Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58: 4-7, NASB)
So many people tell me, “I’m not sure what my ministry is. I believe that God is calling me to something, but what?”
You can sit and ponder that a very long time. But why not get busy with the ministries God clearly laid out as “chosen?” When you are looking for guidance, begin to move in obedience to God’s Word. You can’t go wrong with that. As you go, He will guide you into greater knowledge about the niches to which He has specifically gifted you and assigned you.
It’s like when you drive a car. It’s hard to maneuver the steering wheel when you’re sitting still. However, when you start the vehicle and begin to drive, you can easily change course – even if you’re going opposite to your best route. God can steer you more easily when you’re moving.
Let’s look more closely at those chosen expressions of God’s Love.
Maybe you don’t feel you know how to loose the bands of wickedness. Let’s face it, you and I are surrounded by wickedness. Can you pray in Jesus’ Name against principalities and demonic powers that are holding so many captive? Are you willing to live in a way that shows folks in darkness that there’s a way of light that’s so much better?
Don’t let ancient language throw you. What do you think when you hear, “To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke?” Think, people who are bound. Addictions. Toxic relationships. Debilitating self-condemnation. You know the people in your world. Who needs your encouragement, your intervention, or your time to help them break free and choose recovery?
If you believe that the needy are “those people” who are not a part of your world, please ask God to open your eyes. I promise you, people virtually around your doorstep need for you to “divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him. Food, clothing, and shelter. You and I have so much. How can we refuse to share?
When you make these compassionate and bold choices, God promises some beautiful outcomes, great motivators for ministering right where you are. Let’s talk about those tomorrow.
God, please break my heart for what breaks Yours! Empower me as a minister of Your Love.
I have a habit of asking cab drivers, “What’s the funniest or most unusual thing that’s every happened to you on this job?” Once when I was working in Palm Springs, California, a taxi driver named Joe related a humorous experience that really got me thinking. He told me about a man who got into his cab about 1:00 P.M. and began to instruct him to go here and there. When he would arrive at the destination, the man would simply sit in the cab, meter running. After a while, Joe told him, “You’ve run up 80 dollars on the meter. I’ll have to get some money from you if you’re going to keep this cab.” Without hesitation, the man shelled out 150 dollars.As the day went on, the man began to share with his cab driver that it was important they keep moving, as the CIA was following them. His story became even more bizarre as the day went on.Finally, at around 9:00, Joe received the instructions to deliver the man to his own apartment. As he received the payment of 425 dollars more, Joe commented, “This was a quite expensive day for you, wasn’t it?” “Oh, no, not at all!” he replied. “I was scheduled to go to a lawyer and a shrink today. This was a bargain!”
First, my heart goes out to the passenger whose paranoia kept him on the move like that. However, it struck me that we need to take the time more often to do what he did. When we’re tempted to complain about the inconvenience or discomfort of a situation, maybe we should just consider the alternative. Think about these examples.
Your teenage daughter isn’t performing the way you think she should in school. When you try to talk with her about it, she seems unconcerned and speaks to you with disrespect. Yes, you are right to be concerned, and you have some real problems to address. But what if you were the mother in my office the other day whose 15-year-old was killed instantly in a head-on with a drunk driver? Consider being thankful that your daughter is with you, warts, potential, and all.
The alarm clock jangles rudely. You groan as you roll over and fumble for it. You worked long hours yesterday, and today doesn’t look much better. Consider the alternative. What if you didn’t have a job that pays your bills and gives you an opportunity to use the talents God has given you?
Do you sometimes get impatient when you can’t buy something you want, when you want it? Do you ever look around you and see others with so much more, feeling sorry for yourself? Stop! Go with me to visit the family I met in the cardboard shack in South Africa. Better, let’s drive a little out of our comfortable, routine routes in our own communities. There are folks on our doorsteps who know what it’s like to ration food and savor one meager meal a day. I’ll bet most of you are like me. When I don’t get the things I want, I may be inconvenienced, but my life and well-being are not at stake.
The Bible says, “In all things, give thanks.” Not for all things, give thanks, but in all things. One of the ways to do this is to take the time to put your current inconvenience in perspective.
Once I saw a two-frame cartoon that made I still remember years later. A man sitting alone under a tree on a very small island said, “All alone on this deserted island. This is just awful. What could be worse?” Frame two. A flock of gulls approaches. The two lead gulls are conversing: “Henry, the whole flock is terribly sick from eating all those green apples. I see a tree up ahead. Let’s rest there.”
Yep, it could be worse. Thank God, it’s not!
Lord, please give me the habit of a thankful heart. Holy Spirit, remind me when I’m frustrated over an inconvenience that is not tragic and life-altering. In every circumstance, teach me to focus on my blessings, even those within the troubles.
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4: 10)
Humble yourself, and God will exalt you.
And the reverse is also true.
Exalt yourself, and God will humble you.
Does this mean that God will whack you because He delights in giving people their come-uppance? (Good Southern term.) No, not at all.
God knows the truth that pride will destroy you, and He wants to save you from that. He loves you too much to allow you to race toward the cliff without any warnings and roadblocks. So He tries to communicate with you in the situations you get yourself into, helping you to come to the life-saving conclusions that you don’t know it all, and you can’t make it on your own.
God also wants you to know that you are not more important than others, and you’re certainly mistaken to consider yourself “entitled.” Such attitudes are guaranteed to wreck relationships and to ruin your chances of career success. Jesus was clear that such pride is not the way to greatness. He said that putting God first and others next is the way to become a leader and one who is great in His Kingdom.
Thrones can only hold one. If you put self on the throne, there’s no room for Christ there. That’s also a recipe for disaster.
Choose, then, to humble yourself. How?
First, settle the matter of Who is Lord of your life. (Hint: not you!) Recognize that you can’t make it without Him. Your wisdom is nothing in comparison to God’s, and He gives it generously when you ask. It’s foolishness to depend on your own.
Second, put yourself in proper perspective. Like every other individual, you are a beautiful creation of God and valuable. However, if you know it, you have no need to prove it. You certainly won’t earn superiority by comparing yourself to someone else or putting another person down to make yourself feel better. You don’t have to call attention to yourself. In quiet confidence in God, you will have true strength.
Finally, make a declaration of dependence. I can testify from hard experience that you never know when you’ll be forced into this position. Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to test it. God is faithful, now and forever. Depending on the Lord is no risk.
When you think about it with clarity, it’s much better to have God lift you up in due time because you have chosen to humble yourself. Falling flat because you have tripped over your own pride is no fun.
God, I surrender myself to You in the humility of desperate dependence.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1: 19-21)
James was writing to his “dear brothers and sisters” in the faith. In other words, if you are a believer in Christ, this message on anger is for you, too.
It’s no accident that the first antidote to being a bit of a hot-head is to be “quick to listen.” If you really take the time to hear someone out, listening to how that person saw it, learning how you came across, and checking for understanding, much potential anger evaporates. Truly comprehending the other person’s point of view and feeling empathy for that individual’s’s experience will usually calm you down. You still may not agree, but you’ve made an important first step toward problem – solving when you are quick to listen.
Second, be “slow to speak.” Well, that’s logical if you’re going to become quick to listen. You can’t listen and talk at the same time. Some delude themselves into thinking that they can. They hear a few words, mentally finish (erroneously, usually) the message, create their response to their prediction, and start talking! Noooo, listening is not happening while your brain is jumping and your own words are pouring out.
Third, be “slow to anger.” If you are in the habit of jumping to the worst possible interpretation of another individual’s motives, words, and actions, you’ll be quick to anger. If you’ve harbored bitterness and unforgiveness from a past offense, you’ll be quick to anger. If you are self-focused, entitled, and sensitive to any perceived slight, you’ll be quick to anger. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and healing so that you develop patience, a forgiving heart, and a gentle spirit.
This is no small issue. Your successes in relationships and in work and in service are at stake. James even refers to anger as “moral filth!”
Let. It. Go.
God, I want to do relationships Your way. I’ve heard it said that You gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. I believe that. And I want my heart to be so filled with Your Love that I am patient and slow to anger. Help, Lord!
“Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened.” (Matthew 7: 7-8, Amplified Bible)
I chose to use the Amplified Bible translation here because it captures the verb tenses in this familiar passage better than most other translations. The admonition is not “one and done” for asking, seeking, and knocking. It’s, “Do it, and keep on doing it! Don’t give up. Keep praying, keep seeking answers and opportunities, and keep knocking on doors!”
In other words, be persistent and consistent!
Some may argue, “Well, I prayed in faith, and I believe, so I’m not going to keep on asking.” I get it, and there’s a time for that when the Holy Spirit settles it within you. In other cases, however, it develops you to stay in that process of crying out to God, doing all you can, and refusing to let go of God’s covenant promises.
Like your physical muscles, your faith muscles build with resistance. Think about it this way. If you instantly got everything you asked for, you’d have no need for the kind of faith that believes though not yet seeing. You’d have no opportunity for the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of patience in you. God wants you whole and living productively in divine trust.
Why else the delay? Though you’re not seeing the answer yet, God is at work. Sometimes He is moving all the pieces in place behind the scenes. Often He is preparing the hearts of others who will participate in the solutions. Importantly, He would be unwise to send it to you before He knows you’re prepared to best steward the blessing. Just trust that He knows best. His timing is perfect. KNOW that He honors His Word.
So ask and keep on asking. Seek and keep on seeking. Knock and keep on knocking. Be persistent and consistent.
God hears. He’s not stumped.
Don’t give up. Your answers are on the way.
Lord, You are my Provider, and I trust in You. Though I’m not yet sure how You will work it all out, I know that You will. I continue to lay these deepest desires of my heart before You, and my faith is completely and totally in You.
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4: 15-16)
I saw a quote: “Some people come in your life as blessings; some come in your lives as lessons.” The more I thought about it, every person in your life comes as a lesson, if the student is open to learning. Relationships are your teachers.
The overall theme of every lesson is, “What can I learn about me from how I relate with this person, and how can I improve?”
It’s very easy to get focused on the wrong thing – the other person’s faults, how that individual rubs you the wrong way. Yes, the other person’s behavior and personality traits have to be taken into account as you deal with the person. But the real issue is, what is this revealing about me? And what does God want me to learn here that will help me become a stronger, more effective, and more influential person?
In that vein, I believe that some of the people who come into our lives have the divinely-appointed role of “heavenly sandpaper.” Such sandpaper is rough, but on contact and with some vigorous rubbing, sandpaper makes the surface smoother and more beautiful. It also reveals the true nature of the wood below the surface. Could it be that the person with whom you are struggling is an instrument of God to show you what’s under the surface of you? Have you considered that as you seek God in the difficulties of that relationship, He can and will empower you to learn patience, more skillful ways of relating, or the ability to make wiser decisions?
Oh, and one final thought on this. Have you noticed that the same kind of people keep showing up in your life? Is it possible that you didn’t learn what you needed to learn the first or second time, and you have to keep keep repeating the course?
God, I don’t want to keep making the same mistakes in my relationships with people. Speak to me clearly so that I learn what I’m supposed to learn. Nudge me when I’m finger-pointing, and point me instead to my mirror. Grant me wisdom in my choices of individuals with whom I relate intimately, but in my every interaction, teach me about me.
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child He loves that He disciplines;
the child He embraces, He also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. (Hebrews 12: 5-11, The Message)
Have you ever been around a little kid who was pampered and not disciplined? Or, the boy or girl pushes the limits over and over, only to be warned, “If you do that ONE MORE TIME…?”
Have you encountered the child whose parents thought that their mission in life was to keep the little darlin’ happy? Despite their brilliant efforts on this impossible and unwise mission, not only was the kid rarely happy, he/she made everyone else miserable, too. And believe me, that would be a pattern throughout his/her life. (Don’t get me started on entitlement.)
We understand when observing it, this is foolish parenting. Yet, we somehow hold the delusional belief that our Heavenly Father should (because He “loves us” and is “full of grace”) sit back and without intervention allow us to bull-headedly make choices that will ultimately destroy us. We entertain the additional false fantasy that either we won’t get caught or there will be no consequences to our actions. We rationalize ourselves into feeling, “My case is different,” and that our Heavenly Parent should just look the other way because “He understands.” That’s not parenting, that’s enabling.
Furthermore, God wants to train you and me to become all that He designed us to be. We’re not talking about punishment. He allows us to get into challenging situations to stretch and develop us. In comfort, we never grow.
God models good parenting by providing discipline. The scripture says that we should rejoice when we are disciplined (yeah, I know, easier said than done). God disciplines those who belong to him; those training experiences mean that He loves us. (Hebrews 12: 5-6) His purpose is not just to make us miserable or be a “spoil-sport.” Rather, He is committed to helping us become our best, to fully develop the talents and personalities He gave us – not to have them wasted and perverted. So, like any good parent would do, God disciplines us.
Discipline isn’t all about punishment. Jesus has already taken the punishment the sinful condition warrants – death. He did that for us. No, the discipline of the Lord is about development and training for living effectively and productively. “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12: 10)
Having been there many, many times, I can attest that going through the Lord’s discipline is not fun. No surprise there. I never did like it from my earthly parents either. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
So – deep breath – WELCOME the Lord’s discipline.
Lord, I submit myself to You for training to become all that You have designed me to be.