Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Week Thirteen - Bearing Christianly

Thomas Boston wrote, "Let us then set ourselves rightly to bear and carry under the crook in our lot, while God sees meet to continue it. What we cannot mend, let us bear Christianly, and not fight against God, and so kick against the pricks."

This idea of "bear Christianly" caught my attention. I think this is what the Apostle Paul often meant as he instructed Timothy and others to bear the burdens of life with Christian grace.

I went to look for verses using the word bear, and there were several.

1 Corinthians 10:13 "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Galatians 6:2 "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

1 Corinthians 3:2 "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able."

But these are different ideas from what Thomas Boston and the Apostle Paul want us to understand.
What does it mean to bear Christianly? If we look at the quote, I think we can see some hints. "Let us then set ourselves rightly to bear and carry under the crook in our lot." We all have our crosses to bear and our difficulties in life. We should set ourselves rightly by submitting our wills and adjusting our attitudes to accept them with Christian grace. 
"While God sees meet to continue it." Trials and difficulties have a time frame, and only God can make that call. How we deal with them while God directs them through our lives reveals our character and grows our faith. We also need to realize that nothing comes into our lives without the counsel of God, so every trial, every burden, has an eternal purpose.
"What we cannot mend." Some difficulties are our own making. Forgiveness, restitution, and humility can solve a lot of our problems. And this we should do. But some misfortunes we cannot mend. It is then that we need to look carefully at our response. Are we fighting against God, angry at the inconvenience or pain of our situation? Are we kicking against the pricks, grieving the Spirit by being unwilling to submit to learning what God might be teaching? This is the opposite of "bearing Christianly." 
Here's what I think. Ephesians 4:1, 2 holds the simplest explanation. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love."
We are prisoners of the Lord. He captured our hearts, bought us out of the slave market, and sealed us as eternally bound to him. This is now our vocation - our calling, and we should walk worthy of our Master, whose example is the same. When He faced the cruelest of deaths, the depths of despair, and the unfairness of shameful rejection, He bore His cross with dignity, lowliness, meekness, and longsuffering in love for us.
He didn't fight against God or kick against His assignment, but rather, as 1 Peter 2:23 says, "when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." That, my friend, is bearing Christianly.
How are you doing with that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Week Twelve - Strap on Your Weapons

This past week I was teaching counseling at the Bible college in England. I always finish out my notes encouraging students to learn how to use the weapons of our warfare that are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4) Let's look at these together.

Our first great weapon is prayer. Sometimes we treat prayer as an afterthought, but prayer is worship, work, and warfare. Without being energized by prayer, we are working from our own strength, and when we face strongholds and awful situations in life, we are not prepared.

One of the best books I ever read on prayer is Life's Limitless Reach by Jack Taylor. He breaks prayer down into three forms. First, we use praise and thanksgiving to enhance our worship, intercession and petition in our work toward man, and the word of faith - rehearsing truth and resistance in prayer - toward the enemy.

Knowing God's Holy Spirit is right beside us when we pray to interpret and direct our prayers, as we read in Romans 8:26, 27, we can avoid praying from our fear of problems and from the ground of ourselves. 

When we pray from the ground of the problem as we see it, we will be problem conscious, and that yields mourning, despair, and worry. If we pray from the ground of ourselves, we will be self-conscious, which causes us morbid introspection and loss of hope. But if we pray from the foundation of who God is and what He has done, we will be God-conscious and that brings us hope, gladness, purpose, and victory.

Prayer is a vital tool. The next tool we discussed was the wonderful Word of God. Matthew Henry writes - "To the Christian armed for defense in battle, the apostle recommends only one weapon of attack; but it enough, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph 6:17). It subdues and mortifies evil desires and blasphemous thoughts as they rise within; and answers unbelief and error as they assault from without. A single text, well understood and rightly applied, at once destroys a temptation or an objection and subdues the most formidable adversary."

The word of God was Jesus' weapon against the enemy's temptation - surely, it is one we need to effectively wield as well.

The third weapon is the Name of Jesus. Satan must flee in the presence of Christ. Proverbs 18:10 says, The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe." I imagine it as locking myself away in a tower, and over the door, as I slam it shut, is the Name of the Lord. Satan cannot enter!

Revelation 12:11 gives us three more powerful weapons. It reads - "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death."  To overcome - that's what we want, isn't it? To overcome those feelings, to overcome the enemy? Well, this verse gives us three more weapons for that purpose.

First is the blood of Christ. There is power in the blood. Remember the Passover night? Remember the use of blood through the tabernacle? Remember the blood shed for you on Calvary that makes you a child of God? That blood shed in perfect obedience to the Father is a power against which Satan cannot stand. He is the direct opposite of obedience. So, plea the blood for protection, for the tearing down of strongholds, and present your requests to the Father based on the Blood of Christ. You are covered and complete in Christ, loved with an everlasting love. You are His, and He is yours through the Blood of Christ - what a wonderful place to stand!

The word of our testimony is another weapon we fail to recognize. It simply means speak about the Lord. Share what He has done in your life with others. Brag on God. The more you talk of HIm, the more you will recognize Him at work around you. So, don't be afraid to praise Him out loud.

And, finally, the idea of sacrifice - love not your life. The Apostle Paul counted nothing in life do dear as his position in Christ.  Phil 2:7  That is the opposite of what we hear today. We spend so much of our Christian life listening about God's love for us, His acceptance of us, how we need to love ourselves, and that we are worthy and beautiful in His sight. Which we are. But that gets our focus too much on ourselves. Love not your life. Be willing to sacrifice and give of yourself to others. There is much to be said for our sheer determination to trust God and give ourselves wholly to Him even when we do not understand, even when it all looks bleak, even when it all goes wrong. Our undying faith in His ability and our willingness to follow unto death are a source of power. Unwavering faith is a powerful weapon.

So there you have it in a condensed form. Five powerful weapons for the use of Christians. Prayer, God's Word, the name of Jesus, the blood of Christ, the word of our testimony, and unwavering faith.

Strap them on each day and see what God can do with your battles!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Week Eleven - Count Your Defenses

I've been reading Facebook reports from missionaries about the situation in Ukraine that have blessed my heart. God is so at work among these people. They see God providing safe passage, finding lost family members, causing bombs not to explode, and confusing and hindering the enemy. And this current war isn't the only time these things have happened. Christians have been in the middle of war before. 

I read the following story in Elizabeth George's book, Loving God with All Your Mind, and I just had to share it with you today. As you read, remember, the truth of this story is not only for those in harm's way, but it is also available to you. 

"Dr. and Mrs. Nelson Bell ministered in China for 20 years during a time in China's history that was characterized by unrest and political and military upheaval. At one point, this faithful couple lay in their dugout shelter, not knowing their fate. The situation appeared to be hopeless, and these missionaries could easily have been overwhelmed by panic and despair. The choice was theirs...and they chose to view their situation through the lens of God's truth. Mrs. Bell reports - we were counting over our defenses. Overhead are the overshadowing wings (Psalm 91:4); underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27); all around the angel of the Lord is encamped around them that fear Him, and delivereth them" (Psalm 34:7); inside, the peace which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7); also, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3). The Bell's focus on God's truth calmed their hearts and strengthened them to endure the challenges they faced."

Aren't those beautiful truths? I don't know if I would have the presence of mind and the courage required to face such a trial, but my heart was blessed and encouraged to look at the defenses afforded the child of God. We are covered by His protection.

And here's the thing, we can choose to look at life and its challenges based on the truths stated in Scripture, or we can allow our minds to wander and create all sorts of fear and anxiety. When we are faced with strenuous and challenging situations, it is wisest to keep our minds attuned to the strength of God's word and His promises that will help us maintain a sound mind.

So, today, as you pray for the Ukraine and Russia, ask the Lord to continue surrounding His people with divine protection and set a guard on your own heart - count your defenses!

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Week Ten - What in the World Can We Do?

My grandparents were of that greatest generation who experienced two World Wars, the Great Depression, civil rights, the Vietnam war, and went from riding in horse-drawn buggies to driving a computerized Lincoln Continental. I learned so much from them and loved hearing their stories. One thing that always came through was their faith in God, who took them through every experience. 

We face a time in history none of us would have ever imagined, even five years ago. It is all entirely out of our control. This pandemic showed us how vulnerable we are to small invisible things, and this impending conflict shows us how vulnerable we are to huge visible things. So what in the world can we do?

Well, as I thought back to the advice of my grandparents, I could hear their voices saying, "Gail, just do the next right thing. Trust the Lord. Be wise with your decisions and leave the rest to Him."

In her book, Loving God with All Your Mind, Elizabeth George gives a way to look at what we are now experiencing. In my journal, I recorded her statement, "Nothing has just randomly happened to put you where you are." God is more detailed and involved in our well-being than that!

It all seems so random, doesn't it? Like there is no purpose, rhyme, or reason for the pandemic and this conflict, but God says there is purpose. He has rhyme and reason even when we can't figure out the tune. We are to acknowledge His hand in all things no matter what circumstance we face because it has been filtered through God's hands. It isn't happenstance; it is providence. And how does that help us? 

We can better endure difficult times when we acknowledge God is in complete control. Elizabeth George says, "Thinking the truth about God and our circumstances can help eliminate insecurity, bewilderment, blaming, and bitterness. We can then enjoy greater peace...in our trying situations." You see, it is a matter of perspective. We are to be looking to Him at all times. 

And what can we do in the meantime? We can pray, and we should. We can give, and let's hope we do.
But most of all, let's keep on keeping on. This is no time to throw up our hands and quit. Keep loving the Lord. Continue serving where you can. Elizabeth Elliot said, "Quietly do the next thing." Do what you should do where you are. You certainly can't do anything where you are not. Concentrate and keep your life together by focusing on what God would have you do. "Roll up your sleeves and serve God and others in the present, even in your hard times." (Elizabeth George)

Then, concentrate on the promises of God. There are many in God's word, too many to list, but even if you only know a few, let them be the meditation of your mind and heart. "They assure you over and over again of the nature and reality of God and His character. Through them you will never lose sight of the bright hope of your future. You can have glorious hope even when life looks hopeless."

And that was the key my grandparents emulated. They had hope, even when life looked hopeless. Their hope was not in the government or themselves but in the God of heaven. The same God we have today. He carried them through when they wondered what in the world they could do. And He will carry us through as well.

So, roll up your sleeves and prepare your heart! There might be a rocky road ahead!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Week Nine - Praying for Ukraine

I don't usually take on political subjects, and I hope not to cross too far over that border today, but sitting by without speaking up is not helpful either. Our prayers for the people of Ukraine and Russia are paramount.

I have been praying for the situation, as I'm sure you have, while the world waits to see what will be the outcome. Maybe it will be sorted out, perhaps the war will escalate, or we will see World War III. Only God knows. But in the meantime, we must remember that our prayers hold power.

The other day, I caught myself praying from a position of fear asking the Lord not to involve my countries, keep the enemy at bay, and protect and help us. God was not pleased. Without realizing it,  my prayer became selfish and self-protecting. Oh, I included a request for the people involved in the war, but fear meant my prayer was not God-honoring.

"Gail," He said, "I can answer those prayers, but you can pray bigger than that."  So, I stopped to listen to the Spirit speak.

The first reminder I received was David's prayer in 2 Samuel 15:31. David prayed, "O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." Ahithophel's counsel was, according to 2 Samuel 16:23, "as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God." He was the principal counselor for David and Absalom and held great respect. In the story, Absalom is trying to take the kingdom from David. And when David realizes that Ahithophel is on Absalom's side, David knows only God can hinder the counsel of Ahithophel. We can pray something similar. "Lord, turn the counsel of the enemy to foolishness."

In 2 Kings 7:3-20, we have the story of the four lepers who discovered the Syrian army had fled in the night. After besieging Israel to the point of starvation, verses six and seven say, "For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us...wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight." So, we can pray, "Lord, cause confusion to the enemy to confound their way."

And in 1 Samuel 7:8, the Philistines are again gathering to fight against Israel, and Samuel tells the people, "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines." So, we should not stop praying for God to deliver all of us from the hand of the enemy. There is a loss of life on both sides of the battle, and it is our job to hold them all up in prayer.

"There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30). He knows what is happening. And "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1). God can change everything around according to His will.

He is not intimidated or restricted by the efforts of the enemy. We then, needn't cower in our closets but "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Today is a time of need!

Here are a few more ways to pray.

"Lord, show yourself mighty to deliver. May the world see a miracle of mercy that can only be attributed to Your Hand."

"Give, Lord, great grace and boldness to those at the front. Grant them courage and fortitude."

"Lord, open the door for the Gospel to have freedom in Ukraine and Russia and for hearts to respond."

So, while the war rages, we must pray with great boldness, in fearless faith, and storm the throne room of Heaven.