have to fulfill our high calling. I thought about how every day must be precious to us, and how God exhorts us to, “…not be unwise, but to redeem the time…” because we are sojourners here with assignments to complete before we go to our eternal home.
Sometimes life has us feeling like we are lost in a maze with little sense of which direction to take. Sometimes it is the circumstances surrounding us – like a future that now has to be lived without the husband and father you thought would be there. Sometimes it is the noise of the world as it shouts to keep our attention. Whatever creates the maze you may find yourself in right now, there is one simple solution for how to get out: LOOK UP. When you redirect your mind to the heavens – to God Himself, He can lift you up to see things from His perspective, and from that vantage point, the right path will be clear.
Thankfully, we don’t have to find a rocket ship and fly into outer space to find our peace. Jesus said,
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” ~ John 14:27
So what are you looking at? If you find yourself troubled and without peace, it’s time to change your perspective. Stop looking at what’s right in front of you and look to God. Set your mind on your high calling, and keep eternity in your heart when this temporary life has you feeling lost. God knows right where you’re at, and just like that brave husband and father, He will shelter you from the storm.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:2 that we are living epistles, known and read by all men – living letters that tell the story of what has been written in our hearts.
As you live life, your thoughts, words, and actions are writing a letter that men around you are reading! So what is your letter saying to them? How do your thoughts produce words and actions that reveal the “true” Jesus to the world around you? God wants us to reveal His image, His glory, and His love to those we are around daily. This does not just happen by supernatural power, gifting, great faith, or anointed teaching, but by living a life of godly character EVERY DAY!
God wants us to grow up! He does not want us to remain spiritual babies forever. I have a toddler and a 7 month old. They are so cute, even when they drool, crawl on the floor, cry, spit up and make a mess in their pants. I also have a 20 year old son, and let me tell you, if he was drooling, crawling on the floor, crying, spitting up and messing his pants, I’d be organizing an intervention! Grown ups don’t do that!
When men and women come to God, and surrender their lives to Him, they are born again. It’s not a natural birth, but a spiritual one, and spiritually speaking, they are brand new babies. They need a lot of care and attention to grow up strong; however, they are expected to grow up.
Part of growing up is developing godly character, and this has everything to do with the heart. We can take care of the outward sins (think drug abuse, sexual sin, etc.) – but God sees the heart of a man, and that is the most important area to focus on if we are to grow spiritually. Some people can appear spiritual outwardly, but inside their hearts are filled with bitterness, pride, covetousness, lust, selfishness, a critical and judgmental spirit, hypocrisy and the like. Jesus is a lot more concerned about these things than he is about someone having a glass of wine!
If your life is a letter to the world that tells them who Jesus is, then your character and heart are the sentences and paragraphs that make up that letter.
“Writing a good letter” will not only help you personally, but it will help those around you who need to get lost in a good book! Your excerpt should entice them to read more, and as they do, you can introduce them to the Author and Finisher of your faith – Jesus! After all,
“Christ himself wrote [this letter]—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.”
~ 2 Corinthians 3:3 (MSG)
Let’s take a quick look at one heart condition that will ruin your love letter, and have people boycotting your book before you can ever get them to page one!
Hypocrisy is defined as: a theatrical performance, pretending, acting dishonestly, not being real or genuine.
If you read the Gospels, Jesus was always quick to forgive the repentant sinner, and had great compassion on unbelievers. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, He ate with tax collectors, and drunks; yet, when he spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exposed their hypocrisy, he always rebuked and corrected them sharply! On the outside they looked good. They quoted Scripture, prayed, studied, gave of their tithes, and followed the law, but on the inside Jesus said they were, “…full of dead men’s bones.”
Their spiritual life was not genuine! They were more concerned about appearing religious, and less concerned about actually being religious.
“Beware of the religious scholars. They like to parade around in long robes. They love being greeted in the marketplaces. They love taking the best seats in the synagogues. They adore being seated around the head table at banquets. But in their greed they rob widows of their houses and cover up their greed with long pretentious prayers. Their condemnation will be all the worse because of their hypocrisy.” ~ Luke 20:46-47
Part of growing in godly character, and growing closer to God is to learn to love what He loves, and hate what He hates. God does not like hypocrisy, and in my experience, hypocrisy in God’s people is one of the main things that keeps people away from God, and away from church. There is so much in this world that is false, fake, counterfeit, unreal, and insincere – even so called “reality” shows are not real! The result of living within this culture of lies is a people that are suspicious, cautious, and skeptical – their hearts cry out for something REAL, something TRUE, something GENUINE and lasting. They want your letter to be NON-FICTION, and the good news is that it IS!
My challenge to you: Don’t wear a Christian mask. Be real with God and man. Bring God your rough draft no matter how rough it is! Let Him erase a few lines in your letter, edit the typos, and rewrite the story of your heart. In time, you just might become a “Best Seller.”