‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Matthew 5:9 NIV
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar told of a little guy who was confronted by three big bullies, any one of whom could have flattened him. And clearly, that’s what they had in mind. But the little guy was very bright. He backed away, drew a line in the dirt, backed up a few more steps, looked into the eyes of the biggest bully and said, ‘I dare you to step across that line!’ The guy did. Then the little boy grinned and said, ‘Good, now we’re both on the same side!’
When you find yourself in the midst of conflict, you can decide to do one of two things: become a troublemaker or a peacemaker. You can add to the stress or try to bring a solution. Peacemakers look for common ground and try to get everyone onto it. Their goal is to find a win-win solution. Barnabas, whose name means ‘Son of Consolation’ or ‘Son of Encouragement’, stood up for the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus. The leaders of the church felt threatened by him, and you could hardly blame them. But Barnabas wasn’t thinking about Paul’s violent background; he was considering his value to God. In essence, he was thinking, ‘If we can harness and direct this guy, he can win the race for us.’ And he was proved right. Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. But not until Barnabas put his credibility on the line (see Acts 9:26–30).
Peacemaking calls for taking risks. It means evaluating people by their best moments and qualities. Peacemakers are ‘big picture’ thinkers who are governed by grace, not petty opinions and temporary conditions. So be a peacemaker.
‘Shunem, where there was a great woman.’ 2 Kings 4:8 KJV
The Bible refers to this woman as ‘a great woman’. That’s because she had a ‘great’ strategy for her life! She prepared a bedroom in her house for Elisha the prophet to use when he passed through town. As a result she got her heart’s desire: a baby boy. And later when her son died suddenly, God used Elisha to raise him from the dead. Notice three things in this woman’s story:
(1) She made room for God.
(2) Her dream came to pass.
(3) When her dream died, God brought it back to life (2 Kings 4:36–37). When her son died, the neighbors probably told her, ‘It’s over. Go ahead and bury him.’ But she refused to accept the opinions of unbelieving people or discuss her situation with those who were unqualified to help.
Be careful who you open up to in a crisis! Make sure they know God, and that their words line up with His. This woman believed that if God started it, He could finish it. If He made it, He could fix it. The Bible tells us Elisha stretched out his body on top of the dead boy, and he got warm. But this boy needed more than warmth—he needed life. So Elisha stretched out on top of him again, and he became fully alive. There’s a lesson here for you. No matter how bad things look, stay on top of the situation by believing God. Walk the floor and pray all night if you have to, but keep standing on His Word. Your dream may not yet be fully alive, but it’s getting warm. Things are improving… God is moving… the answer’s on the way!
‘The borrower is servant to the lender.’ Proverbs 22:7 NKJV
Here’s an idea for getting out of debt, and staying out. Instead of referring to it as your ‘credit card’, start seeing it as your ‘debt card’. Next time you have an ‘itch’ to purchase something you don’t need or can’t pay for, that may just stop you from ‘scratching’ it. People generally fall into three categories:
(1) the haves
(2) the have-nots
(3) the have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves.
The story is told of a handyman who’d been called out to a millionaire’s mansion to refinish the floors. The rich man’s wife said, ‘Be especially careful with this dining room table. It goes back to Louis XVI.’ The handyman said, ‘That’s nothing. If I don’t make a payment by next Friday, my whole living room set goes back to the furniture store!’
They say the average person today drives a bank-financed car, with petrol they bought on a credit card, to a department store to open another store account, so they can fill their house that’s mortgaged for thirty years to the bank, with furniture that’s been purchased on an installment plan. Now, the Bible doesn’t condemn credit, but it cautions us about the use of it. ‘The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. ’
It’s ok to borrow for necessities, but you should always pay for luxuries. So if at all possible, pay cash or don’t buy it. ‘The wicked borrows and does not repay.’ (Psalm 37:21 NKJV) It’s not wrong to borrow money, it’s just wrong to borrow money and not repay it. So the word for you today is: learn to live within your means.
‘The Word of God, which effectively works in you who believe.’ 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV
Spiritually speaking, you may not be as far along as you’d like to be, but thank God you’re still on the road. At one time you were a stranger to God’s grace, but now you belong to ‘the household of God.’ (Ephesians 2:19 NKJV) Paul writes, ‘You received the Word…which…effectively works in you who believe.’ As long as you keep reading and believing God’s Word, it will keep working in you. Plus, you mature a lot faster when you learn to relax and start living by what God’s Word says about you, not how you feel. How you see yourself affects your spiritual progress profoundly. Until your self-concept lines up with what God says about you in Scripture, you’ll keep seeing yourself as unqualified and unworthy—and that will hinder your spiritual growth.
When God told Jeremiah He’d called him as a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah informed God he was too young, wasn’t a good speaker, and didn’t have enough experience. How did God respond? ‘Before I formed you…I knew [and] approved of you.’ (Jeremiah 1:5 AMPC) So stop worrying about being rejected when you don’t perform perfectly. The world operates like that, but not God. Plus, if you were as perfect as you’d like to be, you wouldn’t need His grace. Like Jacob’s limp, sometimes God leaves things in us to remind us how much we need Him each day. So enjoy where you are right now and stop comparing yourself with other people. Don’t worry if they are farther along than you. They went through exactly the same places to get to where they are today.
‘When we grew up, we quit our childish ways.’ 1 Corinthians 13:11 CEV
People with strong faith can make you feel ‘less than’, when you compare yourself to them. We can so admire people of faith who testify to amazing changes in their lives—and exude confidence and stability in their relationship with God—that we feel inadequate in comparison. In our heart of hearts, many of us wonder if God doles out His favor according to a merit system. Big tick or gold star for perfect obedience, big strike-out for anything less. But, truth is, faith is a growing thing. It doesn’t burst into life, fully mature, instantly perfect.
Do you feel that way, as if there is something wrong with you because you never seem to measure up? If so, read this: ‘When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.’ You start as a spiritual infant, then you become a spiritual child, then you become a spiritual adolescent, and eventually you become a spiritual adult. But you never ‘arrive’. And quick-fix, do-it-yourself righteousness will just make you try to impress others with a false sense of holiness. It will stop you from being honest before God and make you think you should be farther along than you are for your spiritual age. Do you remember when you were a child and you dressed up in your mum’s high heels or your dad’s work boots? No matter how much you wanted to fit into them, you couldn’t. That didn’t mean there was something wrong with you; it just meant you were exactly where you should have been for your age.
‘In due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.’ Galatians 6:9 NKJV
A high-rise construction worker slipped and fell from a scaffold forty floors up. As he was plummeting past the twentieth-floor window, a woman in an office shouted out, ‘How are you doing?’ The man replied, ‘So far, so good!’
Seriously, some days spiritual growth feels like two steps forward and three steps back. It doesn’t come easily; that’s why Paul encourages us not to lose heart. Generally speaking, you don’t notice yourself getting older physically until you see an earlier photo, then it hits you. And it’s the same with spiritual growth; it’s often hard to gauge how far you’ve come until you look back and see where you were before Jesus turned your life around. The Bible says, ‘As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 TLB) But growing up involves growing pains! So when you get discouraged, remind yourself that you’re on a spiritual journey, you’re making progress in spite of your problems, and that the devil will always look for ways to remind you how far you still have to go. Don’t listen to him! Jesus said, ‘Everything he says is a lie.’(John 8:44 CEV) If you get discouraged and give up, Satan wins.
The Bible says, ‘Capture… rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 10:5 NLT) Learn to live beyond your feelings, to dig down inside to where God’s Spirit lives. And take heart: it may not always look like it, but each day you’re maturing and growing stronger in Christ. So don’t even think about quitting.
‘You know that we Jews are not allowed to have anything to do with other people. But God has shown me that He doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit.’ Acts 10:28 CEV
From a Jewish point of view Cornelius, a Gentile, was a bad guy. He ate the wrong food, hung out with the wrong crowd, and swore allegiance to the wrong leader: Caesar. He didn’t quote the Torah or descend from Abraham. He was uncircumcised, unkosher, and unclean. Yet he did two things that got God’s attention. He prayed for spiritual enlightenment, and he was generous to the poor and needy. The Bible says he was ‘one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.’ (Acts 10:2 NKJV) Up until this point the Gospel had been preached only to the Jews. But God was about to change that.
And to do it He used Peter, one of the most religiously biased people you’d ever meet. In a vision, God showed Peter a sheet being let down from Heaven; it was filled with all kinds of food Jews are forbidden to eat. Peter protested, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ (Acts 10:14 NKJV) And since Peter was slow to understand, the sheet was let down three times. Finally a voice from Heaven said, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ (Acts 10:15 NKJV) As a result, Peter went to Cornelius’ house and preached the Gospel. And before he could issue an invitation, the Holy Spirit fell on all who were present, confirming that this was God’s will. At that point Peter declared, ‘God has shown me that He doesn’t think anyone is unclean or unfit.’ Let God show you that too!
‘Clothe yourselves with humility.’ 1 Peter 5:5 NASB
The Bible says: ‘Clothe yourselves with humility… for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble… humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:5–7 NASB) Let’s break this Scripture down into four parts:
(1) ‘Clothe yourselves with humility.’ In this context the word clothe refers to a white scarf or apron that was typically worn by servants. Does that mean you have to conform to everybody’s wishes? No; if you do that everybody else may like you but you won’t like yourself. Just be who God called you to be, and be willing to serve others as the opportunity arises.
(2) ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less and putting others first.
(3) ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.’ Throughout Scripture ‘the mighty hand of God’ symbolizes two things: God’s hand of discipline and His hand of deliverance, and you need both. So submit to His discipline and you’ll experience His deliverance.
(4) ‘Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.’ Here Peter addresses one of our core human concerns: that if we don’t look out for ourselves nobody else will. But if we really believe God ‘cares’ for us we needn’t worry about serving our own interest. We’re free to focus on the needs of others, confident that God will spare nothing when it comes to meeting our needs.
‘Who has despised the day of small things?’ Zechariah 4:10 NKJV
When God gave Gideon victory over the Midianites, He used an army of just three hundred to defeat an enemy that swarmed like an uncountable cloud of locusts (see Judges 7). That wasn’t because there weren’t more soldiers available; it was because God wanted to demonstrate His power in ‘the day of small things’.
Jesus could have chosen any number of followers, but He handpicked twelve to reach the world with the Gospel. One day He fed five thousand people with five bread rolls and two small fish from a child’s lunchbox. He compared God’s kingdom to a mustard seed—a tiny speck, yet it grows into a sprawling bush. He also likened His Kingdom to yeast that’s barely discernible, yet it can raise an entire batch of dough. Then He went on to say, ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.’(Luke 16:10 NIV)
So if you’re asking God to make you bigger instead of better, you may be disappointed. All the prayers in the world won’t pressure Him into giving you what you are not ready to handle. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, ‘Most people would succeed in small things if they weren’t troubled with blind ambition.’ Your drive to be bigger can give you ulcers, keep you awake at night, and stop you from enjoying the blessings God has already given you. Better may be harder to measure and not as glamorous, but the inner stability that comes from gradual success is more valuable and lasting. So if you’re in ‘the day of small things’, rejoice and be confident that God has bigger and better things in mind for you.
‘God blesses everyone who has wisdom and common sense.’ Proverbs 3:13 CEV
The key to success lies in doing the right thing at the right time. Theologian Tryon Edwards said, ‘Have a time and place for everything, and do everything in its time and place… you’ll not only accomplish more, but have far more leisure than those who are always hurrying.’ If you’re tired of living with constant stress, theology professor Dr Howard Hendricks draws our attention to four major sources:
(1) Saying yes to far too many things. Dr Lewis Sperry Chafer once said, ‘Much of our spiritual activity is little more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life.’ All our ‘going and doing’ fails to address our core emptiness.
(2) Not stopping to recharge our batteries. We dutifully pull out our day planner and fill the spaces between activities. But let’s not fool ourselves; avoiding overlapping activities isn’t planning. As a result, we’re a stressed-out, short-tempered crowd, commuting between poorly planned activities that add little to our spiritual well-being.
(3) Failure to enjoy what we accomplish. ‘A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.’ (Proverbs 13:19 NKJV) With always too much to do, we dash off to the next obligation, often without finishing the previous one or taking time to stand back and savor a job well done. No wonder we worry that our existence seems meaningless.
(4) Owing more than we can repay. Next time you’re faced with a credit card purchase—wait! Don’t necessarily say no. Just present your so-called ‘need’ to God and see what He says about it. If you’re serious about developing your spiritual life, use your common sense and put these four principles to work.