Am I Really Ready For Anything?

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“Ezekiel will be a sign to you…” —God (Ezekiel 24:24). 

How many times have I told God, “I am Your servant. Use me as You know best”? 

But do I really want that?

Ezekiel is told by God in the ninth year of their captivity in Babylon, on the tenth day of the tenth month, that the siege of Jerusalem had begun that very day. Ezekiel is then instructed to share this news with his fellow exiles. God tells Ezekiel that after he shares this news, he will be unable to speak until a messenger arrives in Babylon to confirm the report. 

That same day, God also tells Ezekiel that his wife will die, but that he is not to mourn over this loss. God had grieved for years over Judah’s slide away from Him, but He could no longer grieve because it was now time for Judah’s punishment. Perhaps just like Judah’s slow downward slide, Ezekiel’s wife had been in declining health too, but now Ezekiel was called to obey God in this second illustrated sermon. 

About seven months later, Jerusalem’s walls were broken through, King Zedekiah was captured, and about three weeks later Nebuzaradan torched the city. On that day, Ezekiel lost his power to speak, just as God said he would, and Ezekiel remained mute for nearly two years (2 Kings 25:1-10; Ezekiel 24:1-2, 15-27; 33:21-22). 

This is what it means to be used by God. He used Ezekiel as His illustrated sermons to vividly show the exiles the consequences of their sinful choices.

But we don’t read a single word of complaint or bargaining from Ezekiel—just complete obedience.

A mark of a godly leader is one who signs a blank check for God to fill in the amount.

The leader that serves God in this obedient way is one who is highly esteemed by both God and men. God said, “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ … When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:30, 33). 

I want to believe that I am willing to serve God this way but am I truly willing? Perhaps my prayer should be, “Father I want to be able to be used by You. I want to say that I am ready for You to use me as You see best. But You alone truly know my heart. Holy Spirit, if I am not as committed as Ezekiel was, please do Your work in me so that I can truly say, ‘I am ready to be used.’” 

This is part 63 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here. 

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The Gift At Work In Us

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Last week I said, “You are God’s gift to the world IF you are revealing God’s Gift to the world in everything you say and do.” 

That “IF” is a big one. 

I’ll be the first one to admit that I struggle with consistency in this! But before we all get frustrated, throw up our hands and say, “This is so hard! Why even try?” I’ve got a word of encouragement for you: God’s Gift in us is both perfect and being perfected. 

In order to explain this, I need to go back in time. In fact, I need to go all the way back to when Time began. The opening words of the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God the Father, the Nicene Creed says, is “the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

But God the Son is involved in Creation, as is God the Holy Spirit (John 1:1-3; Genesis 1:2). Again, the Nicene Creed quotes John 1 about Jesus, “Through Him all things were made,” and the Creed also says the Holy Spirit is “the Giver of life.” 

So the Father created everything through His Word and by His Spirit. 

All of the Godhead is also involved in our salvation too. The Father loved us and gave us His Son. Jesus paid the price for our atonement and justified us with the Father. And the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father through the Son as He sanctifies us. 

The reason I said the Gift in us is both perfect and being perfected is because when Jesus said, “It is finished,” nothing was left to be done: it is a perfect Gift, fully paid for. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. … [But] by one sacrifice He [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:1, 14). 

Do you see those verb tenses? Jesus made our atonement perfect, but we are now being made holy by the Holy Spirit. 

The process of sanctification (or as I like to remember it: “saint-ification”) isn’t a one-and-done work. It’s an ongoing work. The Father wants us to remain IN Jesus and bear fruit, so the Holy Spirit remains IN us to bring out that fruitfulness (see John 14:16-17, 20; John 15:1-7). 

This is often an uncomfortable work. 

When I serve as a coach or a consultant, I tell people up front, “There is going to be a time that you won’t like me very much because I’m going to keep uncovering things that you’ve overlooked. It’s going to get uncomfortable before we see improvement. But if you will stick with me, I promise you that there will be a noticeable improvement on the other side of this uncomfortableness.” 

God disciplines those He loves. He wants His Son’s Gift to be seen by the world, so the Spirit must keep saint-ifying us. He will continue to hover over us, never letting us get complacent, vivifying us so that more and more of Jesus is increasingly seen in our lives. 

It’s going to get uncomfortable before we see improvement! 

So don’t lose heart. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t let satan turn the Holy Spirit’s conviction into his condemnation. 

Instead, listen to this prayer from the apostle Paul and make it your own prayer—

For this reason we…have not ceased to pray and make special request for you, asking that you may be filled with the full, deep, and clear knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom—in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God, and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things. 

That you may walk, live, and conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing and increasing in and by the knowledge of God with fuller, deeper, and clearer insight, acquaintance, and recognition.

We pray that you may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, to exercise every kind of endurance and patience, perseverance, and forbearance with joy, giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints—God’s holy people—in the Light. (Colossians 1:9-12 AMP) 

You are God’s gift to the world IF you are revealing God’s gift to the world in everything you say and do. The Gift in you has already been made perfect, and now the Holy Spirit is going to help you demonstrate this Gift more perfectly. Your fruitfulness is being made holy through His loving work in you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series Christmas Unwrapped At Easter, you can find a list of all of the messages here. 

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Highly Esteemed

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

“Highly esteemed” is how two different angels addressed Daniel (Daniel 9:23, 10:11). This was a title they obviously heard from God Himself. At both instances, Daniel was in a time of intense and sustained prayer and fasting. 

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making request to the Lord my God for His holy hill … Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me…. (Daniel 9:20-21) 

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all. (Daniel 10:2-3) 

Prayer was a regular habit for Daniel and prayer was also what Daniel turned to immediately in times of trouble (Daniel 2:18, 6:10). 

We see the same thing in the lives of two notable women in the New Testament. Elizabeth is described as an upright woman who observed all of God’s commandments blamelessly. She continuously prayed that she might get pregnant, and then Gabriel came to bring the good news of her upcoming pregnancy. Elizabeth responded by saying, “The Lord has done this for me.… He has shown me His favor” (see Luke 1:5-25). 

Mary was also a righteous woman who was steeped in Scripture (as we can see in her song of praise). When Gabriel appeared to her, he called her “highly favored” (see Luke 1:26-55). 

A righteous, prayer-filled lifestyle also brings favor and esteem with earthly kings. Daniel and his friends fasted and prayed, which led to King Nebuchadnezzar’s favor directed to them (Daniel 1:11-20, 2:48-49). After three days of prayer and fasting, Queen Esther found favor in the eyes of King Xerxes, which led to the salvation of all the Jewish people (Esther 4:15—5:3). And Nehemiah’s sustained prayer over four months won the favorable reply from King Artaxerxes (see Nehemiah 1:1—2:8). 

If you want to hear deep things from God, if you want to be called “highly esteemed” by the Most High, if you want to gain favor with earthly kings, you must be committed to the sustained work of prayer and righteous living. If you would like to dig into this deeper, check out 4 Thoughts To Help Prayer Become A Daily Habit.

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Sheepish Shepherds

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C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” Truly there is a special bond when we find someone who “gets” us—someone who not only knows what we’re feeling, but how to help us too. 

Jesus is described as One who went through all of the human suffering we will ever have to go through (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18). So no matter what you’re going through, Jesus “gets” you. He’s been through it and He knows exactly what you’re feeling and what help you need. 

In fact, He’s even given us the Holy Spirit to turn our sighs and groans into a beautiful prayer that the Shepherd of our souls understands. 

This is wonderful news for all of us! But isn’t it also comforting when we have a human companion that “gets” us too? One that will come alongside us through the challenging and painful times to help us? 

In His love for His sheep, Jesus has given us under-shepherds. These are sheep that He has called and equipped to care for His flock. He did this with David—

He chose David His servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep He brought him to be the shepherd of His people Jacob, of Israel His inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72) 

David never forgot that his source of strength was the Chief Shepherd, and he penned a beautiful psalm of praise and reliance on Him (Psalm 23). David also made it a priority to point the sheep under his care to the Chief Shepherd. He prayed:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him. The Lord is the strength of His people, a fortress of salvation for His anointed one. Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their Shepherd and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:7-9) 

David “got” the needs of the sheep and with skill and integrity he both shepherded them as he was strengthened by the Chief Shepherd, and he entrusted them into the care of the Chief Shepherd. 

In the foreword to my book Shepherd Leadership, Dick Brogden wrote, “God plucked David from the sheepfold. God chose a sheep to be a shepherd. And though we all are stupid sheep, when God plucks us out of obscurity to serve others, we can have the humble confidence for as long as we are asked to lead that God has chosen us. That confidence both faithfully drives us to our knees and fearlessly propels us against our giants.” 

If you have been called by the Chief Shepherd to be an under-shepherd, make sure you remain a sheepish shepherd—one that “gets” his or her sheep. Don’t be distant from the flock, but stay close by them in the pasture so that you can care for them, pray for them, and lead them to the Chief Shepherd. 

I adapted David’s beautiful 23rd Psalm into a prayer that I hope all under-shepherds will use to gain the strength they need for the work to which the Chief Shepherd has called them—

Because You are my Chief Shepherd, I lack nothing that is needed to care for the sheep You have placed under my care. 

Just as You provide food for me in green pastures, and quiet waters for my thirst, I am equipped to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. 

You continually refresh my soul, so I can offer refreshing hospitality to those who have been beat up along life’s journey. 

You guide me along the right paths for Your name’s sake, so I can show others the path into Your presence. 

Even when I walk through the darkest valleys, I never fear because You are with me; You comfort me and provide all that I need so that I can care for the sick, the downhearted, and the weary without ever lapsing into my own pity party. 

You continually prepare a table before me, even when I’m in the midst of enemies. You have anointed my head with oil and caused my cup of blessing to overflow, so I have more than enough to share with others. 

I am secure that Your goodness and Your love will follow me all the days of my life, so I am equipped to lead others to the place where they too will dwell in Your house forever. 

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Lubricate The Message With Tears

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Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, “Why are you groaning?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming.” (Ezekiel 21:6-7)

Judah’s sin had exhausted God’s patience. Now punishment was coming in the form of the invincible Babylonian army, and Ezekiel was tasked to deliver the news. 

I and my fellow pastors often have to speak a heavy word. How we speak this word may make all the difference in the world in how it is received. We cannot speak brashly nor robotically. The Word of God should break our own hearts first, just as it did to Nehemiah.  

I must tell people about the consequences of their sin, but I must tell them with groaning. 

I must warn people of the horrors of hell, but I must warn them with bitter grief. 

I must confront a wayward brother or sister, but I must do so with a broken heart. 

I hope all my fellow pastors will join me in praying this: Holy Spirit, help me! May Your word break my heart before I open my mouth. May tears always lubricate the painfully loving words I must speak! 

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Links & Quotes

T.M. Moore wrote one of the endorsements for my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. This is another challenging word T.M. gives to pastor shepherds: “Shepherds and the sheep they serve stand together under the authority of God’s Word. But the shepherds have a greater obligation of study, learning, living, and disciple-making because God entrusts His sheep to their care (James 3:1). He intends that, by our teaching and example, His sheep should increase in eternal life. Let’s make sure our ministries are directed toward that end.” —T.M. Moore

More research showing just how dissimilar are the genes are between humans and chimpanzees. Humans are a unique creation just as every other speices of plant and animal are.

“Forgive me, most gracious Lord and Father, if this day I have done or said anything to increase the pain of the world. Pardon the unkind word, the impatient gesture, the hard and selfish deed, the failure to show sympathy and kindly help where I had the opportunity, but missed it; and enable me so to live that I may daily do something to lessen the tide of human sorrow, and add to the sum of human happiness.” —F.B. Meyer

“It is a good thing to be engaged in holy work, but if you are in holy work before you are in the Lord, you will have no heart for it; neither will the Lord accept it! It is not essential that you should be in this church or in that church, but it is essential that you should be ‘in the Lord’!” —Charles Spurgeon 

Fight The New Drug shares 10 fast facts about the real effects of pornography.

In my “Best of…” post this week, I share a conversation with a new Christian about church infighting, and the resulting poem. Check out Brothers And Sisters The Same.

The Babylon Bee always cracks me up! For those of you who know the story of Abraham and Issac, this (ahem!) alternative story is quite a hoot!

I Can’t, God Can

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

Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps (Jeremiah 10:23 NIV).

I didn’t create my life—You did!

So “people do not control their own destiny” (NET)—You do!

“Mere mortals can’t run their own lives” (MSG)—You can!

“The way of man is not in himself” (NKJV)—it’s in You!

Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in Your anger, or You will reduce me to nothing (Jeremiah 10:24 NIV).

You can correct me “with justice” (NKJV)—I can’t!

You know how to “be gentle” (NLT)—I don’t!

God, You correct “as You see best” (MSG)—I can’t!

I’d say it’s pretty clear that there is only One who can lead me in the way I should go. So my prayer should always be: Heavenly Father, You are Sovereign, You are Love, and I trust You completely to guide me into paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake, as only You know how. Holy Spirit, help me to trust You in this journey. In Jesus’ name, amen.

I used only two verses to write this post, but I read them in multiple translations. This is another great Bible study tool that any of us can use. If you would like to read more about the various translations of the Bible and how to access them, please check out this post. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Three Keys To Effective Prayer

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

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

Three Keys To Effective Prayer 

     Why is this extraordinary power of prayer given to those who abide in Christ? May what I have to say encourage you to make the glorious attempt to win this pearl of great price! Why is it, that by abiding in Christ and having His words abide in us, we get to this liberty and prevalence in prayer? … 

     I answer, first, because of the fullness of Christ. … I see clearly enough why the branch gets all it wants while it abides in the stem, since all it wants is already in the stem and is placed there for the sake of the branch. What does the branch want more than the stem can give it? If it did want more, it could not get it. For it has no other means of living but by sucking its life out of the stem. O my precious Lord, if I want anything that is not in You, I desire always to be without it. I desire to be denied a wish that wanders outside of You. But if the supply of my desire is already in You for me, why should I go elsewhere? You are my all, where else should I look? … 

     The next reason for this is the richness of the Word of God. … The best praying man is the man who is most believingly familiar with the promises of God. After all, prayer is nothing but taking God’s promises to Him and saying to Him, ‘Do as You have said.’ … If the Word of God abides in you, you are the man who can pray because you meet the great God with His own words…. 

     A man will succeed in prayer when his faith is strong. And this is the case with those who abide in Jesus. It is faith that prevails in prayer. The real eloquence of prayer is a believing desire. ‘All things are possible to him who believes’ (Mark 9:23). A man abiding in Christ, with Christ’s words abiding in him, is eminently a believer and consequently eminently successful in prayer.

 From The Secret Of Power In Prayer

God Himself has told us, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). Not “I might answer you,” but “I will answer you.” 

God also tells us how to receive what we ask in prayer:

  1. Abide in Jesus. Desire nothing else but to know His heart more intimately. 
  2. Know God’s Word. The Bible isn’t just a Book to be read through, but it’s a Book to be prayed through. 
  3. Stretch your faith. A desperate father said to Jesus, “If You can, please help us.” Jesus admonished that father—and all of us too—to believe that Jesus is able to accomplish what we ask of Him. And then comes this great exclamation from that same desperate father: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The God that wants us to have faith in Him for answered prayers is the same God Who imparts that faith to us. How? By abiding in Jesus and taking God at His Word. 

Don’t give up, my friend. Keep praying. There is no other way to learn to pray more effectively than to keep on abiding in Jesus, keep on claiming the biblical promises, and keep on stretching your faith to present your prayer request to Him again.

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Links & Quotes

I love the humanitarian work of Convoy of Hope wherever there is a need. They are on the front lines of Ukraine right now. If you are looking for a good organization to support financially, please check out their current efforts and click the Donate button on their page.

Dr. Roy Spencer always brings clarity to the climate change debate. Here is a post looking at the numbers behind the claims that climate change is largely man-made.

I love following the archeological and paleontological discoveries as they come to light. The Institute for Creation Research shares some enlightening news that comes from the discovery of a human vertebra.

Dan Reiland shares about 5 enemies of the soul that hurt your church.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace talks about the evidence that makes the resurrection of Jesus a reasonable conclusion:

“For the diligent the week has seven todays, for the slothful seven tomorrows.” —Anonymous

In light of all the uncertainty around us, this quote is a good reminder. “I want you to pray about world events and pursue peace as you are able. However, it’s crucial to recognize what you can change and what you cannot. Fretting about things that are beyond your control will drain your energy and discourage you. Instead of this hurtful focus, endeavor to fix your thoughts on Me. … Remember that I am a God of justice and I know everything. Eventually I will right all wrongs. So be still in My presence—trusting in Me with a steadfast heart while waiting for Me to act.” —Sarah Young, in Jesus Always

Thursdays With Spurgeon—How Pruning Helps Prayer

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

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

How Pruning Helps Prayer 

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

     How is this privilege of mighty prayerfulness to be obtained? The answer is, ‘If you abide in Me and My words abide in you.’ … Beloved, the first line tells us that we are to abide in Christ Jesus our Lord. … 

     As if to help us understand this, our gracious Lord has given us a delightful parable. Let us look through this discourse of the vine and its branches. Jesus says, ‘Every branch in Me…that bears fruit He prunes’ (John 15:2). Take care that you abide in Christ when you are being purged. ‘Oh,’ says one, ‘I thought I was a Christian. But alas! I have more troubles than ever. Men ridicule me, the devil tempts me, and my business affairs go wrong.’ Brother, if you are to have power in prayer, you must take care that you abide in Christ when the sharp knife is cutting everything away. …  

     Take care, also, that when the purging operation has been carried out you still cleave to your Lord. … When you see the work of the Spirit increasing in you, do not let the devil tempt. He will try to get you to boast that now you are somebody; you need not come to Jesus as a poor sinner and rest in His precious blood alone for salvation. Abide still in Jesus. … Your work for Christ must be Christ’s work in you or else it will be good for nothing.

 From The Secret Of Power In Prayer

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be fruitful because that brings Him glory and lifts Jesus up for others to see. 

We have to commit to abiding in Jesus despite the pruning process. It’s helpful to remember that the reason the Husbandman prunes us is because He has seen fruitfulness in us, but He wants us to be even more fruitful. When we stay in the process during the uncomfortable—and sometimes painful—pruning, more fruit will begin to appear in our lives. 

It’s at this point that we have to guard against pride. The devil loves for me to get proud of “my accomplishments.” But I have to remind myself that apart from the Vine I am worse than fruitless; I’m just a dead branch only fit for the fire. I’ve learned that there is a danger in success, so I must constantly choose humility over pride, and abiding over self-sustaining. 

As we abide, our prayers take on an ever-increasing vitality so that conversation with our Lord becomes as natural as breathing. I hope none of us will ever settle for anything less than this intimate, ongoing communion with our Master!

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