What You Learn in Tough Times
‘…Problems and trials…are good for us…’ Romans 5:3 TLB
We all want ‘…the crown of life…’ the Lord promised (James 1:12 NKJV) – but we don’t want the ‘problems and trials’ that develop ‘strength of character in us.’ (Romans 5:4 NLT) But it can’t be done. Here’s what you learn in tough times:
(1) Enjoyment. ‘Count it all joy when you fall into…trials.’ (James 1:2 NKJV) It’s when you pass God’s test that He fills you with His joy. So pull some of the groans out of your prayers and throw in a few hallelujahs. Remember, pain is inevitable – misery is optional! (2) Enlargement. The Psalmist wrote, ‘…You gave me
(2) Enlargement. The Psalmist wrote, ‘…You gave me enlargement. The Psalmist wrote, ‘…You gave me room when I was in distress…’ (Psalm 4:1 NRS) Most of the things we know best, we learned the hard way. Our greatest progress comes from our greatest pain; hence God doesn’t save us from it, but strengthens us in it.
(3) Enlightenment. The Bible says, ‘Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness…’ (Psalm 112:4 NKJV) We don’t realise how little we know until we walk through life’s dark places and God turns on the light.
(4) Endurance. James writes, ‘…See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm…’ (James 5:7-8 NIV) You can’t shorten the seasons or hurry the harvest, so be patient. And pay attention. While you’re waiting, God is working. Bruce Wilkinson says, ‘Tests of faith are trials and hardships that invite you to surrender something of great value to God… [and look forward to] the refining experience… and the priceless result.’
Six Different Attitudes
A Callous Spirit (1)
‘…You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.’ Luke 9:55 NKJV
The disciples had a problem with their attitude, and Jesus ‘called them on it’ six different times in two chapters. Let’s look at each and see what we can learn: A callous spirit. Instead of believing Christ to feed the crowd with five loaves and two fishes, they said to Jesus, ‘Send the multitude away…’ (Luke 9:12 NKJV) One of the dangers of succeeding in ministry is that you can end up loving crowds but not really caring for individuals. Or wanting contributors, but not wanting to spend time meeting people’s individual needs. Years ago a man decided to visit the churches of two well-known television ministers he liked. After hearing the first, he asked if he could say hello to him. But the minister’s ‘handlers’ said no, suggesting he phone to arrange an appointment. Disappointed, he went to hear the other minister, and was invited to lunch with him following the service. Feeling valued, he handed the minister a cheque for four million dollars. (This is said to be a true story.) You must always be approachable, available, and affirming. You must keep the personal touch. True, you can’t personally minister to all who are sick and counsel all who are hurting. As a pastor, having quality time to prepare sermons and Bible studies must be a top priority. But Jesus was able to ‘…sympathise with our weaknesses…’ (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV) because He mixed and mingled with us. Only as you stay in touch with people’s needs, can God use you to meet those needs in real time.
The saying goes, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ So, do you care?
An Impulsive Spirit (2)
‘…Peter…not knowing what he said.’ Luke 9:33 NKJV
On the Mount of Transfiguration, ‘…Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah – not knowing what he said…And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’ (Luke 9:33-35 NKJV) Another spirit Jesus identified among His disciples was: an impulsive spirit. Note the words, ‘not knowing what he said.’ Peter’s penchant for saying whatever came into his mind drew a strong rebuke from Heaven: ‘This is My beloved Son – hear Him!’ There’s an important lesson here. Your need to appear wise and have all the answers can get you into trouble with people – and God! Generally speaking, you’re not learning while you’re talking. So learn to be quiet, observe what’s going on, and listen for what God may want to say. When you don’t know, don’t speak. People respect you when you have the wisdom and humility to say, ‘I’m not sure, but if you give me time I’ll pray about it, consider it more fully and get back to you.’ Experts say the average person is now bombarded with 3500 messages a day: emails, text messages, billboards, television, radio, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. It’s ‘information overload’. People don’t need more information; they need answers that work! And God has those answers. So talk to Him first, then you’ll have something to say to others that’s worth listening to. ‘Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!’ (Proverbs15:23 NLT)
A Fearful Spirit (3)
‘They came to Him…saying, Master, Master, we are perishing!…’ Luke 8:24 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘…He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, Let us cross over to the other side of the lake. And they launched out. But as they sailed, He fell asleep. And a storm came down…and they…were in jeopardy. And they…awoke Him, saying, Master, Master, we are perishing! Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water… But He said to them, Where is your faith? And they were afraid, and marvelled, saying to one another, Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!’ (Luke 8:22-25 NKJV) Notice what is at work in this story: a fearful spirit. No matter how often God blesses us and answers our prayers, we still give in to fear the next time we face a crisis, especially when it’s one we haven’t faced before. Who told the disciples to get into the boat in the first place? Jesus. Understand this: faith doesn’t exempt you from life’s storms; it equips you to go through them. And when you are in the will of God; no storm, however severe, can take you under. Jesus knew the storm was coming before the disciples ever stepped into the boat. So why did He expose them to it? Because He was equipping them for the future, for the day when He’d no longer be around and they would face persecution, imprisonment and even death. So the word for you today is: ‘Don’t be afraid. The Lord is with you; you are going to make it to the other side.’
An Undiscerning Spirit (4)
‘…and You say, Who touched Me?’ Luke 8:45 NKJV
One day a chronically ill woman who had haemorrhaged for 12 years pushed her way through the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. And immediately she was healed. ‘…Jesus said, Who touched Me? When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ But Jesus said, Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me. Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all…how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.’ (Luke 8:45-48 NKJV)
What’s at work in this story? An undiscerning spirit. Observe Peter’s words, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, Who touched Me?’ Understand this: Jesus can tell the difference between the indiscriminate touch of the crowd, and a touch of faith. Faith draws on His power and brings results! Notice, this woman touched the ‘hem’ of Jesus’ garment. The last thing a dressmaker does when she makes a garment is to sew up the hem. So the hem represents ‘the finished work’. The same back that bore the cross which takes away your sins, also bore the stripes which take away your sickness. ‘…And by His stripes we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53:5 NKJV) What do you need today? Forgiveness of sins? Healing? Reach out in faith and touch Jesus, and you too will be made whole.
A Self-Seeking Spirit (5)
‘A dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.’ Luke 9:46 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.’ (Luke 9:46-48 NKJV) What’s at work in this story? A self-seeking spirit. As long as your motive for serving is to make yourself look good, you’ll never enjoy God’s approval. And His ‘well done’ is the only thing that counts. The ability to serve behind the scenes, and do it with joy, comes from the knowledge that ultimately your service will be recognised and rewarded by the only One whose opinion counts. Why did Jesus feature a child that day? For three reasons: (1) A child is teachable. When you’re finished learning, you’re finished! When you can’t be told, God will have nothing more to tell you. ‘The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.’ (Proverbs 18:15 NIV) (2) A child is trusting. When you promise a child something; they believe you, act on it, and expect it to be so. ‘It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.’ (Psalm 118:8 NKJV) (3) A child is tender-hearted. ‘Finally, all of you…be tender-hearted…’ (1 Peter 3:8 NKJV) The Holy Spirit is symbolised in Scripture as a gentle dove, so keep your heart tender and receptive to His dealings.
A Judgmental Spirit (6)
‘…You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.’ Luke 9:55 NKJV
One day Jesus went into a Samaritan village and was not well received. So the disciples said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them…’ (Luke 9:54-56 NKJV)
What’s at work in this story? A judgmental spirit. A poll taken by the Barna Research Group reveals that today most non-believers view Christians as too judgmental. So you can be sincere, but too severe. When you mix and mingle only with those who share your views and values, you can communicate with others in ways that attack, rather than attract. Let’s be clear: never has it been more important to know the truth of God’s Word and stand for it. But if you have the right doctrine and the wrong spirit, you’ll drive more people away from Christ than you’ll draw to Him. If Satan has his way, he will drive holiness out of our hearts and into our fists. Imagine – Christ’s disciples wanting to incinerate those who didn’t agree with them! They weren’t even aware of the spirit that was at work within their own hearts. ‘Jesus said… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 19:18-19 NKJV) That includes your non-Christian neighbour. You don’t have to defend Jesus, or ‘sell’ Him. All you have to do is introduce Him. The Psalmist says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good…’ (Psalm 34:8 NKJV)
What Do You See?
‘…A great…door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.’ 1 Corinthians 16:9 NKJV
Paul writes, ‘For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.’ So, what are you focusing on? The open door or the adversaries – the opportunities or the obstacles? In 1866, an amateur geologist noticed some South African children playing with a glistening rock. He asked the children’s mother if he could purchase it. Thinking it was worth nothing, she gave it to him. Later, when he examined it, he discovered that it was a premium 21 carat diamond. When word got out, a Scottish mineralogist named James Gregory was sent to investigate. He reported back that South Africa wasn’t suitable for finding diamonds. He speculated that the previous discoveries had resulted from ostriches, of all things, eating the gems in distant lands and depositing them in South Africa via their dung. A few days after Gregory’s report was made public, an 83 carat diamond was found in the area he had visited. It is now known as The Star of South Africa, and it launched the region’s first mining operation in what is today the world’s largest producer of diamonds. And what about Gregory? His name lives on, but not as he might have wished. In the diamond industry, when someone exhibits bad judgment, it’s called ‘pulling a Gregory’. If you ask God, He will help you find the ‘treasure’ in your field (Matthew 13:44-45). If Jesus could turn water into wine and feed five thousand people with a boy’s lunch, think what He can do through you. The question is: what do you see? The open door or the obstacles?
God’s Plan for Spiritual Renewal
‘…He sought his God…and so he prospered.’ 2 Chronicles 31:21 NIV
The conditions in our country today are similar to those in ancient Israel. In spite of all God’s blessings, the people had turned their back on Him. So when Hezekiah, a man of integrity, came to the throne, he set his heart on restoring God to His rightful position of leadership in the land. Notice four things he did:
(1) He re-opened the doors of God’s house and called the people to repent and return to the Lord.
(2) He challenged the corruption and carnality which had become a way of life even among leaders and ministers of the Lord. His words were strong: ‘…Sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place.’ (2 Chronicles 29:5 NKJV) Can you see a parallel to the day in which we live?
(3) He re-established the supremacy of God’s Word. ‘…they went in to purify the temple of the Lord…following the Word of the Lord.’ (2 Chronicles 29:15 NIV) Pastor, a Sunday morning sermon alone won’t cut it; you need to get your people into God’s Word every day.
(4) He called the people to worship God. It was an amazing scene. ‘The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed.’ (2 Chronicles 29:28 NIV) Scholars estimate that for over three hours the entire nation stood in God’s presence and worshipped Him. Did God bless Hezekiah’s efforts? ‘In everything that he undertook…he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.’ And that’s God’s plan for spiritual renewal!
Doing the Right Things
‘…You…harvest what you plant.’ Galatians 6:7 CEV
George Bernard Shaw said, ‘People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get ahead are those who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.’ A farmer can plant anything he wants; the land doesn’t care one way or the other. Suppose he plants both wheat and poisonous hemlock. The land will return poisonous hemlock as plentifully as it does wheat. Your mind is far more fertile, but the same principle applies. It doesn’t care what kind of seeds you plant; success or failure, good or evil, anxiety or peace – what you sow returns to you. The Bible says, ‘If you follow your selfish desires, you will harvest destruction…if you follow the Spirit, you will harvest eternal life.’ (Galatians 6:8 CEV) Success lies in your daily routine. So, get to know God better through His Word and prayer. Make up your mind to be of service to somebody every day. Tackle a problem bigger than you. Encourage everyone you meet. Take the first step toward overcoming a bad habit. Do something for somebody who can’t repay you. Instead of spending your working week looking forward to Friday, each day look forward to today! Do three things that will take you outside your comfort zone. Be thankful for what you have. Ask for help when you need it. Give God the best part of your day. The Psalmist said, ‘This is the day the Lord has made…rejoice and be glad in it.’ (Psalm 118: 24 NLT) The time to be happy is now, and the place to be happy is .
Who is God
Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ Exodus 3:13-14
Throughout the Bible, God has used different names to introduce himself to his children. What is remarkable about this is that these names were not dreamt up by people, but God takes the initiative and something of his character and nature is given to people through his name. If you go back to the original Hebrew, the various names of God shed light on the various qualities of God, just like a crystal with many facets.
JEHOVA (YHWH) – “I AM”: The One Who is; The Self Existing One
ELOHIM – The All-Powerful; One Creator
JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU -The Lord our Righteousness
IMMANUEL – God with us; “I AM”
ADONAI – The Lord my Great Lord
JEHOVA-RAPHA -The Lord Who Heals
JEHOVAH-ROHI -The Lord is my Shepherd
YEHOVAH-SHAMMAH -The Lord Who is present
ELROI -The God Who Sees me
EL SHADDAI -The All Sufficient One; The God of the Mountains; God Almighty
These names are characteristics of God. They describe who God is and how God is. That’s his nature. This is what we can expect from the Almighty!
Lord, Your name is holy. That I dare to call on you is an unfathomable grace! I’m amazed! This morning, I just want to come before your holiness and omnipotence and be still. Amen
For God’s Blessing, Put Him First
by Rick Warren
“You should live in a way that proves you belong to the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 GW)
The Kingdom of God is a present reality. It’s what we’re to be doing on the earth right now. The power of God is the present resource. It’s the energy you get to do what God wants you to do once you’re surrendered and submitted to his will.God’s glory is the reason.
It’s not the reality or the resource. It is the present reason for everything. It’s all for God’s glory.Romans 11:36 says, “
You were made for more than survival. You will never find fulfillment in life until you begin to live in God’s Kingdom, by God’s power, and for God’s glory.How do you live a fulfilled life — the kind of life that you were designed by God to live?The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, “You should live in a way that proves you belong to the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (GW).
What does it mean to live in God’s Kingdom? It means you make God’s agenda your agenda. You make God’s will your will. You care about what God cares about. Whatever you want God to bless, put him first in that area.
What does it mean to put God first in your life? I made up a little acrostic, FIRST, to give you five things you need to put God first in.Finances. If you want God to bless your finances, even during a recession, you must tithe. Sorry! There’s no other alternative.Interests. Put him first in your hobbies, your career, and your recreation. Give God first consideration in every decision.Relationships. Put him first in your family, your marriage, and your friendships.Schedule. That means you give him the first part of every day. You get up and sit on the side of your bed every morning and say, “God if I don’t get anything else done today, I just want to love you a little bit more and know you a little bit better.”Troubles. You need to turn to God first when you have a problem. Prayer should never be your last resort. It should be your first choice.
Talk It Over
What do you need to change so that God is first in your finances, interests, relationships, and schedule?
What is your first reaction to trouble?
How can you develop a habit of prayer in your life?