Learning Life’s Lessons

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Have you heard the cliché, “Experience is the best teacher”? I don’t think that’s really true. I’ve known a lot of people who have had some huge experiences but haven’t learned a single lesson from them. Honestly this is the better statement: Evaluated and recalled experience is the best teacher. 

Many of my “life lessons” have cost me money. For instance, I was told numerous times by my parents, grandparents, and my driving instructor not to speed, but I didn’t learn that lesson the easy way. It cost me financially. I recovered from that, and I’ve only had one speeding ticket in the 40 years that followed! 

Most of us can recover from a financial loss. But other life lessons cost us more dearly: our broken physical health, lost intimacy in a relationship, a damaged reputation, or missed opportunities. Then we walk around with the weight of guilt, baggage, second-guessing, and regret. Jesus didn’t die on a Cross for us to live weighed down like this! 

God wants to help us! So why do we wait to call on Him until after we’ve tried to do it ourselves? Or until after we’re so deep in trouble or weighed down with baggage? Perhaps we think, “This is such a tiny thing. I can handle it myself.” 

  • Solomon said it was the tiny things that brought ruin 
  • God told Cain that it was the sin that was crouching at his door that wanted to take him down 
  • The devil prowls around and looks for the most opportune time to pounce on us 
  • Which is why Paul tells us to put on all of God’s armor and prayer all the time (see Song 2:15; Genesis 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 6:10-11, 18) 

Portia Nelson summed it up well in her short story that I think all of us can relate to…

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I fall in.
   I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I pretend I don’t see it.
   I fall in, again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I see it is there.
   I still fall in… it’s a habit… but my eyes are open, I know where I am.
It’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.
    —Portia Nelson

Prayer helps us avoid the holes in our sidewalk, the crouching sin at our door, the prowling devil, and the lurking temptations. But more than that, prayer puts us on the right path to avoid all of these things in the first place (see Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:21; 2 Samuel 22:34, 37)! 

God doesn’t have to get ready to help us; He’s already ready to help us. He’s just waiting for us to ask for His help. 

No matter how little or big the challenges, with God I can overcome! 

No matter how obvious or hidden the hole is, with God I can go down the right street! 

No matter how many times I fall in the hole, God can get me out! 

No matter how much the devil wants to bring me down, with God I can live righteously! 

No matter how many times sin pounces on me and I give in to it, God can forgive me! 

Don’t wait a moment longer to call on your heavenly Father in prayer. Let Him hear your voice early and often—He loves to hear from you and respond to you! 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on prayed called Be A First Responder, you can find the full list by clicking here.

The Prayerful Heart Of Our Testimony

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

The best way to be a first responder in prayer is to work on making prayer a habit. Prayer needs to come first. Remember: I can do more than pray, but I shouldn’t do anything until I have prayed. 

King David showed us his nearly-identical “bookend prayer” that he prayed both at the beginning of his reign as king and again just before he died. We can pray similar bookend prayers when we begin with a petitionary prayer—“God, please help me”—and finish with a thankful prayer—“God, thank You for helping me.” We can also try to expand those bookends toward the middle, allowing us to live as the apostle Paul admonished in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: 

  • Pray without ceasing 
  • Pray continually 
  • Never stop praying 

Jesus gave us a model prayer at the heart—the very middle—of His Sermon on the Mount. This sermon has 107 verses of Christ’s words, making the middle verse Matthew 6:6, which starts, “When you pray….” Notice the model Jesus gave us: 

  • Hallowing God—Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name
  • Bringing our petitions—Give us our daily bread, help us forgive, deliver us from evil
  • Worshiping God for His answers and for Who He is—Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!

Surrounding this prayer is a Christ-centered life that is:

  • Blessed (the beatitudes) 
  • God-glorifying—so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven
  • Perfect—be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect
  • Compassionate—when you give to the needy

—Model Prayer—

  • Disciplined—fasting, handling your treasures 
  • Anxiety-free—do not worry
  • Fruitful—every good tree bears good fruit
  • Secure—your foundation is on the rock

You see: Prayer helps us live out a God-honoring testimony, and that God-honoring testimony is empowered by prayer. Prayer is both the bookends AND at the heart of a Christ-centered life. 

The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

David’s bookend prayer follows the same model Jesus gave us: hallowing God, making petitions, and then worshipping God. 

Christians need to be BOTH first responders in prayer AND continual responders in prayer—prayer at the beginning, prayer at the heart, and prayer at the end. This way, when God does answer, there is no doubt that He was the One who answered, and it wasn’t just because of something we did. 

Prayer fuels our testimony. Our testimony glorifies God. At the heart of this testimony, our answered prayers glorify our heavenly Father and point others to Him. 

Let me say it again: The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called Be A First Responder, you can access the full list by clicking here.

Impossible To Unstoppable

King David was a unifier. He took people that were territorial and possessive of their own tribes and unified them into the strong nation of Israel. 

The way he responded to the murders of Saul, Abner, and Ish-Boseth prompted this response: “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything that the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner” (2 Samuel 3:36-37). 

The leaders of Israel’s various tribes then followed the lead of Abner—“All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron” and “all the elders of Israel” joined with David (5:1, 3). 

David accepted all of this in confident humility. He knew that it wasn’t his doing but God’s. He made sure to stay reliant on God (5:19, 23), keeping in mind that he was leading to win victories for all Israel: “Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over [all] Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel” (5:12).

Result: “[David] became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him” (v. 10). 

God delights to empower leaders who have a humble heart to unify God’s people. God will let self-made leaders struggle in their own ability, but He will unleash all His resources to help the humble, God-dependent leader.

These God-empowered leaders are the only ones who can bring lasting unity. 

Leading on my own strength: Impossible.

Leading in God’s strength: Unstoppable! 

[read all of these passage in the Bible for yourself by clicking here]

Run To The Banner

Psalm 60 may have the longest introduction of any of the psalms, and it gives us some key historical information. David has been successful against the Philistines and the Moabites, and now he is fighting in Mesopotamia. While the army was focused elsewhere, the Edomites must have seen an opportunity to attack Israel, where they won a temporary victory (see the intro to Psalm 60 and 2 Samuel 8:1-3). 

David’s reflexive response to this temporary setback was not retaliation or blaming, but remorse and repentance. In verses 1-4 he says “You have” five times, acknowledging that God allowed this temporary defeat. He also acknowledges that only God can restore. 

Then David comes to the Selah pause: But You have raised a banner for those who fear You—a rallying point in the face of attack. Selah. (NLT) 

The Selah here is David calling us to evaluate our options just as he did. We are to consider things like: 

  • God’s help vs. our own strength 
  • the benefits of righteousness vs. the consequences of sin
  • depending on God vs. depending on man 
  • rallying under God’s banner vs. rallying under our own banner 

It’s interesting to note that in the list of David’s long string of victories in 2 Samuel 8, we read this: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (v. 6). But how can that be since the Israelites were temporarily defeated by the Edomites? 

I think this is the key principle—We are more vulnerable to an attack (and a temporary defeat) after a victory than after a defeat. Why is that? Because victory tends to make us self-satisfied, but defeat tends to make us God-dependent. 

When David confesses that God has allowed this temporary defeat, he is really confessing that he had attempted to navigate things on his own. Perhaps he thought his strategy would keep Israel secure, or that his men were trained and resourced enough to be victorious, or that David didn’t even have to pay attention to the Edomites any longer. 

Whatever went through David’s mind, it was clear that he had become more self-satisfied than he was God-dependent. So David correctly recognized that he needed to run to God’s banner. He recognized that was the only secure place for him to stay. 

The Bible DOESN’T say “resist the devil and he will flee from you,” but it DOES say “submit yourself to God—run to His banner and stay under His banner—and then you can resist the devil and he will flee from you.” 

Look at the keywords in the final verse of Psalm 60: “With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.” 

WE WILL only because HE WILL. 

Has there been a temporary setback in your life? Repent and run to the banner of God. 

Have you felt under attack? Humble yourself and run to the banner of God. 

Have you recently won a victory? Stay humble and keep on running to the banner of God! 

If you have missed any of the other posts in this Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Loitering Words

These are the last words of David: “The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs. The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” (2 Samuel 23:1-4) 

Look how David describes himself: 

  • Inspired by God
  • Exalted by the Most High 
  • Anointed by God 

This statement by David reminds me of the words Moses spoke about himself: “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3)! 

David also said that he was the hero of Israel’s songs. The King James Version says he was “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” However he is described, these are his last words. Literally, that means that his words loitered. They hung around. They continued to impact people’s lives long after he was gone.

Look how long his words loitered. When the Church prayed in Acts 4, they quote David’s prophetic words, stating that they were spoken through the Holy Spirit. David said that’s exactly how he was speaking—“the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (v. 2), and God Himself is recorded as speaking through David in verse 3.

God’s words were on David’s lips because God’s Spirit was in David’s heart.

David was both confident of this and humbled by this.

  • Confidently he said he “rules over people in righteousness” and “my house [is] right with God” (v. 5). 
  • Humbly he said “he rules in the fear of God” and God was the One who “brought to fruition my salvation” (v. 5). 

God is still looking for people through whom He may speak loitering words.

May our prayer be—God, You are still looking for men and women through whom You can impart loitering words. You want to put Your words in the mouth of those who are righteous in Your sight and who walk in reverent fear of Your holiness, those who acknowledge Your love and Your sovereignty. O God, make me that person! I don’t want to speak idle words, but life-changing, God-glorifying, Spirit-empowered words that will loiter, and impart truth, and bring people to Jesus. Show me what I need to change to be the one through whom You will speak Your loitering words.

Seeking God

…David sought the face of the Lord… (2 Samuel 21:1). 

בָּקַשׁ פָּנִים יְהֹוָה

The Hebrew phrase is baqash paniym YHWH: 

  • baqash is to ask for, beg, desire “specifically in worship or prayer.” It’s a “searching as done by touching.” 
  • paniym literally means the face, but it carries the idea of being in someone’s presence.
  • YHWH (Yahweh) is Jehovah God. 

David repeatedly asked, sought, and begged through both prayer and worship that he might be in God’s presence. “Almighty God, I want to be with You. I want to know your heart intimately. I want to see Your face. I’m not seeking help from any other source, but I am resolutely seeking You alone.” 

Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when He told us, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. You will get an answer, you will find what you’re seeking, the door to God’s presence will be opened to you. Your Father—YHWH, God Almighty—longs to reveal Himself to you.” 

Q: How long did David seek the face of the Lord? 

A: Until God spoke, until God delivered, until God opened the door. 

Q: How long am I willing to keep on seeking the face of the Lord? 

A: I hope I can say until God speaks, until God delivers, until God opens the door.

God’s Artistic Designs

…God devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him (2 Samuel 14:14). 

This wise woman from Tekoa captures an important principle about God in a picturesque way. She also makes a graphical contrast that was good for David to hear—and good for me too!

This wise woman uses the same Hebrew word for both David’s plans and God’s plans but shows just how different these two plans actually are. The word is translated “device” (vv. 13, 14), but the Hebrew word chashab is more graphic: It means to weave, fabricate, or plait something that has been well designed. 

Here’s the contrast: David’s “plan” is really not a plan at all; it’s simply passive procrastination, a wistful longing for things to turn out well. David is doing nothing, which means he is squandering his opportunities. This wise woman says, “It’s like you are spilling water on the ground which can never be recovered.” 

God’s device/design is incomparably better! God is both the Designer and the Artisan. He has both the plan of restoration and He is fabricating the plan. His designs are intricate and beautiful. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used for the artisans who fabricated the items that were to be used for worship in God’s tabernacle. 

Even though this woman flatteringly said David was “like an angel,” David’s devices are nothing compared to God’s device! God wants to give us His designs—He wants us to be a part of His masterful artistry!

Notice how this psalmist contrasts man’s designs with God’s designs—

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11) 

God will share with me His beautifully intricate plans and masterful device IF I will ask Him with a heart that is ready to obediently go to work. Or, I can try to work out my own devices, but they will most likely end up as merely spilled water that comes to nothing and accomplishes nothing.

I think you can see that God’s devises are always THE best option!

The Need For Confession

Jesus taught us to pray to OUR Father. This speaks of community and accountability. Ken Blanchard noted: “Accountability means: We owe each other for something we’ve agreed upon.” What have the saints of God agreed upon? That God is our Father, that Jesus is His Son and our Brother, and that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. We’ve agreed that if we are brothers and sisters in God’s family, we are mutually accountable to one another. 

The part of accountability that some people don’t like is the realization that I make mistakes: I let people down; I sin. In a community of saints, my shortfall not only affects me but the rest of the community too. But there is a remedy—The remedy for my sin starts with my confession of my sin. 

If people like David, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Paul confessed their sin and called themselves sinners, what makes me think that I’m exempt from that diagnosis or that cure?! 

Confession is an owning of my sin. It’s saying to God, “I have sinned. I need forgiveness. I will repent of this. I need Your mercy.” And it’s saying to my fellow saints, “I need your help so I don’t have to repeat this sin.” 

Unconfessed sin is life-draining (Psalm 32:1-5). The word confess in the Old Testament Hebrew means to “throw out your hand.” Expose it all! In the New Testament Greek confess means to acknowledge that my life does not measure up to God’s standard. 

Confession may start in my personal prayer closet, but it needs to move to the public domain of the community of saints. Jesus made it plural, “Forgive US OUR debts, as WE have forgiven OUR debtors.” 

Sometimes I cannot see my own debts that need to be forgiven (Psalm 19:12), so I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the loving confrontation of someone who loves me (Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 27:6, 2 Samuel 12:1-13). 

The apostle James helps us see how a loving community brings healing, deliverance, and restoration. The key components that James lists are prayer and confession (James 5:13-16). 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed James when he wrote, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.”  

Confession may be the most under-used resource for Christians to gain power in prayer and victory over falling into temptation!

Let’s continually make use of this wonderfully freeing discipline. 

20 Helpful Thoughts On Criticism

“Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” —Aristotle 

“The Lord uses critics to show us our own hearts, even if what they say is not fully true, informed, or even fair. There is almost always a germ of truth in what our critics (in their own pain and disappointment) shout at us. The wise leader will humble himself and look for the truth embedded in every oppositional interaction.” —Dick Brogden [see 2 Samuel 16:5-12] 

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” —Ken Blanchard 

“Criticism can be received as a gift from God. It is an opportunity to pray, search Scripture, evaluate your own heart, and offer grace to others. The right response to criticism should not be retaliation or pride (which just perpetuates hurt), but rather humility.” —Jeremy Carr

“There is a growing trend to attack, criticize, and resent anyone who has talent or achievements that sets them apart from others. This tendency extends to those who resent the efforts of leaders who challenge the status quo. Opponents of change initiatives often attempt to marginalize leaders by attacking their character and questioning their motives. If the messenger is flawed, then the message and vision they offer cannot be trusted. As disappointing as it is, these challenges come with the territory of leadership.” —Dr. J. Lee Whittington

“If I were to attempt to answer all the criticisms and complaints I receive, I would have no time for any other business. From day to day I do the best I can and will continue to do so till the end. If in the end I come out all right, then the complaints and criticisms and what is said against me will make no difference. But, if the end brings me out wrong, then ten angels coming down from heaven to swear I was right would still make no difference.” —Abraham Lincoln

“If a ministry is God-anointed, it doesn’t matter who criticizes it. If it’s not anointed, it doesn’t matter who praises it.” —Rick Warren 

“Your critics have information that your friends are withholding.” —John Maxwell 

“God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.” —Oswald Chambers 

“No leader is exempt from criticism and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.” —J. Oswald Sanders 

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body: It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” —Winston Churchill 

“Every man needs a blind eye and a deaf ear, so when people applaud, you’ll only hear half of it, and when people salute, you’ll only see part of it. Believe only half the praise and half the criticism.” —C.H. Spurgeon 

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” —Dale Carnegie

“A mark of a godly leader is one so focused on God’s plan that he pays no attention to his critics or enemies.” —Craig T. Owens

“Never be afraid of honest criticism. If the critic is wrong, you can help him; and if you’re wrong, he can help you. Either way, somebody’s helped.” —A.W. Tozer 

“It’s so much easier to teach correct principles than it is to know and love a person. It’s so much easier to give brilliant advice than to empathize and be open. It’s so much easier to live independently than to live interdependently. It’s so much easier to be a judge than to be a light. It’s so much easier to be a critic than to be a model.” —Stephen Covey

“When is it inappropriate to praise a critical person? One: When you are being criticized for outright sin, and the criticism is accurate. If what is said is true, the tension you feel will be relieved only one way: confession. Two: when you are falsely accused of sin. Sin is a serious charge, obviously more serious than those ‘against you’ realize or they would have done their homework.” —Blaine Allen

Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.” —Mark Batterson

“There is no better antidote for unjust criticism than a clear conscience before God.” —James Hernando

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the many who point out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.” —Teddy Roosevelt 

Pause To Pray

…Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hands?” … (2 Samuel 5:17-25)

The enemy poised to attack, but David paused. 

David is a man of action. But without a doubt, he is a more successful man of action when he is first a man of prayer. 

The Philistines encamped in the valley, preparing themselves to attack Israel. David has had no problem dealing with this enemy before so no one would have questioned David saying to his army, “God is with us. Let’s go attack these Philistines.” 

But David paused to pray and only went to war when God said, “Go—attack them straight on.” David obeyed and won a great victory (vv. 20-21). 

The Philistines returned to the exact same valley. Again no one would have faulted David for saying, “This is the same scenario as last time. God told us to attack before, so we already have His permission to go attack again.” 

But David paused to pray and this time God gave him a different battle strategy: “Circle behind them.” Same scenario, different battle tactic, but still the same victorious result (vv. 22-25). 

Just because something seems automatic doesn’t mean we should act quickly and prayerlessly.

Just because something seems the same doesn’t mean we should act on auto-pilot. 

In each situation: Pause to pray, wait for God’s direction, then follow through exactly as He says.

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