4 Steps to Having Peace in Troubled Times

london-riotThese times we are living in are unprecedented in our lifetimes in terms of the amount of chaos, turmoil, upheaval, and shaking that is taking place in nearly every segment of society. With nearly constant threats of violence, terrorism, hatred, protests, riots, and the like, it is difficult, to say the least, to find a place of peace. Natural disasters seem to be increasing as well; nowhere seems safe anymore. Yet Jesus clearly warned us that times like this would occur, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This, and other warnings He gave, were not meant to put us in fear, but to prepare us so that we would not be blind-sided and panic. 

According to this passage, there are four steps to finding and keeping our peace in the midst of turmoil:

  1. Realize God knows everything. He knew this would happen, so He’s not surprised at all. He is not fretting or wringing His hands or worried. He has a plan and it is good, because He is. Though He doesn’t control everything, He is still on the throne and will always be. (See my article, Is God Really in Control? for my views on that topic).
  2. Understand that it is only in Him we will find peace. He is our peace. He is our place of rest, safety, and protection. He is with us, in us, and for us, therefore who can really be against us? We find peace in His nature, that in spite of trials and troubles, He is good and always has our best interest at heart. He works all of the circumstances of life together for our ultimate good. He may not keep us from trouble, but He walks through it with us, and will never abandon us.
  3. Know that the world and its ways will bring trouble. The spirit of this age is violently opposed to God and His ways. Jesus told us that the world hated Him, and would also hate us. (John 15:18) James said that friendship with the world meant hatred towards God. (James 4:4) To expect otherwise is to deceive ourselves.
  4. Jesus tells us to “take heart,” meaning, to be of good cheer; be of good courage; to be bold in the face of troubles! How can we be bold in the face of persecution, hatred, and violence? By knowing He has overcome this world. He was subjected to the worst possible violence, persecution and hatred. He was even betrayed by those closest to Him. He endured the greatest injustice of human history, yet He overcame it because of His love for us. Because He conquered every foe and came out victorious, so will we!

The more we meditate upon God’s nature as seen in His Word, the more we will know Him as He really is. Many in the Church still view Him as angry, vengeful, nit-picking, and perfectionistic. Too often He is believed to be judgmental, displeased, and disgusted with us in our weaknesses and failures. These ungodly views do not facilitate peace in our relationship with Him. We must get healed and free from these ways of seeing Him if we ever hope to have peace in our lives. The more we know Him, the greater our peace in the midst of any storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keys of Spiritual Warfare

26033-thinkstockphotos-100176797-1200w-tnMy first introduction to the subject of spiritual warfare was around 1990. The church we were members of at the time held a conference called Resolving Spiritual Conflicts. Little did I know at the time that God would use that seminar to open my eyes to the reality of the spirit world, and the forces of darkness that occupy it. Because I didn’t grow up in church, I had no prior understanding of these things whatsoever.

Over the next several years, my understanding grew as I studied and read books on the subject, went through several phases of inner healing and deliverance, taught and ministered to women in addiction recovery, in church, in support groups, went through extensive training, and used all of this in my own ministry for over 10 years. It certainly wasn’t something I would have chosen to do, but it was part of God’s assignment for me and He gave me the grace I needed. Below are a few nuggets that may be helpful for those who haven’t gone down this same road. Far too many believers are still bound up, including pastors and leaders, and need to be free to be effective witnesses for the Kingdom.

Since the beginning, the enemy’s strategy against man has been to call into question God’s Word and His nature. This is clearly seen in his conversation with Adam and Eve in the Garden. In Genesis 3:1-5, the enemy questions what God said, and then lies about why He said it, implying that 1) He didn’t really mean what He said, and 2) He is trying to keep something from you. In other words, God’s Word can’t be trusted and He is stingy and withholding good things. We know our ancestors believed the lie, and to this day, many still believe these same lies. I was once one of them.

Satan’s greatest weapon against us is deception, for the nature of deception is that you don’t know you are deceived. In order to get free from deception, you must trust someone else (who is telling you that you’re deceived), more than you trust yourself. Not many are willing to do that. But there is another weapon he used before they got to the stage of deception, and that is temptation. We see this in verse 6 – “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Here, we see the three most common ways the enemy tempts us, 1) the lust of the eyes, 2) the lust of the flesh, and 3) the pride of life. This same strategy is seen in Jesus’ encounter during His forty day fast in the desert. It is also mentioned in 1 John 2:16. If we can learn to recognize these three types of temptation, we can resist them, and he has to flee. (James 4:7)

The third weapon the enemy uses against us is accusation, for his name means “accuser” (see Rev. 12:9). He is said to accuse God’s people day and night, before God’s throne. (Rev. 12:10) Unfortunately, he also works through God’s people to accuse each other. He first deceives us into believing that other Christians are the enemy, then uses us as his pawns to bring strife and division to the body through false accusations. We must learn to discern and confront this in ourselves if we are to bring in the great harvest of souls God is longing for!

Not only does he continually attempt to stir up dissension in the body, but also in our relationship with God. As stated earlier, he deceives us into believing lies about the nature of our heavenly Father. He looks for every opportunity, especially in our sufferings and trials, to malign His character. If we believe God is angry, disappointed, fed up or disgusted with us, or that we’ve sinned one too many times, we will not draw near to Him. If we believe God judges us when we sin, that He withholds from us because He is stingy, that He is displeased with us in our weakness and immaturity, we will not learn to trust Him. If we believe we must adhere to a set of rules, perform our perceived religious duties, such as fasting, prayer, worship, etc., or act super spiritual all the time, we will become religious and self-righteous, like the leaders in Jesus’ day.

The devil will even twist Scripture to achieve his purposes, just as he tried with Jesus in the wilderness. He disguises himself as an angel of light, often in the form of a “prophet” or “teacher,” or other leader that will lead us astray. He is able to perform false signs and wonders, deceiving many who flock to see such things. One key to discerning true supernatural activity, prophetic words, dreams, visions, or other revelations is this – does it lead you to worship Jesus in a deeper way, or does it cause you to follow after man?  Does it cause you to go harder after God, or lead you to pursue greater knowledge? We must use wisdom and discernment to recognize the difference.

There is much more that can be said, but these are basic truths, keys to help you get free and stay free from the bondage of the enemy. May the Lord continue to teach us His ways, so that we can walk in truth and the freedom He paid such a high price to give us!

 

 

Seasons of Testing

722ef7429d5bef55b02631684d622cdcA while back, I wrote an article about the different seasons of life. If you didn’t read it, you can here. This morning, my thoughts led me to ponder these seasons a little more deeply. One in particular seemed fitting for the particular season I have been in – the season of testing. As is often the case, a conversation with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while provided the inspiration and hence, this article. After recounting the various trials I’ve been through in the past several months – having major surgery to remove my left hip and the long, painful road to recovery, learning to deal with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair most of the time, losing my dad suddenly and unexpectedly, plus the loss of my husband’s job – she asked me, “How is your faith holding up?”

There is no greater test of our faith than when we are in the midst of the fire. In fact, I have come to believe that you don’t really know where your faith level is at UNTIL it is being tested. Anyone can have faith when things are going smoothly, according to our plans. However, God wants much more from us than being comfortable, while claiming to have great faith. When God was commending Job to the devil, even the devil understood this when he said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) And we all know what happened next; Job was put to the test. 

So is God mean, or angry, does He enjoy watching us suffer? Every saint mentioned in the Bible underwent some form of testing, some more severe than others. It’s understandable why many who don’t believe use this as an excuse. “If God is good, then why do innocent people suffer?” they ask. I admit to wondering this at times, too. Especially when it comes to children. It is true that much suffering is a result of living in a fallen world, or because of our poor choices. But that’s not the point of this article. Why does God allow His beloved children, His chosen ones to go through such trials and testings, even when they have faithfully served Him? I have wrestled with this question for many years.

To understand God’s ways in our seasons of testing requires that we step back from the moment and take a good, hard look at the big picture. In other words, we must have an eternal perspective. As finite humans, we get confused when we focus in on our little world with all of its difficulties – the things that get in the way of us having or doing what we want. Financial lack, sickness, job losses, relational issues, etc., often consume us and turn our focus inward. We seek the quickest, easiest way to get out of the pain. When that doesn’t work, we cry, moan, and groan. We are not unlike the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness.

But God in His wisdom, allows what He could easily prevent in His power. He does this because He sees and knows the big picture, and what He is trying to accomplish in us. James had this revelation when he wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) There it is – the testing of your faith. Faith must be tested. Testing produces perseverance, endurance, patience. These characteristics, found within the nature of God, will bring us to maturity and perfection. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing seasons of testing is to make us more like Him. If we fail to understand that and resist the process, we only prolong the trials and suffering. Israel’s eleven day journey became forty years of wandering. 

God is not mean, angry, or vengeful. He does not enjoy seeing His people suffer. But like a good parent, He knows that we don’t know what is best for us. He understands how to raise us up into mature sons and daughters. Granted, it’s a painful process, as any parent would testify. It often hurts to discipline our children because we feel their pain. Even more so, does our heavenly Father. Though it may seem harsh at times, His goodness is seen as He walks with us through the fire, and doesn’t prolong it beyond what is absolutely necessary to accomplish His perfect will in us. Instead of praying to get out of the test, may He give us grace to cooperate with Him so we may pass the tests and move on to maturity!

 

The Intentionality of God

Sunbeams in forestGod is intentional in all that He does or allows. According to the dictionary, intention means, “an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result; the end or object intended; purpose.” In other words, nothing is ever accidental with God. He has specific purposes in mind for His children. He made this clear in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  He always intends to accomplish His plans.

As a Father, His intentions toward us are always in our very best interest. His greatest purpose for each one of us is to conform us into the image of His Son. Everything that He does or allows to touch us is unto that end. What’s more is that He is totally committed to this plan, so much so, that He promises to complete the good work He has begun in us. (Phil. 1:6)

Not only is He intentional in what He does or allows, but He is also able to use our choices, including our mistakes, sins, and stupidity to help accomplish His goal of Christlikeness. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Rom. 8:28-29) 

No matter how bad, how painful or difficult, no matter how unjust or inhumane our trials and troubles may be, His intention in allowing them is always to make us more like Jesus, who suffered more than anyone who ever walked the earth. This is why Scripture repeatedly tells us to “count it all joy” when we encounter various tests and trials. We may not enjoy the pain, but one day we will see it was worth it all!

The Dreaded “P” Word

…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.  Heb. 6:12

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read or hear the word patience? For patienceme, it is often a sense of dread. It is a subject God has been dealing with me on for a long, long time. Some days it seems I’ve got it down. Other days, I feel like I’m back in kindergarten. Many believers I’ve talked to feel the same way. We all know it’s something we should have. It is a fruit of the Spirit, after all! Yet in our fast-food, instant information, immediate gratification culture, most would agree they really don’t. At least not like we know we should.

In Hebrews 6:12, the writer says that it is through faith and patience that we inherit God’s promises. We’ve probably heard more messages on the importance of faith than we could possibly remember. But when is the last time you heard someone teach on the necessity of patience?  As much as we may dislike or avoid the topic, God’s Word is full of examples. Almost every saint mentioned had to go through a prolonged time of waiting for God to fulfill His promises. Abraham and Sarah waited about twenty-five years for their promised son, Isaac. Joseph waited many years for the fulfillment of his prophetic dreams. David, anointed as king of Israel at a young age, waited years before receiving his crown. These and others are recorded for our benefit, to teach us that God is never in a hurry to fulfill His promises – yet He is always faithful.

He is endlessly patient and committed to cultivating His image in each of His children. When I struggle to be patient, I try to remember how long He has waited to fulfill His own desires. He has longed since eternity past for a family, and a bride that is wholehearted and mature in love. We can’t even comprehend how long that is! So how do we grow in patience? James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:2-4) Perseverance is another word for patience, or patient endurance. If you’ve ever prayed for patience and it suddenly seems like all hell breaks loose around you, this is why!

Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Patience develops when we respond properly to our trials and sufferings. It produces mature character in us. On the other hand, impatience is really a lack of faith; it is unbelief. Impatience says that God cannot be trusted to follow through on His promises. It doubts His faithfulness and questions His integrity. In essence, it is calling God a liar… Ouch.  This is why it requires both faith and patience to inherit His promises; the two cannot be separated.

Trials and tribulations are never fun or easy, but if we want to grow in patience we must see them as opportunities instead of problems. By Gods’ grace, we can rejoice and respond with trust that He is working everything together for good in our lives, to bring us to maturity in the image of His Son. Though the fiery furnace is painful, He promises to be with us in it. He walks beside us through the dark valleys and will one day wipe away every tear when pain is removed forever.

How is God working to produce patience in you?