Do You Love God More?

i_love_you_moreContinued from here.

The bottom line is that God is seeking people who love Him with all of their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. To love God more means to love everything and everyone else less. Do I love God enough to obey Him, even when it costs me money, time, and inconvenience? Is my love for Him stronger than my love for others who find themselves slammed by spiritual attack simply because I love them? Will I continue obeying God when I see no harvest from all of the seeds I have labored to plant in obedience to His leading? Only when I can truly say YES to these questions have I become a disciple of Christ.

This is not an easy lesson to learn, and it sure isn’t popular. People are willing to flock to the God who showers blessings on them, but how many stay when those blessings are removed? And if I am only willing to follow God when he blesses me, do I really love Him? Or do I simply love what He can do for me?

One of the secrets I have learned along my spiritual journey is that God IS the blessing. He has promised never to leave or forsake me, so even when I see no tangible benefits to my obedience, I always have the blessing of His presence. That’s never going to leave. No matter how stormy the seas become, I can rest in the presence of a God who loves me. Learning how to do this is the key to Christian discipleship.

I don’t like this lesson any more than you do. I’m selfish by nature, and I very much prefer feeling comfortable to being a martyr. I love having mountaintop experiences that proclaim the glory of God. I’m not so wild about the times in the valley when I must suffer. And yet, that’s how Jesus lived, as a man of suffering. Why do I insist upon an easy life when the one I follow was and is a man of suffering? I still have much to learn about denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying a huge heart that says, “I love you more.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

When Spiritual Attack turns Outward

perseveranceContinued from here.

I believe I have blogged about this topic before, but it bears repeating … Once you reach a place of persevering despite receiving no foreseeable blessings and regardless of spiritual attacks launched against you, the enemy starts picking on the people you love. This is an area of spiritual attack that I did not see coming when I entered into professional ministry, and it was (and continues to be) harder for me than direct assaults. When I am attacked, I know how to stand my ground and fight back with prayer, praise, and worship. However, I cannot make these choices for those I love, and I love a lot of people whose faith isn’t as strong yet. I pray for and encourage them, but I cannot choose to trust God for them – only they can make that choice. And when they are pummeled by the enemy, some of them sink into despair, and I know they are suffering because of the bulls eye placed on them because of their relationship with me. It’s a tough position to be in.

I wonder if perhaps this dynamic is what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 10:37 when he said,

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

When I see my friends and family members suffering from spiritual attack, it’s distracting. I must make a choice – Will I continue to obey what God has called me to do, even as my loved ones experience the suffering of spiritual attack? It can be tempting to step away from obeying God in the hopes of bringing those I love some peace. But that would be loving them more than I love God, which would make me unworthy of Jesus. (Side note – I’m painfully aware of my unworthiness of Jesus, regardless of how well I obey him.) I must always choose God, no matter the cost. Boy, is that hard when it’s someone I love paying the price for my choice!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace rolling a boulder uphill over the word, “Perseverance.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Why God Allows Spiritual Attack

whyContinued from here.

So, why does God allow our lives to get harder rather than easier when we are clearly doing His will? In his book The Three Battlegrounds: An In-Depth View of the Three Arenas of Spiritual Warfare: The Mind, the Church and the Heavenly Places, Francis Frangipane explains it this way:

We must realize that it is not Satan who defeats us; it is our openness to him. To perfectly subdue the devil we must walk in the ‘shelter of the Most High’ (Ps. 91:1). Satan is tolerated for one purpose: the warfare between the devil and God’s saints thrusts us into Christlikeness, where the nature of Christ becomes our only place of rest and security. God allows warfare to facilitate His eternal plan, which is to make man in His image.”

I have now been in professional ministry for over a year, and the spiritual attack has not lessened. However, my susceptibility to being rocked by it has. I now know that if I press Ctrl + P on my computer and something prints out without issue, it’s a blessing to thank God for. I have no expectation that this is going to happen every time. I trust that God is perfectly capable to ensuring I meet His deadlines, which may be quite different from my own time preferences. He knows exactly where I am and exactly what the ministry needs. If printing that document was critical to accomplishing His purposes, NOTHING would be able to interfere with the printing process. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His purposes, but He has invited me to join Him, and he – frankly – walks more slowly than I do. As I learn to rest in His perfect timing, the spiritual attack – even silly but annoying things like printing issues – lose their power to rattle me. God’s purposes will be accomplished – not only His purpose in whatever needs to be printed but, much more importantly, His purposes is transforming me into Christlikeness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging behind the word, “Why?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Obedience Met by Spiritual Attack

laptop_computerContinued from here.

Now let’s take this simple concept a step farther. In the case of the friend I shared about yesterday, an expected blessing was withheld. He clearly did not get the flu from doing something nice for someone who didn’t deserve it, but it would have been nice to have been spared the flu. Of course, if he had been spared, he wouldn’t have known this and might still have grumbled about not receiving a blessing. Aren’t we all prone to this type of thinking?

Taking this a step further, let me tell you about what another Christian friend is dealing with. In obedience to God, she volunteered to take on an important role in a new ministry in an area that God has been wooing her to for years. Within hours of making this commitment, she was involved in a serious car accident (not her fault) that rattled her enough to step back from this commitment for the time being. I told her she is clearly dealing with spiritual attack and encouraged her to pray scripture prayers out of Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds from the chapter entitled Overcoming the Enemy, which is all about fighting spiritual attack. Thankfully, this friend is a mature enough Christian to recognize this truth and does plan to resume God’s calling.

One of the shocks of entering professional ministry for me was how frequently God allows spiritual attack to impede my progress … at least, that’s my perception when everything I do for God seem to take 3-5 times as long to accomplish as the same tasks when I was working for Corporate America. I miss the days when I would press Ctrl + P on my computer, and a document would print. That was my experience for decades in Corporate America. I entered professional ministry, and suddenly the printer repeatedly goes offline … or the new printer (still under warranty!!) has not one but TWO drums break … or the wireless printing feature that always worked well becomes so erratic that I need to buy a wire to ensure the printer will actually receive the print command. I took a pay cut (literally earning half the hourly rate) to obey God, and it takes 15 minutes to print out a one-page donor receipt letter?? Really??

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking frustrated while typing on a laptop computer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

dropped_ice_creamA Christian friend recently struggled through a dynamic that may sound all too familiar to you. He was feeling less-than-godly emotions toward someone but decided to put his faith into action instead. Rather than react to the selfishness of this other person as his sinful nature encouraged him to do, my friend instead decided to bless this person by doing something that the selfish person did not deserve, which also came at a cost to my friend. After doing something he didn’t want to do, solely out of loyalty to God, my friend expected to receive some kind of blessing. Instead, he came down with the flu the next day!

My friend asked me the same question that many of us – including myself! – ask of God: “I did things God’s way, so where’s the blessing?” To quote my friend, “I did what was right, and rather than getting a blessing, I got the flu. So why did I bother?” I pointed out what I blogged about last week – that God is seeking people who follow Him for no motive outside of sheer love for Him. I said that perseverance can only be developed when we continue to follow God despite the suffering. God wants to know whether we will continue to do good, even when we see no payoff. His response was, “The answer is NO.”

Sadly, that’s the same response that many Christians have when they see nothing good coming out of doing things God’s way. When I find myself in the position of no good deed going unpunished, I meditate on Gal. 6:9, which says,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

It’s not that my friend’s blessing/reward isn’t coming – it just wasn’t instant. We want instant gratification for making a sacrifice to follow God, but that’s not the way God works. Remember that after the crucifixion, Jesus had to get through Saturday before experiencing the blessings of Sunday. Will we continue to do good – to follow God’s ways – during the “Saturdays” of our lives?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying over dropped ice cream. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Changing the Way You Think

thinkingContinued from here.

Years ago, God powerfully transformed my life through sharing one simple truth: what I am feeling right now is a byproduct of what I have been thinking. Change what I am thinking, and it will change what I am feeling. This is why the Bible tells us…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” ~ Phil. 4:8

When you think about lovely things, you have lovely feelings. When you think about things that are praiseworthy, you experience feelings of joy. This is also why the Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. It’s not that we are thankful FOR all circumstances, but we can give thanks IN all circumstances because we have much to be grateful for, even in the midst of suffering.

Whenever I’m tempted to have a pity party, I always start with thanking God for what’s in my bathroom because no matter how self-focused and miserable I am, I am ALWAYS grateful not to have to walk out into the cold to relieve myself in the woods without toilet paper or running water. I thank God for toilets, indoor plumbing, running water, hot showers, toilet paper, etc. As silly as it sounds, as I give thanks for the items in my bathroom, my feelings start to shift because I am replacing my “woe is me” thoughts with thoughts of gratitude, which plant the seeds of joy.

I will sometimes realize that I am feeling anxious, irritable, etc. and not understand why. However, if I backtrack to what I have been thinking about, I will find the root cause. I will realize that I have become lazy about holding every thought captive to Christ and have allowed the enemy to plant seeds of self-centeredness and discontent. Thankfully, I know the antidote – praying God’s words back to Him in gratitude for all He has done. As I change the way I think, I change the way I feel. It’s not easy, but it really is that simple.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking about a thinking emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Arming Yourself with Applicable Scripture

Continued from here.

Note that the method I just walked you through for holding every thought captive to Christ is the same one that Jesus himself used when he was tempted. He did not base his responses on how he felt. After all, he was very hungry when he was tempted to turn stones into bread. Instead, he examined the temptation as it measured up to Scripture and found it lacking. Each time, He chose to believe what God had to say on the subject over what he felt. That’s how he managed to live a sinless life, and the Bible recorded how he did it so we would have a model to follow.

Now that you know how to fight back, you need to actually do it, and that starts by arming yourself with Scripture that is applicable to your situation. What types of temptations do you deal with? If it’s feeling unloved or worthless, you can start with the three passages I shared in my last blog entry. You can use a concordance or Biblegateway.com to help you find scripture that is applicable to your situation.

I strongly recommend Beth Moore’s book,Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds, because Moore has already done this work for you. Do you struggle with feeling rejected? Moore has a chapter filled with Bible verses that tell you that God accepts you. Are you grieving loss? She includes a chapter on God’s comfort as you mourn. There’s a chapter for eating disorders, sexual struggles, guilt, and many other topics that people struggle with. I pray scriptures out of this book every morning and strongly recommend you do the same, particularly if you find yourself repeatedly being derailed by painful feelings and emotions.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds. Courtesy Amazon.]