‘Listen to your father, who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother.’ Proverbs 23:22 NLT
You don’t learn how to be a parent in school or college, you learn it ‘on the job’. And you make lots of mistakes—ones you sometimes look back on and cringe. But through it all, you love your children and want only what’s best for them. What’s the point here? If your parents failed you, then you probably have wounds that need to be healed. And God says, ‘I am the Lord, your healer.’ (Exodus 15:26 ESV)
But don’t fall into the trap of self-pity by buying into the idea that you came from a ‘dysfunctional family’. Some families are better than others, but all of them have areas of dysfunction. Look back and consider your parents’ circumstances and some of the challenges they faced while raising you, and perhaps you’ll be able to view the mistakes they made with a little more compassion. They are human beings, just as you are; they make mistakes, just as you do. Nobody’s perfect. By showing compassion towards them you’ll be better able to show compassion towards yourself when you inevitably make mistakes with your own children. And—this is important—when your children see you extending grace towards your parents, they’ll be better able to extend it towards you.
So if you need to forgive your parents, do it today and move on. Don’t keep bringing it up. Would you like God to keep reminding you of the sins He’s forgiven you for? No? Then try to show that same grace and compassion. And pray for them. Why? Because when you pray for somebody it’s hard to complain about them!
‘Lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.’ Isaiah 54:2 NIV
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco can move up to six metres in either direction at its centre. All of its parts, including its concrete roadway, steel railings, and cross-beams, are connected from one welded joint to another through the vast cable system to two great towers, then down to a rock foundation beneath the Pacific. Here are two important biblical truths we learn from this:
(1) You must be strong. Paul writes: ‘Be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of His boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.’ (Ephesians 6:10–15 PHPS)
(2) You must be resilient! The Golden Gate Bridge has survived a century of earthquakes because it was built to sway—but not too far. It’s flexible and resilient—you must be too. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 CEV)
‘I will in no way be ashamed.’ Philippians 1:20 NIV
Over half of all Christians now live in the Third World, often in anti-Christian environments. More Chinese take part in Sunday worship than the entirety of Western Europeans. Lebanon is 40 percent Christian; Sudan, 5 percent; Egypt, about 10 percent. Many of these saints worship at their own risk. Consider their plight. If you were one of them, you may be the only Christian in your Iraqi university, or an Arab woman who offers prayers in silence, or a secret believer in an underground church. Or perhaps you’re in a society of religious freedom, but a community of spiritual oppression. Family members mock your beliefs. University professors belittle your convictions. Classmates snigger at your choices. Colleagues pressure you to compromise your integrity. Co-workers make it their mission to snag you in a weak moment. If that’s where you find yourself, stand up for Jesus! Paul wrote these words from his prison cell: ‘I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Philippians 1:19–21 NIV) The hymnist wrote: ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross. Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory, His armies shall He lead. Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.’ Today, stand up for Jesus!
‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ Luke 18:21 NKJV
The rich young ruler may rank as one of the most religious people in Scripture. He kept all the commandments. But you can do nothing wrong, and still do nothing right. By definition, righteousness is doing something right. But we’ve reduced it to doing nothing wrong. We fixate on sins of commission: don’t do this, don’t do that—and you’re okay. But that is holiness by subtraction. It’s your sins of omission—what you would have, could have, and should have done—that break the heart of your heavenly Father. If you’re a parent, you understand this. You love it when your kids don’t do something wrong, but you love it even more when they do something right. You have been saved to serve! Paul says God ‘created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us.’(Ephesians 2:10 NLT) God has a personal plan for your life called ‘His Will’.But you can’t just play defence, you have to play offence. You can’t just do nothing wrong, you have to do something right. You can’t just follow the rules—you’ve been called to follow Jesus. If you feel bad for the rich young ruler it shouldn’t be because of what Jesus asked him to give up, but because of the opportunity he passed up. Imagine saying ‘no’ to a three-year internship with your Creator! What Jesus asked him to give up was nothing compared to what Jesus offered him in return. Sadly, he said ‘no’.But you can say ‘yes’, and begin living the most wonderful life possible.
‘You still lack one thing.’ Luke 18:22 NKJV
Luke records: ‘A certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him…“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honour your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.’ (Luke 18:18–23 NKJV) This man had two problems, and Jesus put His finger on each. First, he discovered that keeping a bunch of religious rules cannot fill the emptiness in your soul; only a relationship with Christ can do that. Second, he discovered that he didn’t just own riches, his riches owned him and kept him from following Christ. He had so much potential. He could have leveraged his resources, his network and his energy for Kingdom causes, but he wanted to keep it all for himself. And the Bible captions his life in four words: ‘He became very sorrowful.’ Here’s the score. The rich young ruler eventually became the rich old ruler. Until the day he died, he’d remember the words of Jesus: ‘Come, follow Me.’ And Jesus makes the same offer to you. If you say no, you’ll regret it at the end of your life. If you say yes, you’ll be rewarded with joy and a level of blessing you never knew was possible.
‘He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.’ Numbers 23:20 NKJV
The Israelites conquered the Promised Land and took possession of it, one town and one city at a time. Yet, beforehand, as they approached Moab, its king, Balak, hired a prophet named Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the advancing Israeli armies. Standing on a mountain overlooking the camp of Israel, Balak expected curses to come pouring out of Balaam’s mouth. But instead came blessings. When he asked Balaam why, he replied: ‘I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him.’ (Numbers 23:20–21 NKJV) Was that because there was no ‘iniquity’ or ‘wickedness’ among the Israelites? No. Then how could God not see it? For the same reason, He doesn’t see your faults and failings—because He has chosen to see you ‘in Christ’ who is perfect, and whose atoning blood covers all your sins from the new birth to the new Jerusalem. When the Israelites set up camp each night, their tents formed the shape of a big cross; picture the tents of eight tribes running vertically, and four tribes running horizontally. Getting the picture? As a redeemed child of God, that’s how your heavenly Father sees you. He looks at you—through the cross. And since the blood of Jesus paid for every sin you would ever commit, God sees you as ‘accepted’ and ‘righteous’ and ‘complete’. So the word for you today is: because God sees you in Christ, you are irreversibly blessed.
‘May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT
If you were simply a ‘spirit-being’ your spiritual potential would be unlimited. But you must constantly contend with your ‘soul’, which comprises your emotions, will, and intellect. And in addition, you have to cope with the needs and appetites of your physical ‘body’. Pray as you will, your ‘soulish’ nature won’t suddenly wake up one morning with the desire to please God because it’s always in conflict with His will (see Romans 8:7–8). When you ‘walk in the flesh’ it will take you down the wrong road every time. Like a spoiled child, it must be disciplined and made subject to your regenerated spirit. Your soul, on the other hand, is constantly caught between your flesh, which says ‘no’ to God, and your spirit, which says ‘yes’ to Him. That’s why your soul (will, emotions, and intellect) must be reprogrammed daily by God’s Word. Paul says, ‘Let God transform you into a new person by [renewing] the way you think.’ (Romans 12:2 NLT) Whatever you program into your computer is what you get out, right? Similarly, when you begin to think Scripturally you begin to live victoriously. The real action takes place in your spirit—the part of you that was renewed and regenerated when you were born again. When God’s Spirit became intimate with your spirit it resulted in a new birth, and as you grow spiritually you begin to produce spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22). As that happens you start to realize you are actually a regenerated spirit living in an un-regenerated body. Knowing this will help you understand many of your struggles, and pray: ‘Lord, I’m completely Yours: “spirit and soul and body”.’
‘How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?’ 2 Samuel 6:9 NKJV
In the Old Testament, the most recognized symbol of God’s presence was the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever the Ark was, God’s presence was there. But Israel allowed the Philistines to steal it. There’s an important lesson here. Satan is out to rob you of your sense of God’s presence! Israel lost the Ark for one reason—disobedience. You always lose your sense of God’s presence at the point of disobedience. What is God telling you to do, or stop doing? He won’t negotiate, compromise, or overlook disobedience; you must deal with it before you can go forward. David asked, ‘How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?’ because all efforts to bring it back to Israel had failed.
Somebody suggested putting it on a new cart. Somebody else suggested they get Uzzah (whose name signifies strength) and Ahio (whose name denotes brotherliness) to drive the cart (see 2 Samuel 6:3). Most people thought this was a great plan, but God didn’t. So much for people’s opinions! David had the best of intentions, but they didn’t line up with God’s will. God had already told Israel that the ark must be carried on the shoulders of anointed priests. In other words, by those who knew how to: (a) walk in balance; (b) walk in love and unity; (c) walk in obedience. Are you getting the message? If you treasure God’s presence in your life and want to protect it, apply these principles.
‘How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?’ Matthew 7:11 NASB
The cross proves how much God loves you. ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32 NASB) And ‘all things’ means all things! If it’s promised in God’s Word, it’s God’s will—so refuse to settle for less. But you must be single-minded in your approach or you won’t receive anything (see James 1:6–8). The psalmist said, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after.’ (Psalm 27:4 KJV) Tell God exactly what you want. And if you’re walking in obedience and seeking to please Him, be confident when you come before Him. ‘…if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.’ (1 John 3:21 NIV) But be careful; guilt undermines faith! When you permit sin into your life you become uncomfortable in God’s presence, and it’s hard to believe for the results you want. So deal with it immediately. Miracles happen to the believing—so get back into a position where you can confidently believe God for the thing you need. He hasn’t changed His plans for your life. Circumstances and seasons change, but God’s promises are forever settled in Heaven and are always fulfilled’ (see Isaiah 40:8 and Psalm 119:89). Jesus said, ‘How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?’ Note the words ‘what is good’. That sounds like another Bible promise. ‘No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ (Psalm 84:11 KJV) And if God says no, it’s because it wouldn’t be ‘good’ for you. Trust Him—He has something better in mind for you.
‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ Psalm 37:23 NKJV
Elijah’s destiny was to stand on Mount Carmel, call down fire from heaven, and deliver Israel from idolatry. But he could only get there one step at a time. That’s how God works. First God sent him to a brook at Cherith (which means ‘covenantal cut’). At some point in your spiritual journey, you must discover that God is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. He is the Lord who miraculously dried up the Jordan River, made an ax-head float, and caused fish to swim into an empty net—proving that when He makes a promise He keeps it. When God sent Elijah to Cherith, He told him, ‘I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.’ (1 Kings 17:4 NASB) Had Elijah gone elsewhere, God wouldn’t have met his needs. Why? Because a covenant is two-sided; when you do your part, God does His. Next, God sent Elijah to Zarephath, saying, ‘I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ (1 Kings 17:9 NASB) Think about it: God used a flesh-eating bird and a penniless widow to feed Elijah. So stop trying to second-guess Him! The Bible says, ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ So here’s the question: if you truly believe that Scripture, why are you complaining, worrying, and trying to figure everything out instead of trusting Him? ‘Zarephath’ means a crucible, a place where metal is refined. If you’re going through a fiery trial today, rejoice—God is separating the gold from the impurities in your character. When you’ve passed the test at Cherith and Zarephath, you’ll be ready for the blessing of Mount Carmel!