To Obey God, Let Go
by Tom Holladay
“When the wise men had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” (Matthew 2:13-15a NIV)
Joseph and Mary had to let a lot of things go because of their faith journey. They left everything they knew when they headed to Egypt. And, in one sense, what they were sacrificing was their comfort at the deepest level.
It is often uncomfortable to trust God and follow his plan because we get comfortable with the wrong things. We get comfortable with our little habits and rituals, the things that get us stuck where we are instead of getting us to where God wants to grow us.
If you commit your health to God, it will probably mean giving up some of your favorite foods. If you commit your finances to God, it will probably mean cutting back on your spending.
It’s uncomfortable to break a habit. It’s uncomfortable to face a fear. It’s uncomfortable to go somewhere you’ve never been before or forgive someone who has hurt you. But growth and change always come through doing those uncomfortable things, and that’s what’s good in it.
But if we don’t face those fears, we continue to hold onto something that makes us feel comfortable and end up turning our back on God who is the source of comfort.
The Bible says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV).
I invite you this Christmas, like never before, to recognize that God is the God of all comfort. And in those moments when you want to turn back to that old habit, that old way of thinking which pulls you off track, turn to God and say, “God, give me your comfort.”
Talk About It
- What act of obedience have you put off because of your fear or discomfort?
· Pray for God’s comfort and courage to move you out of complacency and into obedience.
You’re Here for a Reason
‘…I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.’ Genesis 32:30 NLT
The Bible says Satan works ‘day and night’ building a case against you (Revelation 12:10). But with God’s Word ‘…in your mouth and…heart…’ (Romans 10:8 NCV) you can overcome him. When Satan says give up, God says stay the course (Matthew 5:11-12). When Satan tells you to look out for number one, God says put the other guy first (Philippians 2:3-4). When Satan says it’s ok to hold grudges, God says forgive as often as it takes (Matthew 6:14-15). When Satan says get even, God says be a peacemaker (Romans 12:18-19). When Satan tells you to take all the credit, God says glorify Jesus (John 17:5). When Satan says clean up the outside and people won’t notice the inside, God says He looks at your heart (1 Samuel 16:7). When Satan says you’re ugly, God says you’re ‘…wonderfully made…’ (Psalm 139:14 NKJV). When Satan says you’re alone and nobody understands you, God says He’ll never leave you and that He has plans for your life (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Jeremiah 29:11). David said, ‘I know You are pleased with me…You have not let my enemies triumph over me. You have preserved my life…’ (Psalm 41:11-12 NLT) The devil will play any card, and if that first one doesn’t work he’ll try the childhood memories trick, or he’ll dredge up your past sins and remind you of all the broken promises and dreams. Jacob said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.’ Bottom line: God has a plan for your life; otherwise you wouldn’t be here!
It’s Just Part of Life’s Journey
‘No temptation has overtaken you…’ 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV
Paul writes, ‘No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to [mankind].’ Notice the word ‘overtaken’. Suddenly you’re ‘overtaken’ by a set of circumstances you didn’t create, don’t want, and don’t know how to get out of. Understand this: You don’t pick the test, the test picks you! You don’t get to choose who breaks your heart, or who gets on your nerves, or who lets you down. When you first held your child you didn’t think that one day you’d be down at a detention centre trying to get them released. You couldn’t have known that a routine checkup would have you in the hospital fighting a life-threatening illness. Maybe your problem is so personal and embarrassing that you’re afraid to even discuss it with anybody.
So you walk the floor at night praying, ‘Lord, get me out of this or I’m finished!’ Even Paul wrote, ‘…We despaired…of life.’ (2 Corinthians 1:8 NAS) When you’ve been ‘overtaken’ by a situation you learn three things:
(1) Don’t judge others. The Bible says, ‘Every man is…drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.’ (James 1:14 KJV) When you don’t know what somebody’s been through or the circumstances which have conditioned them, be quiet. If you have to talk about it, talk to God!
(2) Don’t tell your troubles to the wrong people. Look for people who will share your burden, not spread your problem.
(3) Bring it to Jesus. ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
‘…But such as is common to man…’ 1 Corinthians 10:13 NAS
The Bible says your struggle is not unique, it’s ‘common to man’. Your secret is not really a secret, it’s just a secret shared by others who are equally afraid to talk. The only time we tend to be honest is when we’re in trouble. As long as we think we can manage our dysfunction, we don’t talk about it. You are not the only one who got married and then wanted a divorce, or lost control and lashed out, or quit a job and now doesn’t have a job to go to. This is important to know, because it takes away your feeling of isolation and enables you to overcome self-pity. It also helps you to say, ‘If others made it, then by God’s grace I can too.’ Perhaps you wonder if God is judging you, or the devil is attacking you, or if you did something to bring it on yourself. No, it’s just part of life’s journey! You’ll notice in Scripture that God doesn’t whitewash His heroes. He doesn’t exempt the people He uses from struggle and sorrow. ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…’ (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV) Every age and every stage of life brings a different test, and a different level of testing. You can’t pray away the tests of life, or quote Scripture and make them disappear. God never promised you a trouble-free trip to Heaven. Jesus said, ‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33 NIV)
‘…But God is faithful…’ 1 Corinthians 10:13 KJV
Here’s a promise you can stand on when your world has been shaken: ‘But God is faithful.’ Jesus said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away.’ (Luke 21:33 NIV) In a world of uncertainty you can sing, ‘On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.’ Your job, your health, your relationships and your investments are all ‘sinking sand’. But God’s faithfulness is as solid as a rock. He will be faithful to you in the delivery room, in the operating room, in the nursing home, in the unemployment line, in the criminal proceedings, and during marriage counselling. The Psalmist wrote: ‘I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart…’ (Psalm 27:13-14 NKJV) Focusing on God’s faithfulness will keep you from falling apart, giving up, having a nervous breakdown or losing your mind. Be honest; hasn’t God been better to you than you’ve been to Him? Hasn’t He been faithful when you’ve been unfaithful, and consistent when you’ve been inconsistent? ‘The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.’ (Romans 11:29 NKJV) When God gives you a gift, He doesn’t take it back. When He makes you a promise, He won’t break it. Even when Abraham died, God remembered His promise and blessed his children down through the generations. Why is this important to know? Because when you begin to see God’s faithfulness to you, it will make you want to be faithful to Him.
‘…He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…’ 1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
The Bible says, ‘He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’ You have been tempered for the test! Like tempered steel or glass, certain additives have been placed within you to increase your ability to stand up to the pressures life will throw at you. The fact that you’ve been exposed to this level of testing is a sign that God has given you the grace to handle it. He’s not going to let you escape this trial, because He’s equipped you to deal with it. So stop feeling sorry for yourself, or giving up, or saying you can’t take it anymore.
Not everybody in a gym can handle the same level of weight because each is at a different stage of development. But the trainer knows. He will push you to your limit, but he will never add one weight more than you can carry. God is a good trainer and He’s working according to a plan. He not only knows the right technique, He knows how much weight needs to be added in order to get you to the next stage of development. He will let you strain, shake and sweat, but He won’t let you break. While you are focused on temporary stuff like getting a better house or car or job, He has something entirely different in mind: ‘We…are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord…’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV) Once you understand this and line up your will with God’s will, you’ll begin to appreciate what He’s doing and cooperate with Him.
‘…God…will…make a way of escape…’ 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV
Look at the last part of this verse: ‘[God] will…make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ Before the Army sends you into battle it first sends you to boot camp. You’re up at dawn running kilometres with a heavy backpack, climbing over barricades, crawling through mud with the sounds of gunfire all around you, taking orders from authority figures you don’t like, who make you do stuff you don’t want to do. But when you pass the test you get to wear the uniform and fight for your country. Now with that picture in mind, reread these words: ‘But with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ The Living Bible says, ‘…So that you can bear up patiently against it.’ God is looking for people who are able to bear up under training, then go out and win the battle with the enemy. For every problem, God has a solution. But it may not be the solution you have in mind! Satan’s strategy is to defeat you by wearing you down, so winning is not a matter of escape but of endurance. Tenacious faith and commitment is one of the great themes of Scripture. It’s also the secret of victory. When their prison doors miraculously opened, Paul and Silas realised that God’s plan for them was not to escape but to stay there and win the jailer and his family to Christ. Sometimes God’s ‘way of escape’ is to keep you where you are and use you to bring glory to His name.
God Can Turn Your Failure into Success
‘…Because you say so, I will…’ Luke 5:5 NIV
‘[Jesus] said to Simon: Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch. Simon answered, Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will… When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.’ (Luke 5:4-6 NIV) Notice two principles in this story:
(1) God will use failure to get your attention.Peter was tired, empty-handed and disappointed when Jesus spoke to him. And He will speak to you through a rocky marriage, a child you’re about to give up on, or a job that seems too hard. He doesn’t want you to run from your problems, He wants you to learn from them; to discover the difference He can make in your situation when you invite Him into it.
(2) God can take you back to the place of failure and give you success. We assume that because we weren’t successful at something, it wasn’t God’s will. But often the truth is that we failed because we relied on our own strength instead of His. When Jesus spoke, the fish responded. The Bible says: ‘…They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.’ (Luke 5:6-7 NIV) God is not limited by your circumstances, He’s only limited by your unbelief.
When you obey Him, you’ll discover He has a level of abundance in mind that will exceed all your expectations.
‘…Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ 1 Samuel 18:7 NKJV
Instead of celebrating David’s victory over Goliath with those who sang ‘David [has slain] his ten thousands’, Saul became jealous. As a result, he opened himself to ‘an evil spirit’. (1 Samuel 18:10 NIV) There are three lessons here:
(1) Those who help you today, may hurt you tomorrow.So what should you do? When Saul threw spears, David refused to throw them back. Instead he forgave, prayed for Saul, and positioned himself to be promoted. It’s not easy, but it’s a winning strategy. ‘You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven…’ (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
(2) Those who love you today, may loathe you tomorrow.God says, ‘…I have loved you with an everlasting love…’ (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV) All other sources of love are subject to change. You can marry someone who resents you for being what you are, and you end up thinking, ‘You chose me because I’m outspoken; now you don’t like me because I speak out,’ or ‘You liked me because I was quiet; now you say I’m boring.’ You feel betrayed when people invite you, then fight you. But God will be faithful to you!
(3) While others speak well of you, some will resent you. , David didn’t sing, ‘Saul killed a thousand, but I killed ten thousand.’ You can understand why that would irritate others. But David didn’t boast about his success. Sometimes those who congratulate you can create enemies for you. That’s because some people can’t celebrate anyone other than themselves.
‘…They measure themselves by themselves…’ 2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV
A certain level of competitiveness is good. You need it.
When children enter a spelling contest they study harder and learn more because they’re going to compete. They know their academic prowess is about to be challenged and they get ready for it because we like to win. But when your competitiveness makes you feel ‘less than’, or ‘better than’ another person, it’s gone too far.
Paul writes: ‘…When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God…has assigned to us.’ (2 Corinthians 10:12-13 NIV)
To evaluate your success accurately you must first understand your God-given purpose. When you play on a team your position determines your purpose. Attackers and defenders have different skills, but to win, the team needs both. The defender who keeps the opposing team from scoring is just as valuable as the attacker who scores. One may get more applause than the other, but victory belongs to them all. When you keep comparing yourself with others you’re denied a sense of accomplishment, because you’ve made the benchmark to be like somebody else. No, they are playing a different position. They have a different purpose. They have a different skill set designed to fulfil the role God has given them.
God gives you everything you need for the position you play and the purpose you have.
What a liberating truth! And God, who gave others the ability to excel at what they do, will do the same for you when you learn to focus on Him, not them.
‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.’ 1 Corinthians 3:6 NIV
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Unhealthy comparison is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, I follow Paul, and another, I follow Apollos, are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.’ (1 Corinthians 3:1-8 NIV)
Understanding your gifts and your God-given frees you from the need to measure yourself by the runner in the next lane, or someone playing a different position on the team. When you understand this, your sense of inadequacy will be healed and you’ll be able to enjoy and complement others. You’ll also be able to help liberate your children from sibling rivalry and
show them that success is not about being like somebody else, but about being the best you can be, and God made you to be.
‘There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.’ 1 Corinthians 12:4 NIV
No matter how good you are, you’ll never be good at being somebody else. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to live up to the reputation of another person.
The new husband says to his wife, ‘My mother makes better fried chicken than this.’ The wife retorts, ‘Then tell your mother to come over here and cook you some.’ If you want your wife to shine in the kitchen, compliment her. Don’t compare her with somebody else.
Unhealthy comparisons hurt relationships! The Psalmist writes about the successful person who ‘is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season…’ (Psalm 1:3 NIV) A wise fruit grower understands three things about his trees:
(1) Apple trees are only capable of producing apples.
(2) Apple trees only produce apples in certain seasons.
(3) It is a mistake to pick your apples too early.
When the daughter of a well-known preacher was introduced on a Christian television network, she received invitations from several churches to come and speak. But her father said, ‘No, leave her alone. I won’t allow the system to eat her up and begin to compare her unfavourably with her father or mother or somebody else she can never be. I want her to be herself.’ What great counsel and insight!
Paul writes, ‘…That we…might be for the praise of His glory.’ (Ephesians 1:12 NIV) When you understand who you are and God created you to be – being yourself brings glory to God! You can say, ‘Lord, I’m thankful for who You made me; I’ve finished complaining or wishing I could be somebody else.’
‘…Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV
Paul writes, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ This word ‘gain’ doesn’t mean increase, but profit. There’s a difference. Profit is what you have left when the transaction is over. Paul meant that when everything is said and done, you must feel good about being yourself.
You must be able to say, ‘I would rather be a great sergeant than a poor general.’ Only when you’ve followed well, can you lead well. If you’re praying for a certain position or promotion, check your motives.
Sometimes what we call faith is really just , because we haven’t come to the place where we’re comfortable with the role God has given us. King Saul’s undoing was his ego. He couldn’t stand somebody else doing it better than he did. Many of us have a wrong concept of what being ‘blessed’ looks like. We have seen God’s blessing in someone else’s life, so we think that to be like them is to be blessed. And no matter what God gives us, we are never happy because we’re not like them. We are asking God for something but we don’t know what it is, what it looks like, or when we have it. And if you don’t know you have it, you won’t know when you lose it. When you keep comparing yourself to somebody else you make that person an idol in your life. Tear that idol down!
Ask God for a dream of your own. Stand on your own two feet. Be who God created you to be. Even though God has more in store for you, praise Him for what He’s given you right now.
‘…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ Philippians 3:12 NIV
Paul didn’t measure his progress by the pace of the runner in the lane next to him. He said, in essence, ‘I’m running according to the drumbeat I hear on the inside, not the outside. I will support and encourage you, but I will never compete with you. My goal is to recognise and maximise what God has put within me. I’m not chasing you, I’m chasing .’
When the crowd started singing, ‘Saul has killed his thousands but David has killed his tens of thousands,’ Saul couldn’t handle it and he lashed out at David.
There will always be somebody who has more education than you, preaches better than you, or makes more money than you. So shake it off and be yourself!
The Bible says, ‘He who walks with wise men will be wise…’ (Proverbs 13:20 NKJV) Your future success is predicated on your ability and willingness to walk in the company of greatness and be inspired by it rather than frustrated by it.
Saul’s competitiveness ultimately destroyed him, and it will destroy you too. Faced with his successor, David, Saul tried to kill him. Faced with his successor, Timothy, Paul did all he could to build him up. Listen to Paul, ‘Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.’ (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV) Does Paul sound jealous? No. Do you know why? He tells us, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course…’ (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV)
The only course you can run and win is the course God has given you!
But God has revealed [it] to us by his Spirit…’ 1 Corinthians 2:10 NIV
Paul writes, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard…no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love Him.’ (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV) You say, ‘But that’s all in the future!’ No; read on: ‘But God has revealed [it] to us by his Spirit.’ Others may inspire and instruct you, but you must go to God in order to find out what He’s called you to be and then align yourself with it.
God told the prophet Habakkuk, ‘…Write the vision and make it plain…that he may run who reads it.’ (Habakkuk 2:2 NKJV) It’s ok to admire somebody else’s vision and be inspired by them, but you must receive your own vision from God and run with it. Only when you do that, can you live to the fullest. God wants you to run according to what He has shown you, not what somebody else says.
Stop taking your cues from people. Go to God! Some of us are forty, or fifty, or sixty years old and we’re still not happy with what we are. We’re frustrated and frantic because we’ve never found that feeling of contentment. The problem is we’ve made it our goal to become something God never meant us to be. You must go to God, like a house to a builder, and say, ‘Lord, what building materials have You put within me? How much weight can I bear? What is my purpose? Who should I be? Show me Your plan at every age and every stage.’ You are the question, is the answer. And as long as you know who is who, you’ll always make progress in the journey of life.
It’s About Him – Not You
‘…This work had been done with the help of our God.’ Nehemiah 6:16 NIV
After scoring a goal for his team, a big, rugged AFL player started dancing and beating his chest as if to say, ‘Look at me, I’m the greatest.’ Then the opposing team gained possession of the ball and their centre kicked a goal from outside the 50. But unlike his opponent, the centre offered up a quick ‘Thank You, God’ before turning to celebrate with his team. Now meet another team player, Nehemiah, the king’s royal cupbearer. When he heard about Jerusalem’s broken-down walls, he set aside his own problems and focused on the nation’s. Nehemiah was so burdened for the city where his forefathers were buried that he ‘…wept…mourned…and prayed before…God…’ (Nehemiah 1:4 NIV) He remembered his roots, and reminded God of His covenant with His people by, in essence, praying: ‘I know who You are, God, and I know who are. Your people have rejected You, but we’re coming back and You can give us success.’ God honoured Nehemiah’s prayers and Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt in 52 days, causing the enemy nations who heard to lose ‘their self-confidence, because they realised this work had been done with the help of our God.’ When God looks for a leader, He knows the kind of man and woman He can count on. He knows that a leader who’s a team player can turn weakness into strength, obstacles into stepping stones, and disaster into triumph. You may not see yourself as a leader per se, but people watch you every day. The question is, do they know who you are following? And that it’s about Him – not you?