Living with Eyes Wide Open

When Life wears you out - Emmett Aug 2013Gone are the days when a Band-Aid made everything feel better, when a stuff bear dried my tears and made the hurt stop.

 

Gone are the days when the worst day ever meant being stuck with a crumpled dollar bill in my hand as the ice cream truck jingled around the corner, two blocks past the invisible fence my parents built to keep me safe.

 

 

Gone are the days when innocence shielded me from the heartaches of life, when my biggest worry revolved around finishing homework before my favorite TV show came on, when my greatest responsibility peaked at taking out the trash.

 

Yep. Gone are the days when childish ways blinded me to the pain of others, when my wants and my needs bulldozed over anyone standing in my way.

 

A few years ago, I asked God to help me see through His eyes, love with His heart, hear with His ears, and speak with His words. That prayer increased my faith in God as He blessed me with the privilege of knowing Him more and caring for others more.

 

He burdened my heart with compassion and revealed the power and desperate need for intercessory prayer.

 

I’ve listened to heartbreaking stories, cried with grieving friends, and even risked admitting my struggles and sharing my own sorrow and pain to others through personal prayer requests.

 

I watch the news and pray. I scroll through Facebook posts, heart aching as I pray for strangers, acquaintances, and online buddies.

 

Gone are the days when “X,”as in Xochi, marked the center of my world, when the physical or emotional pain of others didn’t matter as long as I shielded myself with apathy and escaped unscathed.

 

Gone are the days when my world, my wants, and my needs elbowed their way into my top priorities list.

 

The funny thing is I don’t really miss those days.

 

Sure, they felt easier. But hard days wrapped in God’s grace and spent serving God’s people have helped me better appreciate the good days sparkling with the joy and peace of His unconditional love.

 

Pain reminds me how much I need God and others.

 

Sorrow magnifies the value of comfort.

 

The little things that bring me joy seem sweeter, since I’ve tasted grief of my own and shed tears with others.

 

As I witness the amazing ways God works in and through the lives of His people, struggles are eclipsed by eternal hope in the unchanging love of our faithful Savior.

 

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

 

When the apostle Paul refers to our troubles as “light and momentary,” he isn’t minimizing pain. He’s simply reminding us that what happens in this life is purposed to bring God glory, to deepen our faith, to bring us closer to Christ and others, to reveal God’s unchanging character, to equip us to serve Him and His people, and to prepare us for eternity with Him.

 

Even a full life of over a hundred years blips for a quick second on the radar compared to eternal life.

 

Releasing everything into God’s hands risks loss, heartache, and pain. Surrendering our will and submitting to God’s authority in our lives promises moments of difficulty and pain during the process of sanctification, the journey that refines us until we start to look more like Jesus.

 

But hanging on to temporal things is a surefire way to lose more than heart.

 

I’m past the days when a Band-Aid makes everything feel better. Although a colorful Tigger Band-Aid will tug a smile out of hiding on any day of the week.

 

I’m beyond the days when the comfort of stuff bear dries my tears and makes the hurt stop. But a word of encouragement from a praying friend can lift my spirits, remind me I’m not alone, and nudge me one step closer to persevering faith.

 

As God continues to reveal Himself through His Word and His people, I’m learning to rest in a better place. Not an easier place, just better.

 

A place where hope relies on knowing God is unchanging, faithful, and good. A place where joy isn’t tied to my emotions or my current circumstances. A place where understanding isn’t a requirement for peace.

 

That place is in the center of God’s will.

 

In this glorious sweet spot, His Holy Spirit empowers us to obey Him and depend on His ability not our own. He protects us and blesses us through our obedience to His Word. He nurtures and strengthens us as we surrender to His will. He builds us up as we share life with Him and grow within a loving community of fellow Pilgrims of faith.

 

Standing firm in the center of God’s will exposes us to persecution, hardship and affliction. Still that epicenter of God’s immeasurable grace remains a secure refuge.

 

No other place promises and delivers safety and satisfaction more than standing right smack in the middle of God’s will, loving Him and His people, confident that we’re loved right back.

 

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the LORD, you are my LORD; apart from you I have nothing.” (Psalm 16:1-2, NIV)

 

Father God, Your faithfulness secures our hope in You. Please clear our vision so that we can see You and others with eyes wide open, with faith secured in Who You are and what You’ve already accomplished. Empower us to set aside our selfish ways so that we can focus on knowing You more, receiving the glorious blessings of giving ourselves to You in every way, loving You and others fearlessly and generously. In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

 

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How to Win in Spiritual Warfare

Cactus in the Desert by Robert Mosley 2014When I first surrendered my life to Christ, joy and peace overflowed. Excitement bubbled over as I began reading God’s Word.

 

 

 

 

The promises of God injected me with hope.

 

Seeds of truth took root.

 

Sisters in Christ rejoiced with me, watering my sprouts of faith with prayer and encouragement.

 

My heart changed. My perspective changed.

 

But, to my surprise, my attitude during conflicts and my circumstances did not change as quickly as I thought they would, especially at home.

 

Surrounded by my sisters in Christ, I sobbed. “My Marriage is still shaky. My soul is still weary. I’m still struggling with sin? Why isn’t life easier?”

 

A shield of faithful intercession guarded my heart as the enemy hit me from behind, kicked my feet out from under me, shoved me backward, and yanked me sideways. The liar relentlessly attacked.

 

Is following Christ worth the extra pain?

 

It seemed as if life challenges bombarded me more after I surrendered my life to Jesus. Small obstacles became mountains. Setbacks forced me to sink or swim in quicksand.

 

Obedience to God led me right out of my comfort zone and into a spiritual war zone.

 

As I continued to seek God and watch my marriage crumble, I asked a few faithful women of God to gird me with prayer.

 

They armed me with a Life Application Bible, a Bible dictionary, a few good commentaries, a journal, and a safe place to share and receive support and accountability.

 

I opened my Bible. To know God, I needed to begin by reading His whole story.

 

As I studied, I noticed that whenever God prepared His people to bring glory to His name, the enemy seemed to up the ante.

 

It became clear that spiritual warfare chops at the roots of faith, cutting lifelines if we’re not ready for battle.

 

The Lord made me aware of spiritual warfare. But I wanted more than awareness. I longed for preparedness.

 

I asked. God delivered.

 

In Matthew 3:13-4:11, Jesus shows us six ways we can win in spiritual warfare.

 

  1. Jesus had an intimate relationship established with the Father (Matthew 3:17).

 

The Father announces His relationship with the Son when Jesus is baptized. But this communion didn’t start at baptism.

 

Luke 2:49 affirms that Jesus spent time in the Father’s presence, even as a child. So close was Jesus’ communication with the Father that, when he was only twelve years old, the teachers of the Law were amazed by His questions and understanding (Luke 2:47).

 

Though knowledge can’t save us, Jesus shows us that close fellowship with the Father helps us know His character and experience the power of His presence, which establishes the potential for deep love and trust.

 

  1. Jesus submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leading (Matthew 4:1).

 

When the Spirit led Jesus into the desert immediately after the Father approved Him for service, Jesus obeyed.

 

He knew the wilderness wasn’t a high-end resort or a spa retreat. Still, He refused to hesitate. The Holy Spirit led. Jesus followed.

 

  1. Jesus persevered in the power of the Spirit (Matthew 4:13).

 

The synoptic gospels concur that, as fully man and fully God, Jesus suffered. The desert heat scorched His skin and dehydrated His body.

 

Mark says Jesus “was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” and that He was “with wild animals” (1:13).

 

Luke says Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit” (4:1), endured physically and emotionally grueling wilderness moments.

 

Matthew gives us a deeper glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He hungered (4:2).

 

  1. Jesus wielded the Sword of Truth and stood firm against temptation (Matthew 4:3-10).

 

When the devil distorted the meaning of Scripture, Jesus rebuked him with the words of God spoken with true understanding and authority.

 

Jesus quotes from the Old Testament when He says “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3b).

 

Every word, not just the tasty morsels of victory and prosperity.

 

  1. Jesus rebuked the enemy verbally (Matthew 4:10).

 

There is no stuttering or unbelief when Jesus says, “Away from me, Satan!”

 

Luke shows us the result of Jesus’ rebuke. The devil left Jesus “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

 

Victory.

 

  1. Jesus accepted help (Matthew 4:11).

 

Scripture says “the angels attended” or ministered to Jesus. According to John MacArthur, the tense of the Greek verb, “to minister,” suggests angels accompanied Jesus the entire forty days.

 

The Lord demonstrated the Spirit-empowered courage, humility and community required in Christian living, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit worked together in the wilderness.

 

In spiritual warfare, disciples become targets as soon as they commit to following Christ.

 

But as Jesus proved, when we’re ready for battle, Satan has no place or power or authority in our lives.

 

Hallelujah!

 

Lord, thank You for being God with us, Abba, our personal Lord and Savior, our High Priest who understands because You chose to experience life in the flesh. Thank you for showing us how to prepare for the adventure of discipleship. Help us to surrender to the Holy Spirit, embrace Your power in us, walk boldly in faith, and stand triumphant in truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

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Photograph by Robert Mosley used with permission.

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Unwrapping the Gift of Contentment

DSC_0323As I enter the third year of my healing journey, I admit there’ve been times I’ve begged God for relief. I’ve cried out in despair, pleaded for mercy, struggled with anger, and broke down from weariness and frustration more times than I can count.

 

 

 

I’ve spent many nights silently searching my heart for glimpses of hope.

 

Would God heal me from the pain? Was longsuffering going to be my new normal? Would I ever feel totally secure in the refuge of His power and grace?

 

In Psalm 4, King David understood his desperate need for security when he approached God with transparency and cried out for help. He’d been hunted, ridiculed, and shamed.

 

But, he’d also been redeemed, forgiven and raised into an important leadership position.

 

Still, this great king failed, struggled, slipped, and pleaded with God when life overwhelmed him.

 

“Give me relief from my distress, be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1b, NIV)

 

With the first line like that, this Psalm could take on a whiny tone. But somehow, between the first and last verses, the king’s attitude changed from desperation to contentment.

 

How did King David switch gears from complaining to confidence? How did he go from pouring out his feelings of frustration to remembering faith built the firm foundation on which he stood.

 

“Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him” (v. 3)

 

Doubt did not taint David’s words or tone as he prepared for exhortation. The king knew he could trust God when circumstances felt overwhelming. Believing God listened was the key to contentment.

 

The psalmist knew from experience that obedience always led to peace and praise as the faithful found refuge in God’s presence.

 

After David processed all of his feelings, he burst into praise.

 

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v. 7)

 

David knew that material blessings couldn’t compare to a right relationship with God.

 

He embraced the Lord’s overflowing grace as he discovered the gift of contentment not dependent on circumstances.

 

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v. 8)

 

Lying down demonstrates the king’s willingness to trust God for protection. Sleeping symbolizes the quiet confidence of God’s constant and powerful presence.

 

This king, with mighty armies to back him up, knew that God alone was his refuge.

 

We, too, can draw closer to the Lord by learning more about His character through the daily study of His Word. We can experience His grace as we welcome His Holy Spirit to empower us to submit to the Bible’s authority in every aspect of our lives.

 

Just like David, an intimate relationship with God enables us to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” (v. 5)

 

We won’t hold back from God out of fear. We’ll trust Him to give and take away according to His good and perfect plan.

 

Our song will echo the psalmist’s devotion as we turn our hearts from complaint mode to content mode, praising God through all circumstances.

 

Lord, thank You for the struggle that reminds us we need You. Thank You for the pain that affirms we can still feel. Thank You for comforting us through the chaos with the promise of Your unchanging character and unconditional love. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Your story makes a difference.

Please share about a time in your spiritual journey when you were frustrated enough to give in to despair. How did knowing God’s character help you trust Him through that difficult time?

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Paying Attention to God, Not the Enemy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve all heard people declaring how busy the devil is in this world.

“The enemy is doing his best to discourage me.

“The enemy knows how to attack my weakest spots.”

“This situation is definitely the work the enemy.”

 

 

 

 

Yes, we live in a world where sin runs rampant and many people declare truth is relative. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yes, Scripture warns that the devil prowls like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Yes, the devil and his false teachers sometimes masquerade as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

 

But the devil has no authority or power over God’s people. Scripture says we have the power to deny the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), the power to resist him (1 Peter 5:9) and make him flee (James 4:7).

 

“The scriptural way to see things is to set the Lord always before us, put Christ in the center of our vision, and if satan is lurking around he will appear on the margin only and be seen as but a shadow on the edge of the brightness. It is always wrong to reverse this — to set satan in the focus of our vision and push God out to the margin.” (Tozer on the Holy Spirit, January 19)

 

When we pay too much attention to the enemy, especially during seasons of affliction, we neglect acknowledging the ways God works in and through our circumstances.

 

Trials offer intimate encounters with the Lord and opportunities for spiritual growth. Change opens doors for submitting to the will of God. Conflict prepares our hearts for experiencing the power of God overcoming the flesh.

 

Scripture doesn’t promise Christ followers guaranteed worldly prosperity or an easy road devoid of spiritual warfare. That’s not how Jesus lived during His earthly ministry.

 

So what can we do when faced with spiritual attacks?

 

The apostle Paul writes: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12, emphasis mine)

 

Our strength is in the Lord, not just from Him.

 

According to Scripture, Believers possess the power to “put on the full armor of God.”

 

To put on armor suggests preparation, not a passive response to surprise attacks. The battlefield unfolds in the spiritual realm, a realm in which God is the only One in control.

 

The Lord reigns in heaven and on earth, already victorious, establishing His Kingdom and preparing the world for His return.

 

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, emphasis mine)

 

When the apostle John says “them,” he’s referring to those shackled by unbelief and false teaching, those deceived by the devil. John assures the church that God’s power in us surpasses the façade of the power the enemy wants us to think he has.

 

So, when affliction tempts our focus away from the unchanging power and faithfulness of God, we can BEAT IT!

 

Be prepared to use the sword of truth as God sharpens our knowledge of His Holy Word.

 

Enlist prayer warriors to intercede and support us with accountability and godly encouragement.

 

Accept the privilege and power of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us.

 

Take up the shield of faith, believing nothing is impossible for God.

 

Invite God to be our strength, infuse us with peace, revitalize our joy, and carry us through.

 

Trust God to work His will, even when circumstances are painful and difficult to understand.

 

As beloved disciples of Christ, we can persevere with an awareness of spiritual warfare without being paranoid or afraid. We have offered the enemy way more power, credit, and attention than he deserves.

 

So, the next time we’re under spiritual attack, let’s praise the Lord for blessing us with spiritual awareness and discernment. Let’s rebuke the enemy in Jesus’ name and stand firm on the Word of God with Spirit-empowered courage and strength.

 

Let’s live like we believe the One in us is, indeed, greater than the one in the world.

 

Lord, thank You for not giving us a Spirit of timidity, but a “spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Help us live in the power of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us and works in and through us for Your glory alone. In Jesus name, Amen

 

Reflection:

How can we tell if we’re depending our own power or embracing the power of the Holy Spirit?

 

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Trusting God and Enjoying the Gift of Today

Brick Pathway by Kim Bangs January 2015When I first saw this picture posted on my friend’s Facebook page, I barely glanced at the colors of fall painting the sidelines of the walkway.

I hardly noticed the artistry in the detailed pattern of the bricks aligned by the path’s designer. I didn’t appreciate the emerald moss flourishing in the darkened cracks.

I failed to imagine the glorious fragrance of transformation, as drying leaves surrendered to buds of new life.

 

 

Instead of gasping at the wonder of God’s perfect moment, I strained to peek through the branches in hopes to catch a glimpse of what lay just around the bend.

 

More often than not, fretting over what we may or may not face in the future blurs the present beauty of what the Lord’s doing in the moment.

 

We can easily forget that every step we take is arranged by an intentional Designer, especially when obedience feels like it’s leading to a scenic route destined to extend our travel time and challenge our comfort zone.

 

Still, Scripture confidently confirms God can be trusted with today.

 

In Psalm 139, the psalmist proclaims, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16, NIV)

 

The prophet Jeremiah cries out, “I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23, NIV)

 

Wisdom reminds us that “[in] his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV)

 

These verses point to the faithfulness and lovingkindness of our Good Shepherd and Wise Counselor, Jesus. He is always with us. He is well prepared for what lies around the bend in every season of our lives.

 

Being overly concerned about tomorrow negates everything the Bible teaches us about God’s character and reflects fear not trust, doubt not faith.

 

Jesus said, “. . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

 

He promised a full life today, on this side of eternity.

 

Today, He is with us. Today, He is working. Today, He is enough.

 

Yet, so many of us still waste time and energy preparing for battles we aren’t even sure we’ll be facing tomorrow. We invite the pain of our past to sabotage the joy of today. We try to control circumstances in an attempt to avoid the possibility of being hurt again.

 

Life is filled with seasons of wilting and spurts of new growth peeking through the cracks of God’s masterpieces, so often mistaken as ordinary days.

 

While planning ahead is wise, being too preoccupied with the future opens the door to discontent and distraction.

 

When we appreciate today as a gift from God, falling leaves of fear and disbelief give way to buds of revitalized faith, spiritual growth, peace that transcends all understanding, and joy.

 

Embracing God’s pace and direction, being grateful for the moment we’re in right now, will help us learn to savor each step as we’re transformed into His likeness.

 

Lord, thanks for reminding us that every day is a gift from You, no matter how mundane or difficult that day may feel. Forgive us for doubting You when we worry about tomorrow instead of trusting You today. Help us live in the fullness of the moment, walking in obedience to Your Word and rejoicing in the fact that You are “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Reflection:

In what aspects of your life are you tempted to worry about what tomorrow might bring?

 

When is it hardest to admit your dependence on God, live in the moment, and trust His promises instead of being concerned about what may or may not happen in the future?

 

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Photo taken by Kim Bangs and used with permission for this post.

 

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