‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.’ Ephesians 1:3 NKJV
Farmer Brown, so the story goes, lived during the Great Depression. He was having trouble keeping up the mortgage payments on his farm. Eventually the bank gave him thirty days to catch up on his back payments or face foreclosure. Then something wonderful happened. A man from an oil company showed up on his doorstep, asking for a lease to drill for oil on his land. Since he was going to lose the farm anyway, Farmer Brown decided that it couldn’t hurt. Well, that oil company drilled and hit a gusher—82,000 barrels of oil a day. Immediately Farmer Brown became a millionaire many times over.
Now, here’s the question—when did he become a millionaire? Was it when oil was discovered on his farm, or when he first bought the land? He was a millionaire the moment he purchased the farm, but he lived in poverty because he didn’t know what was under his feet and within his reach. The Bible says God ‘has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.’ Some people think the only thing God will do for you is bless you with salvation, then He lets you struggle through the rest of life until you get to Heaven. As long as you believe that, you’re living in your own spiritual version of the Great Depression. You’re living spiritually poor, spiritually weak, and spiritually deprived because you don’t know what’s available to you in Christ or how to access it and appropriate it in your life. Refuse to live that way. Instead, read your Bible and begin to claim God’s promises in every area of your life.
‘Before you were born I set you apart.’ Jeremiah 1:5 NIV
Does a baby come into the world with a complex personality, or is that child a blank slate on which experience will write? In the past, behavioral scientists believed newborns had no temperamental or emotional characteristics upon arrival from the womb. Their little personalities were supposedly formed entirely by the experiences that came their way in ensuing years.
But most parents knew better. Every mother of two or more children was convinced that each of her infants had a different personality—a different feel—from the very first time they were held. Now, after years of research, numerous authorities in child development acknowledge that those mothers were right. One important study identified nine characteristics that varied in babies—such as moodiness, level of activity, and responsiveness. They also found that the differences from child to child tended to persist into later life. Indeed, babies do differ in infinite ways that define our humanness and our individuality. If every snowflake that falls has its own design, and if every grain of sand at the seashore is unique, it makes no sense to suppose that children are assembly-line products stamped out by the same giant cookie cutter. There’s no denying the importance of environment and human experience in shaping who we are and how we think. But there can be no doubt that each person on earth is a one-of-a-kind creation from the earliest moments of life. As God told Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’ You need to know that about your children.
‘You are complete in Him.’ Colossians 2:10 NKJV
In his book Outlive Your Life, author Max Lucado says the Greek word for ‘blessed’, makarios, was the name of an island off Greece. It was known as ‘the blessed island’ because it was self-contained. The residents didn’t need to leave it in order to get their needs met. The natural resources of this island were so rich that everything needed to enjoy life was already there. There’s a lesson here for you. The moment you trust in Christ as your Saviour, He becomes your King and you begin living in His Kingdom. You don’t have to leave it and go elsewhere to find what you need, because it’s all around you in the island of blessing. You don’t have to strive for God’s blessing; you simply have to ‘tune in’ and receive it. It’s like your radio; there are no orchestras or newscasters inside it, it’s only a conduit and a point of contact. Even when your radio stops working, there are still signals in the air. All your radio does is receive the signal that comes from another source and deliver it to you. If you lose sight of that fact, you’ll give the radio more credit than it deserves.
One of the reasons we don’t recognize the blessings of God in our lives is that we confuse the means of delivery with the source. If something doesn’t miraculously fall into our lap, we think it didn’t come from God. No, God will bless you at different times, through different people, in different ways. But you must always remember that they are only the carriers of blessing, while He is the source of it (see Psalm 31:19).
‘The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ John 14:26 NIV
Jesus ended His Sermon on the Mount with a striking story that addresses the gap between knowing and doing: ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ (Matthew 7:24 NIV) The problem is, we find it easier to be smart than to be good. You don’t need to know more about the Bible until you put into practice what you already know. John Ortberg says that when he taught tennis, unskilled novices would agonize over which racket to buy—whether to use nylon or gut strings, whether to string them up at 30 or 32 kg. The problem was, they couldn’t even hit the ball. Instead of debating the minutiae, they simply needed to practice. But a word of caution here: you don’t become a ‘doer of the Word’ by drawing on your own strength and willpower. The Holy Spirit who dwells within you is referred to in Scripture as ‘the paraclete’. The word means ‘one who comes alongside to help’. When you decide to do what’s right, the Holy Spirit within you empowers you to do it. When a situation arises, He will prompt you as to what you should do. Jesus promised, ‘The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ You ask, ‘But what if I don’t get it right?’ He will work with you, giving you opportunities until you do get it right.
‘Be doers of the word… not merely hearers.’ James 1:22 NRS
A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance, and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud. ‘I have a better idea,’ Twain replied. ‘Just stay here in Boston and keep them!’
We’d rather cogitate on what we don’t know, than act on what we know we need to do. For example, a company knows it needs to improve its quality control so the executives discuss the problem, listen to presentations, read all kinds of books, look at state-of-the-art systems—but never actually get around to doing anything. Their problem isn’t ignorance; it’s knowing too much but doing too little. Another everyday example: people would rather debate the merits of protein vs. carbs, French cooking vs. vegetarian, lifting weights vs. cardio, than change how they eat. The bottom line is simple: expend more calories than you take in. Likewise, some Christians would rather debate doctrine than do what Jesus says. As the old ad for Nike trainers said—just do it! Practice loving a difficult person; try forgiving someone; give some money away; stop and say thanks; worship God; encourage a friend; bless an enemy; when you’re in the wrong say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Face it: you already know more than you need to. And nothing turns people off faster than somebody with a head full of knowledge, who lacks grace and character. It’s the same today as it was when James wrote, ‘Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.’
‘He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own.’ Philippians 3:21 NLT
The Bible says our heavenly bodies will be exactly like the one Jesus had following His resurrection. He resembled Himself, because the disciples could recognize Him. He ate and drank with them. He could be touched. He could miraculously pass through walls. Talk about ‘time travel’—He could appear in various places to different people without traveling by any recognized means. His transformed body no longer aged, nor was it subject to sickness and death. And your new body will be like His. ‘Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back. After that the end will come.’ (1 Corinthians 15:23–24 NLT) Scottish Presbyterian Robert Baillie learned in 1684 that he would be hanged for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate King Charles II, then drawn and quartered, and his head and hands nailed to a local bridge. How did he respond? By first quoting this Scripture: ‘Our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.’ (Philippians 3:20–21 NKJV) Then he declared: ‘They may hack and hew my body as they please, but I know assuredly that nothing will be lost, that all these my members shall be wonderfully gathered and made like Christ’s glorious body.’ The truth is that whether you get buried in a casket or cremated and your ashes scattered, it makes no difference. God has prepared for you a glorious body just like Christ’s.
‘Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable towards this people.”’ Jeremiah 15:1 NKJV
Difference five: prayer. The Bible records only two occasions when Samson prayed: first, when he thought he was dying of thirst and needed water (Judges 15:18); second, in the last moments of his life when he’d lost everything and ended up in prison (see Judges 16:28). He was like the little boy who was asked, ‘Do you say your prayers every night?’ He replied, ‘No; sometimes I don’t need anything.’ On the other hand the Bible says, ‘Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.’ (1 Samuel 12:18 NKJV) One of the greatest tributes given to anyone in Scripture was spoken by God concerning Samuel’s prayer life: ‘Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favourable towards this people.”’ Such is the ‘clout’ Samuel had with God!
The Bible also has much to say about the prayer life of Jesus. Sometimes He prayed all through the night; other times He was up praying before dawn. It was the secret of His effectiveness in ministry. He made regular deposits in prayer so He could make regular withdrawals of power when He needed it. And you’ll notice that He seldom prayed for anyone He healed. Why? Because He’d already spent time in prayer. Old-timers in church used to refer to this as ‘staying prayed up’. And it’s the secret of victorious Christian living.
‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ 1 Samuel 7:12 NKJV
Difference four: accountability. Samson had an independent attitude and refused to be accountable to anyone else. He was a ‘lone ranger’ who refused to work with others. And his erratic attempts at deliverance caused the Philistines to tax God’s people more and make their burdens heavier. Samuel, on the other hand, worked in consensus with others. When he prayed and God gave Israel a spectacular victory over their enemies, he refused to take any of the credit. ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpeh and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”’
Samson was ‘me’ focused, but Samuel was ‘us’ focused. The psalmist said, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…for there the Lord commanded the blessing.’ (Psalm 133:1–3 NKJV) The secret of walking in God’s blessing is not to operate alone, but cooperate with others. That’s how the New Testament church did it. ‘When they had further threatened them, they let them go… And being let go, they went to their own companions.’ (Acts 4:21–23 NKJV) When the apostles came under attack, ‘they went to their own companions.’ They had relationships in place with those who knew how to advise and guide them, strengthen and encourage them, pray and share God’s Word with them. You need such relationships too! And you can’t afford to wait until trouble comes before you establish them. Do it now, in the good times, and they’ll be there for you in the bad times.
‘The Lord your God was your king.’ 1 Samuel 12:12 NKJV
Difference three: motives. Samson repeatedly dishonored the Lord by his actions and his lifestyle. That’s because he had no regard for God’s honor. What a contrast Samuel was! When Israel wanted a king in order to be like all the surrounding nations, it broke his heart. He said to the people, ‘The Lord your God was your king.’ Honouring God was his highest priority. And there’s a lesson here for us, especially those in ministry. Every time someone steps behind a pulpit, they must check their ego and ask themselves the motive question: ‘Is my aim to make God look good, or myself look good?’ And it’s a hard question to answer.
The Bible says, ‘For the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed.’ (1 Samuel 2:3 NKJV) The truth is that without the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, none of us have what it takes to do the job, and we must never forget that. The tragedy of Samson’s end is described in these two Scriptures: ‘He awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.’ (Judges 16:20 NKJV) ‘So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them.’(Judges 16:25 NKJV) Note the word perform. Without God’s grace and power we are all, at best, just performers. So stay humble, and seek only to exalt the Lord.
‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’ Judges 14:3 NKJV
Difference two: relationships. ‘Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren… that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.”’
When it came to relationships, Samson was guided by his lower impulses instead of the principles of God’s Word. And he paid dearly for it. Three times we read in Scripture: ‘Samson went down…’ (Judges 14:1 NKJV) He went down to Timnath and married the wrong woman. He went down to Gaza and spent the night with a harlot. He went down to Sorek, ended up in the lap of Delilah, and lost his strength, his freedom, his reputation, his anointing and his life.
Samuel, on the other hand, was raised up to purify the ministry. Eli the high priest had two sons called Hophni and Phinehas whom he had ordained to the priesthood, but they were taking bribes to cover sin and brazenly consorting with prostitutes. There’s a lesson here for every redeemed child of God: ‘Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.’ (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV) Is God being biased or unloving? No, He’s being protective! When you’re ‘yoked together’ in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your faith, your values, your goals and your priorities, you end up in a tug of war with each pulling in a different direction. When problems arise, as they surely will, what you need is someone by your side who turns to the same source you do for the solution—God.