Facing Your Challenges

Verse – But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. Jude 1:20 ESV

Dear Overcomer,

You can overcome the challenges of this world by being consumed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Challenges can seem insurmountable without the perspective of the Holy Spirit. That’s what causes many of us to quit when we are just about to overcome the challenge.

Keep your head up by bending your knees. Praying in the Holy Spirit is not rocket science. In some cases, praying in the Holy Spirit will be in a language you may not understand. (See I Corinthians 12:10, Acts 2:4). In many cases, praying the Holy Spirit simply aligns your thoughts with God’s thoughts concerning you and your situation.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the challenges they would face because he had overcome the world. Our faith is based upon Jesus conquering the grave. If you base your faith on someone or something else, I’m afraid you’ll be quite disappointed.

God doesn’t lead us into situations to leave us. He doesn’t bring us up only to let us down. He is at work within us and through us. Remember Jude’s words in the face of challenges and you’ll find that God is able to lead, and empower us when we place our faith in Him.

The Holy Spirit Difference

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  – Acts 2:21 (ESV)

Peter spoke these words empowered by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Peter used to be well intentioned and leaned upon his strength and personality. He was the one who told Jesus that even though all of the other disciples would leave him, he would not. Peter failed miserably in that boast and denied even knowing Jesus.

Early in my life, I had a nagging thought that somehow I needed to be good enough to be saved. I most definitely accepted Christ by calling upon Him to forgive my sins. But, there were times I was not sure of His love for me.

As I live this life, I am becoming more and more confident of His great love for me and for everyone else. This growth is a direct result of the Holy Spirit’s influence in me. I understand that I am loved deeply and continue to learn how to return that love back to God through obedience and trust. Being saved has everything to do with God’s ability and nothing to do with my credibility.

These are a few things I’ve learned in my relationship with the Holy Spirit:

  • Forgiveness is final. Once something has been taken care of, it’s done.
  • Confession is about listening to the Holy Spirit and agreeing with what He says.
  • Being called to do impossible things is normal. I learn about God’s strength overcoming my weaknesses.
  • I learn how to love other people the way God loves them.

You might struggle to believe God’s love. You’re not alone. Jesus returned to heaven so that the Holy Spirit could live in us and be with us. Everything that Jesus did for us was to pave the way of having a Comforter to walk with us in this life.

The Holy Spirit was the great confidence builder for Peter to do what God had created him for. Peter no longer had to prove his love for Jesus through boasts. He reflected the power of the Holy Spirit, becoming empowered to complete his assignment. When he finally accepted God’s love and stopped trying to qualify for it, he became a different person. We become different people when we accept what only God can do. Calling upon His name makes the impossible possible.

The Shadow of Trust

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  – Psalm 91:1 (ESV)

Trust that is not tested is no trust at all. Sometimes, our trust takes us into the shadow of the Almighty. This is the place of mystery where God does great work. This is the place where we don’t always see the end from the beginning. But, this is the place where we can be in the shelter of the presence of God.

I learned how to drive when I was nine years old. North Dakota fields have wide-open spaces and few obstacles. For a beginning driver, it’s the perfect place to learn. Driving in the city is another matter completely. I remember my first trip to Minneapolis. Everyone was driving so fast that I had to keep up or get out of the way. Since that early driving lesson, I’ve driven in many major cities and have found that while each city has unique characteristics, the driving remains the same. Fast and furious.

Trusting God isn’t quite like learning how to drive but learning how to follow. Situations are unique and what we learned in one season doesn’t always carry over to the next. In trusting God:

I’ve learned that disappointment can halt a journey.

I’ve learned that fear can cause unnecessary detours.

I’ve learned that God always knows where He is going, even if I don’t.

If you are in a shadow place where you can’t see the end of the road, take heart. God’s been there before and He will take you to the conclusion of your situation. Trusting God completely gives Him room to work in the shadows of your situation. Just because it becomes dark doesn’t mean that God has left you to fend for yourself. Shadows are the places where God can work wonders.

Don’t be disappointed that God didn’t meet your expectations; He’s probably planning to exceed them. Don’t be afraid of the uncertainties, God is building your trust in Him. Be bold in following, that’s the best way to arrive at your destination.

Great Expectations

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, – I Peter 1:3 (NLT)

We can live with a positive expectation no matter what happens to us.  Circumstances are not as powerful as they appear when we have have a great expectation living within us.

A girl in high school was dating a guy who mistreated her.  On some days, she showed up bruised.  One day, one of her friends asked her, “why do you stay with him?”  She replied, “I don’t deserve any better.”

Her friend cared for her even though she couldn’t care for herself.  Every day during school, she was the example of God’s love towards her.

I know that girl’s friend.  She told me that this girl who couldn’t care for herself, has embraced the great expectation of God’s mercy and is living with new vision.  Gone are the days of accepting mistreatment because of a low expectation.  She is living with purpose and pursues what God has for her.

When we accept the mercy of God towards us, we can live with a new expectation towards God.  It’s that simple.  Accepting God’s mercy is a three step process:

  1. Realize that God loves me and is willing to forgive my sins towards Him.
  2. Confess my sins to Him.
  3. Accept His love and begin to live for God instead of for me.

Life may be complicated and discouraging at times.  With the vision of God’s mercy in front of me, I can overcome all of the obstacles.  You can too.  The hardest thing about accepting God’s mercy is feeling like you don’t deserve it.  We can settle that once and for all because none of us deserve God’s mercy.

Accepting God’s mercy can give us a great expectation.  It’s because of God that He gives us His mercy, not because of something I’ve done on my own.  God’s mercy levels the playing field for everyone and creates eligibility for anyone willing to accept it.

Think about how you can accept His mercy and align your will with His.  God will take you places that you’ve never imagined if you let Him.  Mercy is the ticket to an incredible journey with God.  The choice is yours to take it.

 

Safe!

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  – Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)

It was in grade school when I discovered how fun safe could be.  My classmates and I played tag with a safe-base, hide and seek with a safe-base and kickball with a few safe bases.  Eluding the person who was “it” created great fun for everyone except the “it” person.

During these games, the only way you wouldn’t get it was if you stayed on base or didn’t get tagged when you went off base.  If you were tagged by the it person while on base, it didn’t matter because the power of their it didn’t apply there.  You were safe.

The power of the it of sin doesn’t apply to the one who is safe on base with Christ.  When you confess (say, concede, promise, declare, to declare oneself the worshiper of) your pursuit of God’s presence in your life and believe (think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, to place confidence in) what God said He has done and will do, you are safe from the tagging of sin.

Just being safe on the goal isn’t the destination.  It’s a good start though.  The surrender of our hearts towards the things of God is just the beginning of the journey.  Once you’ve believed in Jesus, the joy is just beginning.

I work in compassion ministry and we help a lot of people every year.  The majority of our work is relief-based and we build in systems to help others continue to help those in need.  There is a moment while helping someone when you determine how long you will do something for someone and begin doing something with that person.  The difference in words is minimal but the action is enormous.

Doing something for another person creates dependency on what that helper can provide the recipient.  Doing something with that person usually indicates a relationship has been developed and the other person can begin doing things to help themselves.  One person was never meant to do life for another.  We are meant to do life with others.

Walking with God is similar.  The big difference is that He has done something for us that we’ll never be able to repay.  He created a sacrifice to cover our sins and bring us to a place of choosing relationship with Him.  That’s what He’s done for us.  We choose to do something with Him.

We have a few choices here.  We can get on base and become free from sin’s tagging.  We can stay on base and do very little with our lives. Or, we can get on base and reinvent the game to help others who don’t know a base exists.

There is safety in the presence of God.  There is hope and peace when the Holy Spirit lives inside of us.  There is purpose and significance in our love to God and His love toward us.

True joy is not just in the introduction to God, it’s in the journey of walking with Him to help change the world.

Thanksgiving in July

Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness.  Let the whole world know what he has done.  – I Chronicles 16:8 (NLT)

A good way to overcome worry is practicing the art of thanksgiving.  Without the turkey of course.  Since practicing the art of thanksgiving is not easy to do in certain situations, adding a turkey to every act of thanksgiving would make it impossible.

Thanksgiving helps us appreciate what we have.  I read a quote the other day that said something like this, contentment is not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have.  Whatever good thing we possess or experience, we can be thankful and build our contentment reservoir.

Thanksgiving helps us get through tough times.  Like I mentioned at first, being thankful is not always easy.  Being thankful in tough times – not necessarily for the tough times – helps balance perspective.  Perspective helps us stay sane.  We begin to enter crazy when we find nothing to be thankful for.  Even in the toughest of times, God still cares about us.  In fact, if we had a fly-on-the-wall approach to watching God’s reactions when we suffer, I think we’d have a different perspective on how much He really cares for us.  I believe that He feels what we feel and experiences our hurt.  The best thing about that is His ability to heal.

Thanksgiving prepares us for blessing.  Being thankful helps us realize that nothing lasts forever.  Even when good things come, they won’t stick around indefinitely.  Just like trouble, blessings come and they go.  Being thankful for the blessings is one thing.  Being thankful to the One who blesses is another.  God sticks around even when blessings fade.

Thanksgiving helps others to enjoy being around us.  Being around people who are bitter and negative is a chore.  They are always complaining about something and fail to appreciate the good effort of others.  Without a heart of thanksgiving, everyone becomes a suspect.  Everything has a hidden agenda.  Nothing works right.  Being thankful helps us give others the benefit of the doubt.  We give others permission to be human.

When we’re thankful, we appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  Being thankful helps us notice the little things.  In most cases, the Holy Spirit works in us through ways that might not be noticed by a hardened heart or cynical eye.  Being thankful helps us realize that God works in the details of our lives and we might miss it if we’re not watching for it.

In any case, you can practice being thankful no matter what your situation.  Even if the circumstances don’t work out the way you’d like them to, you can be confident that God can work them out for your good.  Knowing that God cares about the things we care about and has the power to make them right  – in good or in bad – is something to be thankful for.

Learning to Learn

To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.  – Proverbs 12:1 (NLT)

 

I wasn’t a very good learner in elementary school.  For starters, I didn’t like school.  I liked my classmates, recess and gym time but thought the classroom was a waste of time.  Those attitudes made it difficult to learn that a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y are vowels.

Since then, I’ve learned to learn.  Even when learning opportunities arise that don’t relate to things I’m interested in, I’ve learned it is a good thing to pay attention.  I might pick up something valuable that others miss.

Learning to learn involves doing what you know well.  David Garibaldi is a drummer for Tower of Power.  I’ve studied his thoughts on funk style drumming.  One of his instructions is called, “Practicing an Exercise”.  The idea is to take a section of music, divide it into smaller parts, perfect each section and slowly play it all together.  So, instead of tackling a challenging piece all at once, you divide and conquer.  Do what you know to do well and add other pieces as they come.

Learning to learn enables other people to contribute to your success.  We go through this life with a lot to learn.  Learning how to include other people in your learning process is an art, not a science.  God may bring someone into our lives that irritates us, or challenges us.  That person just might help us learn something we didn’t know before.

God also helps us learn through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Before Jesus was crucified and went back to heaven, He spoke to His disciples and told them what to expect in their future.  He told them that people would persecute them and would drag them in front of rulers and leaders.  In those moments, He told them not to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would give them what they needed at the moment.

The friends of Jesus, who displayed incredible immaturity at times, were able to represent Christ well when they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Because of their willingness to learn and to follow Christ, they made room for the Holy Spirit to guide them and instruct them on things that mattered.

The best way to be a learner is with a soft heart, listening ears and a slow mouth.  God has a lot to teach us and He’s willing to show us everything we need.  What we learn is based upon what we’re open to.  How we learn is based upon our perspective and attitude.  What we do with what we learn is fueled by our love for God and for others.

The next thing you learn might be the thing that helps many people.  Or, the next thing you learn just might help you overcome an obstacle you’ve faced for years.  Either way, the journey of learning is worth the effort.

The Victory of Humility

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  – James 4:7 (NLT)

 

The other day, I listened to part of a commercial featuring a demonologist describing how he was going toe to toe with the devil.  And that’s about as long as I listened to it before skipping the ad and thinking to myself, “good luck with that”.

It’s silly to think that our ability, academics, or willpower can defeat an enemy that’s been studying us for thousands of years.  The devil knows humanity much deeper than humanity knows him and his ways.  For all purposes, no matter what culture we come from, we’re all pretty much the same when it comes to spiritual things.  The book of Romans describes our condition well; “all have fallen short of the glory of God.”

Humility helps us understand how the enemy operates in our lives.  While the devil has been able to torment humanity for generations, we can learn how he operates if we pay attention to what God is doing in our lives.

Consider a few things I’ve learned about the enemy:

He knows what is inside of us and plays off of that.  He’s like the annoying bully that plays off of fear.  He’s like the friend-turned-enemy that knows our secrets and resorts to blackmail to get what he wants.  He is relentless in his pursuit of using our weaknesses against us.

He tries to make things worse than they really are.  Our emotions are fragile and can easily be manipulated.  The devil adds insult to injury during times when we’re alone and begin to relive a situation in our mind.  Not only do we experience the feelings of the situation again, he tries to influence our thinking that leads to destructive attitudes and mindsets.  His goal is to debilitate us from ever reaching our potential.  In many cases he’s successful.

He is powerless when we submit to God.  Our surrender to God leaves him nothing to work with.  In surrender, the things that tempt us and cause us to look after ourselves become less important in comparison to knowing God and being in His presence.  In the middle of our surrender, our sins are washed away and removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  There is no longer anything that disqualifies us from God’s presence.  Christ’s sacrifice meeting our surrender gives us access to the throne room of God.

This I know of God to be true: the Holy Spirit rushes upon us when our surrender is genuine.  There’s nothing faster than the Holy Spirit to pick us up when we fall.  The Holy Spirit gives us more than enough power to resist the devil.  He helps us see through the mechanisms of the enemy and call out who he really is.

Even in the middle of our pain and in the process of learning to be like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is there to help us overcome the workings of the enemy.  When we realize that it is not by our might or by our power that defeats the enemy, but by the Spirit of the Lord, we’ll begin to understand that submission is power and humility is  victory.

That’s something all the devils in hell can’t touch.

The Wages of Humility

Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life.  – Proverbs 22:4 (NIV)

 

I’ve been working since I was a young lad.  Growing up on a farm in North Dakota had a lot to do with my work ethic.  A work ethic doesn’t mean that I like to get up early and work in the barn, it simply meant that I did what I had to do and learned how to enjoy it.

A work ethic is rewarded in wages.  The more valuable you become as an employee, you have a higher chance of being compensated well.  In some cases, people scrape by on the work ethic of others.  They do just enough to contribute to a project while remaining disengaged from the process.

The wages of humility can be rewarded richly.  The one thing about humility is this; you cannot bank on another person’s humility to ensure a good personal reward.  Each person is responsible for their humility towards God.  Either you have it or you don’t.

Humility is hard to do because it is the opposite of pride.  Pride keeps us disillusioned about how great we really aren’t.  Pride is like the emperor’s new clothes.  Like the emperor who paid dearly for a set of invisible clothes, we pay dearly while trying to look like something we aren’t.

In humility, we pay at first with our effort.  In the end, when we take the accurate assessment of ourselves in light of God and in light of what Jesus has done for us, we are richly rewarded with peace, provision and potential.

The hardest part of humility is accepting who we really are.  When dealing with the sin that separates us from God, it’s not easy to accept the light that reveals our hidden motives.  When dealing with our comparison with God, it’s not in our nature to worship His glory.

However, in humility we gain an accurate perspective of who we are in Christ.  Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and the entrance of the Holy Spirit on the earth, we can become sons and daughters of God.  That’s something to exercise humility for.

Think about this; whenever I act in pride, everyone sees my lack of clothing.  My motives are revealed and my actions are offensive.  Whenever I act in humility, everyone sees the heart of God working through me.  Humility will reveal truth in gentle ways.  While the truth may be difficult to embrace, it will be the truth that sets us free.

With truth like that, we can’t afford to act in anything but humility.

The Hard Road is Easy

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.  – Romans 8:37 (NLT)

 

We don’t understand the love of God until we open our hearts to receive it.  We have the option to be known by God.  It’s not that He doesn’t know us already, He actually has given us a choice to open our hearts to His love.  Our choice doesn’t change the fact that He loves every single person on the earth.  What it does change is the dynamics of our relationship with Him.

The dynamics of a relationship change the odds in our favor.  Before relationship, it doesn’t take much to separate us from God’s love. (This is our part, not God’s).

  • Loss separates us from God when we blame Him for it.
  • Ambition separates us from God when we forget about Him in pursuit of other things.
  • Selfishness separates us from God when we focus on our life exclusively.

Consider what cannot separate us from the love of God.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  – Romans 8:35 (NLT)

All of the things, beyond our control, cannot affect our relationship with God when we surrender to His great love for us.  Even in the middle of our suffering, the Holy Spirit continually works in our hearts to help us understand God’s great love for us.  Even in the middle of our rebellion, the Holy Spirit continually prods our heart with what is right.  Even in the middle of our distraction, the Holy Spirit works to bring our attention to proper focus.

The only thing that can separate me from God is me.  That’s something to consider.  God’s love reaches to the highest and lowest places in my life.  There’s no place beyond His reach unless it’s a choice of my will.  I have a choice to receive His love or to make my own road.

Seventeen years ago, when I worked road construction, I learned how smooth roads were made.  Paving a road is only part of the process.  Before the pavement is applied, the sub-grade is leveled and additional material is brought in if necessary.  Ultimately, the smoothness of a road is determined by the foundation.

This hard road of following Jesus can become easy through unconditional surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing will be able to separate me from the love that God has for me.  Through my surrender, nothing will be able to deter me from His purposes for me.

Remember this.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  If you’ve given God the lead in your life, what can separate you from His love?  God works deeply in your surrender.  He takes care of you and leads you into His purpose.

That’s a journey worth following.