‘He lifted me out of the pit of despair.’ Psalm 40:2 NLT
When an earthquake struck Haiti, an aid worker trapped under a collapsed hotel prayed, ‘Lord, I haven’t been in touch with You lately. Now I need You more than ever.’ He writes: ‘I heard a sound. “Who’s there?” I shouted. “Jim,” a man replied. He and five others were trapped too. “Would you like to pray with me?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered. So I said, “Lord, we’re asking You for a miracle. Please rescue us.” I was drifting off to sleep when rhythmic thumping woke me. Helicopters! We waited, but nobody came. I felt drained. No food and water for twenty-four hours and I needed a doctor… I closed my eyes, sure I’d never open them again… A voice shouted and I jolted awake… a survivor had contacted a rescue team through a small hole… An hour passed, then two… I banged on the wall. No response. “I’m going to die here, and there’s nothing I can do.” Then this thought came to my mind: Worship Me. I began singing: “Great is Thy faithfulness; morning by morning new mercies I see.” I sang: “Be still my soul.” Praise songs… to the One who knew exactly where I was. I felt God’s presence…and heard Him whisper, “Trust me with everything”…and I let it all go. “Your will be done, Lord”… Hours later a team of rescuers came down the elevator shaft, hoisted me to safety, and took me to the hospital. My wife was waiting. “I thought you were dead,” she said. “Me too,” I whispered. And I would have been if it hadn’t been for what I had with me in that dark place—like my faith that’s more alive than ever.’
‘Be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.’ Colossians 3:10 NLT
Lasting change happens gradually on the inside, often before there’s any outward evidence of it. Pastor Jim Penner says: ‘A friend of mine recently went through hip-replacement surgery… the joint had worn to the point where he walked with a limp and had to use a crutch. Thanks to the skill of a modern-day surgeon he was quickly up and around again. Yet for months after the surgery, his limp remained… I ran into him this morning and the limp was gone. Where did it go? It had been there the day before. Had it vanished in the night? “You’re walking great,” I said. “What happened?” His response was priceless. “My physical therapist told me I had to retrain my brain.” His brain had been trained to expect pain so he limped in anticipation. Even when he didn’t feel the pain his brain said, “Hang on. It’s coming!” The Bible says in Christ you become “a new creature: old things are passed away… all things become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV) But you have to change your thinking by believing, accepting, and acting on it. Christ has already done the restoration “surgery”. Just like my friend was given a new hip, God has given you a new life. The old one is gone along with all the bad things you’ve done, though, or said. You’re a brand-new creation. But you have to retrain your brain to accept God’s forgiveness and the restorative work Jesus has done in your life.’
So: retrain your brain.
‘I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT
When you’re insulted, you can retaliate with a stinging comeback or see it as a growth opportunity. David said, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.’ (Psalm 119:71 NKJV) Psychologist Dr. Brenda Shoshanna says: ‘The person who insults us is a teacher… come to help us reduce our ego, develop patience and compassion, practice unconditional forgiveness, and teach us about life and relationships. If you don’t perceive an insult as an insult, but as a teaching or a gift, it loses its power to hurt you. On a practical level, if you’re insulted, say nothing. Give yourself time. Much harm is created by lashing back, escalating the situation, and saying things you may not mean. Recognize it’s your ego—that false sense of pride acting up—and don’t go along with it.’ Paul reached a place where he actually took ‘pleasure in…insults’. Most of us aren’t quite there yet, but with time and practice, it can happen.
Consider the actions of Judas. Although he betrayed Jesus, he nevertheless accomplished God’s will—in fact, he was instrumental in God’s plan of redemption. So it can be that God can bring blessing into and through our lives by the betrayal of friends or the malicious action of enemies. God, who makes all things work together for good for those who love Him, can use even our worst relationships as a means of untold blessing. We can’t stop hurts and wounds from coming our way but, because of the grace of God, we can transform them so they resound to His glory. And we can realize that even enemies, like Judas, are really friends in disguise.
‘Their widows were being discriminated against.’ Acts 6:1 NLT
The Bible says: ‘As the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.’ Why? Because they were outsiders. These women didn’t grow up in Judea or Galilee. They hailed from the distant lands of Greece, Rome, and Syria. If they spoke Aramaic at all, they did so with an accent. Consequently, they were ‘neglected’. (Acts 6:1 NKJV) The manager of the food pantry gave Hebrew women the first pick. The food bank director separated requests into two stacks: locals and immigrants. How did the church respond? ‘The Twelve [apostles] called a meeting of all the believers.’ (Acts 6:2 NLT) Have you ever been to a meeting of ‘believers’ called to deal with those who are ‘being discriminated against’? Why did the apostles call such a meeting? Because of the example, Jesus set from the very outset of His ministry: ‘And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written…’ (Luke 4:17 KJV) That day He announced the six things that God had sent Him to do:
(1) Preach the Gospel to the poor.
(2) Heal the broken-hearted.
(3) Proclaim liberty to the captives.
(4) Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.
(5) Set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(6) Proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. That was the year of Jubilee when all prisoners were set free, all debts are forgiven, and all that was taken from you was restored. Jesus meets every need: body, soul, and spirit. And that’s the message you’ve been called to share with others.
‘The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others.’ Mark 4:14 NLT
In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the seed landed on four types of ground, producing four different results. ‘The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.’ (Mark 4:15–20 NLT) The seed of God’s Word cannot fail: ‘It always produces fruit.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NLT) So if God’s promises aren’t being fulfilled in your life, ask yourself, ‘What kind of soil am I?’ Are you a surface person—thin-skinned and easily offended? A shallow person with no spiritual root system? Are you thorny ground? Are ‘the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things’ choking the spiritual life out of you? Or are you rich, fertile ground that produces results? Check the soil of your heart.
‘All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord.’ Deuteronomy 28:2 NIV
In a survey, hundreds of people were asked, ‘What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in the last five years?’ Amazingly, many answered, ‘Nothing.’ God’s Word promises us daily bread, daily benefits, and daily blessings, yet these people couldn’t even think of one good thing that happened to them in half a decade! What a sad way to live!
Author John Mason observes: ‘We typically see things not as they are, but as we are. By how we position ourselves, we’ll see the evidence of God everywhere or nowhere. Too often our minds are locked on one track. We’re looking for red, so we overlook blue; we’re thinking tomorrow and God’s saying now. We’re looking everywhere, and the answer is under our nose. When a person is positioned correctly, he’s ready to receive all God has for him.’ The Bible says, ‘All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed… You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven…The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity…The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.’ (Deuteronomy 28:2–13 NIV) Notice the words, ‘if you obey the Lord.’ God’s love is guaranteed and unconditional. But His blessings require cooperation on your part. So today, walk in obedience.
‘You will find rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:29 NIV
One of the greatest promises Jesus ever gave us is: ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:28–29 NIV) How could Jesus talk about being yoked in a harness, which suggests hard work and about rest in the same breath? To most of us, rest means kicking back in the recliner. That’s not the kind of rest Jesus was thinking about. A yoke is a harness that goes around the necks of two oxen so they can pull a load. Accepting Jesus’ yoke is a picture of submission. It’s also a picture of help because you’re not pulling the load alone. In each team of oxen, one is the leader and the other follows. Jesus will take the lead but you must be yoked to Him to get the benefit. So to enjoy intimacy with Christ, you have to bow before Him and accept His will. Jesus promises that His yoke won’t choke you, it won’t be wearisome or confining; you won’t chafe under it. In fact, the irony is, if you want to be truly free you must allow yourself to be yoked to Jesus by submitting your will to His. Now it’s possible to accept Christ’s yoke, then start pulling against it when life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Peace and rest come only when you relax in the yoke, and let Christ lead the way.
‘The things that are unseen are eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV
We enjoy the blessings of change, but not the process of change. We’re creatures of habit. We form our habits, and our habits form us. Then we start to see things exclusively from our own perspective. And when that happens—we stagnate. The truth is, without change there is no growth. When you have the right attitude every experience—positive and negative—becomes an opportunity for progress. Think about it: trees need more than sunshine to produce fruit. Rainy seasons are productive seasons too, and they always precede the harvest. You don’t have to like rain, you just have to understand its purpose and benefits. The Bible says that every day ‘the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT) But to become like Jesus you must follow wherever He leads. That means following Him through the wilderness of temptation, the pain of rejection, the forfeiting of your reputation, the surrendering of your will—as well as being ready to go to the place of crucifixion where you die to all forms of self-centered living. Following Jesus may mean being in a different location tomorrow than you are today. Once you grasp this principle, you’ll stop fearing and resisting the changes taking place in your life and start seeing God at work in them. Paul says: ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 NIV)
‘Do not make hasty or premature judgments.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5 AMPC
Prejudice—is pre-judging. It makes you see those who don’t endorse what you believe as enemies. You attribute commendable qualities to the circle you move in, and negative ones to those outside it. That’s not what Jesus did. He befriended and fellowshipped with sinners and societal outcasts—without compromising who He was or endorsing their lifestyle. The Bible cautions against ‘hasty or premature judgments’, and reminds us that the Lord ‘will both bring to light the secret things that are hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of the hearts.’ (1 Corinthians 4:5 AMP) He’s the only one qualified to discern ‘the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’(Hebrews 4:12 ESV) So if you’re inclined to ‘make judgments about anyone ahead of time’ (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT), here’s some food for thought:
(1) Face your prejudice. List all the people you don’t count as friends, people you actually go out of your way not to have a relationship with, and start loving them ‘by… actions and true caring.’ (1 John 3:18 NCV)
(2) Drop the mask. Look inside your heart and ask yourself what it is about the other person that bothers you. Are there similarities between you? Are they expressing something you’re hiding from?
(3) Get to know the other person. Paul said, ‘I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.’ (1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT) Whether or not you decide to continue the relationship, you’ll discover the power of your mind to obstruct, delude, and turn something into what it’s not. Plus you’ll have a better chance of winning others to Christ, because ‘love never fails.’ (1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJV)
‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ Romans 12:18 NIV
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.’ (Matthew 5:9 NKJV) Notice, God promised to bless peacemakers, not peace lovers. There’s a difference. Peacemakers pay the price; peace lovers enjoy the benefits. Sometimes you’ve got to confront people before you can comfort them. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple because they were charging unfair exchange rates to those who bought lambs and turtle doves to offer as sacrifices to God. In most cases these were people who could least afford it, so Jesus decided to get involved. One of the names given to God is Jehovah-Shalom, ‘The Lord is our peace’(see Judges 6:24). ‘Shalom’ doesn’t denote the absence of trouble, but the peace of God in the midst of it. When we have an issue with someone, Jesus said we should take certain steps. First, go and try to resolve it privately. If that doesn’t work, take someone with you who can help. If that fails, take it to the church leadership. And if the person still refuses to be reconciled, then love them and leave them in God’s hands (see Matthew 18:15–17). It may not be a How-to-Win-Friends-and-Influence-People approach to conflict resolution, but it’s God’s way. Paul said, ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ For example, Paul was willing to forego eating certain foods that were offensive to others (see 1 Corinthians 8:13), but he wasn’t willing to tolerate troublemakers in the church (see Romans 16:17). So you must know when to make waves, and when to make peace.